Ombudsman restricts Pinoys from viewing public officials’ assets statement

<i>Photo: Unsplash</i>
Photo: Unsplash

The Office of the Ombudsman yesterday issued new guidelines restricting public access to government officials’ statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN), allowing release only for court-ordered probes and on authority from the officials themselves.

A SALN details an official’s net worth, including businesses and financial interests. Filipinos, including the media, were previously allowed to access officials’ SALN, and it is often used to identify possible cases of graft and corruption.

However, under the revised guidelines of Memorandum Circular No. 1, a government worker’s SALN may only be viewed if:

  • The person requesting access are duly authorized by public officials
  • The request is legally ordered by the court in relation to a pending case
  • The request is made by the office of the Ombudsman itself, other bureaus, and offices for the purpose of a fact-finding probe

In all other instances, the memo reads that “no SALN will be furnished to the requester unless he/she presents a notarized letter of authority” approved by the public officials themselves. Requests to inspect or take pictures of any SALN will also be denied.

Should anyone strongly insist that a government official’s SALN needs to be made public on the basis of a lifestyle check, that person must submit a verified complaint together with documentary evidence for the proper action of the Ombudsman’s office.

The memo takes effect 15 days after publication in a newspaper.

Read: After Philippine Ombudsman opens investigation into Duterte’s wealth, Duterte threatens to investigate Ombudsman

In the past, questionable SALNs led to the removal of allegedly corrupt public officials, including the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to release his 2018 SALN, despite many reporters requesting access to the official document. The president is required by the law under Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees to release it to the public.

An Ombudsman probe into accusations of Duterte’s hidden wealth was launched in 2017, prompted by former Senator Antonio Trillanes’ allegations that the president laundered billions when he was Davao City mayor. This was “closed and terminated” months later, after Duterte flipped the script and threatened to investigate the Ombudsman for corruption.

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