MANILA - The proposal of Ombudsman Samuel Martires to jail those publicly commenting on officials’ Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) is “unbelievable” and contrary to its mandate to fight corruption, Vice President Leni Robredo said Sunday.
“‘Di ba, yung Ombudsman, siya ‘yung mag-iimbestiga ng lahat ng implicated nga dito sa korapsyon, o implicated sa kung ano man na katiwalian sa public officials? Pero ngayon, parang ang role tuloy, with the statement na binigay… siya ‘yung ngipin ng administrasyon para balikan iyong mga nagki-criticize sa pamahalaan,” Robredo, a lawyer, said in her weekly radio show.
(Isn’t the Ombudsman supposed to be investigating all those implicated in corruption or other irregularities involving public officials? With the statement issued, it seems that its role now is to serve as the administration’s arm to go after government critics.)
Martires on Thursday said he wants the country's laws on the release of SALN reconciled, proposing imprisonment for five years for those who make public comments on such documents.
Saying he has been a victim of judgment about his wealth based on his published SALN, he told lawmakers he is suggesting "stringent penalties" on anyone who makes a public comment on any SALN, which he said is not allowed under Republic Act 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).
“The provision of (RA) 6713 is very clear. Napakaliwanag, only for publication. Walang komentaryo," Martires, a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, said in a House hearing.
(It’s very clear, only for publication. No commentaries.)
Robredo said it seems Martires has forgotten the reason why government workers are required to submit their SALNs.
“Kasi kung public official ka na wala kang tinatago, wala namang problema na ikaw mismo iyong maglabas,” said the Vice President, who has been releasing her SALNs to requesting parties.
(If you are a public official who is not hiding something, there should be no problem about releasing your SALN on your own.)
Being scrutinized by the people about your wealth is part of being in government, she said.
“Huwag mong i-honor kung obviously, ginagawa lang para manggulo. Pero iyong the mere fact na tinatago mo o hindi mo mine-make available, dinadagdagan mo lang iyong mistrust ng tao, eh,” Robredo said.
(If there is obvious malice in the scrutiny and judgement of your SALN, then don’t honor it. But the mere fact of hiding it or not making it available boosts the people’s mistrust.)
Robredo said she is saddened by the incumbent Ombudsman’s policy and pronouncement because the institution that is supposed to fight corruption and other irregularities in government appears to be protecting only the interest of one person or one group.
“Iyong panggastos ng Ombudsman, galing iyon sa pera ng taumbayan, eh. So bakit parang nagiging personal tuloy iyong pag-defend? Parang nagiging private lawyer,” she said.
(The Ombudsman operates on public funds. So, why does it seem it is only defending a person? It’s like it has become a private lawyer.)
Robredo also criticized the policy implemented by the Ombudsman in September last year, limiting public access to the SALN under its custody and allowing its release only for official investigations, by court order, or upon authority from officials themselves.
The office of the Ombudsman is the repository of SALNs of top government officials like the President, Vice President and heads of Constitutional bodies. SALNs of government officials of lower positions and rank and file employees, on the other hand, are with the Civil Service Commission.
Recently, a request of a lawyer for a copy of President Rodrigo Duterte’s SALN was denied by Malacanang and the Ombudsman.
"Wala pa hong report sa akin (There's no report) that there’s an authority from the Office of the President. But I’d like to assure you that the President himself has a complete SALN filed with the Office of the Ombudsman until 2020," Martires said at last week’s House hearing when asked about the matter.
Martires was Duterte’s first appointee to the Supreme Court, joining in March 2017. He retired early from the tribunal after he was appointed by Duterte in July 2018 to become the new Ombudsman.