MANILA - An Ombudsman order limiting public access to government officials' declaration of wealth puts blinders on the public, lawyer Chel Diokno said Wednesday.
The Ombudsman had restricted access to officials' Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), allowing their release only for official investigations, by court order, or upon authority from officials themselves.
The law provides that the SALN should be made accessible to the public, Diokno said, citing the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.
"Without those lifestyle checks, without the access to SALN you're actually putting blinders not only on the press but on the public and that’s not a good thing for confidence in our government," he told ANC.
"The important thing is the accessibility should not be cut off from the public. The entire concept of having SALN includes the concept of making it accessible to the public. Parang useless din naman ang SALN kung di makikita ng taumbayan 'yan."
(The SALN seems useless if the public cannot see it.)
The use of SALN and lifestyle checks has also proven to be a "potent weapon to weed out corruption," Diokno said.
"It's a very simple and yet effective way of finding out if our government officials are really doing their job and not just making money from their position," he said.
"The two should go hand-in-hand and they have been in quite a number of decisions that reached all the way up to the Supreme Court which affirmed the dismissal of officials who had manifestly disproportional SALN to what they're legitimately earning."
The burden of misusing the SALN is also on the person who acquired it, who may face criminal charges, according to Diokno.
"That’s not a ground to deny in the first stage the accessibility to the documents," he said.
The Ombudsman had said that the SALN is being "weaponized" against public officials.
"I think we have to go back to the fact that when you enter public service, you divest yourself a lot of your privacy and at the same time you cannot be thin-skinned when it comes to criticism or reports by the press. Kasama sa trabaho yan (it comes with the job)," Diokno said.
"What is more important is transparency and accountability and that’s really the SALN, even lifestyle checks, provide because it helps people understand and to accept their officials are doing their jobs and not making money on the side."
The Ombudsman's order to limit public access to SALN can be challenged in the proper court and those who request access to SALN and were denied may have recourse to the courts to compel the SALN disclosure, according to Diokno.