MANILA — A lawyer who had previously tried to compel the disclosure of President Rodrigo Duterte’s health records hit another dead-end, this time, in his bid to secure the President’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Lawyer Dino De Leon was given the run-around in his attempt to get copies of Duterte’s SALNs, with both the Office of the President and the Office of the Ombudsman denying his requests, he shared in a Facebook post Monday.
He first asked Malacañang for a copy of Duterte’s SALN in November last year but was told to go to the Office of the Ombudsman.
“Please be informed that the official file was submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman. In view thereof, please be advised to course your request through the Office of the Ombudsman, the official repository of said SALN pursuant to the Office of the Ombudsman Memorandum Circular No. 03, series of 2012, Section 3(a),” said the November 19, 2020 letter from Concepcion Zeny Ferrolino-Enad, Malacañang Records Office.
The response came just a day after De Leon filed his request.
Malacañang was referring to the 2012 Ombudsman issuance which stated that any request for a copy of the President’s SALN should be filed with the Ombudsman, which serves as its official repository.
In July this year, De Leon approached the Ombudsman but in a letter he received Sept. 1, the Ombudsman denied his request.
“Please be advised that Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires disapproved your request, pursuant to Ombudsman Memorandum Circular No. 1, Series of 2020,” said Caroline De Leon, Officer-in-Charge of the Ombudsman’s Central Records Division.
No specific reason was cited in the letter for the disapproval but the Ombudsman Central Records Division OIC referred to Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ issuance in September last year that requires the SALN declarant's notarized letter of authority allowing the release of the SALN.
Other instances when requests for copies for SALNs may be granted is if these are requested by the declarants themselves, upon lawful order of a court, or by the Ombudsman’s field investigation office/bureau/unit for its fact-finding probe.
“The Ombudsman has clearly exceeded his authority in imposing requirements that make access to SALN of public officials virtually impossible for the scrutinizing public. We are prepared to question his actions and hold him into account in due course,” De Leon told ABS-CBN News Tuesday.
‘BAKIT TAKOT NA TAKOT’
He earlier questioned the President’s refusal to share his SALN publicly.
“Bakit takot na takot sila na ipakita ang SALN ng Pangulo? Kung walang tinatago, wala dapat ikatakot. The law is very clear: the SALN of public officials should be accessible to the public,” De Leon said.
The Constitution, the Administrative Code and Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees all require public officials and employees to submit their SALNs.
The Administrative Code goes a step further, requiring the President, among other high-ranking officials, to disclose their SALNs to the public.
President Duterte himself signed Executive Order No. 2 in July 2016 to operationalize freedom of information in the Executive branch.
Section 5 of the said executive order reminds all public officials “of their obligation to file and make available for scrutiny” their SALNs.
It was supposedly Duterte’s cornerstone EO.
But that commitment to freedom of information was tested as early as 2019, when the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism flagged Duterte’s refusal to share his 2018 SALN publicly, the first time for a president in 30 years.
PCIJ’s subsequent requests were also denied.
“With the missing pandemic funds and the Pharmally corruption issue, it is important for us to access the SALN of our public officials, including the President. This is a fundamental part of public accountability and checks and balances against corruption,” De Leon said in his Facebook post.
“They weaponized the SALN against Chief Justice Sereno, tapos ayaw nila ilabas 'yung sa Pangulo?,” he added.
Two chief justices have been ousted due to SALN-related issues—Sereno for her supposed non-filing of SALNs, which became an “integrity issue” and the basis of her ouster through quo warranto, and the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona on the supposed failure to disclose assets in his SALN.
De Leon, who lawyers for detained Sen. Leila de Lima, disclosed that it was the senator’s idea to request for SALN.
But De Leon made the request in his personal capacity, as an advocate of the people’s right to know.
He previously tried to ask the Supreme Court to compel the President to disclose his health records but his petition was denied with finality by the high court in September last year, without requiring any comment from the Office of the President.
Several groups and personalities have previously challenged the President to disclose his SALN — from then-Senator Antonio Trillanes IV during the 2016 presidential campaign to as recently as Vice President Leni Robredo amid the controversy surrounding alleged misuse of pandemic funds flagged by the Commission on Audit.
Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque could only point to the Office of the Ombudsman.