The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) expresses its concern over the recent statements and policies made by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on restricting public access to Statements of Assets and Liabilities (SALNs) of public officials and employees. In particular, the AHRC strongly opposes Ombudsman Martires’ proposal to penalize those who make “commentaries” on the SALNs of public officials and employees amidst his office’s continuous denial of requests for copies of President Rodrigo Duterte’s SALNs.
As a symbol of public transparency, no less than the Constitution mandates under Article 17, Section 17 that a public official or employee’s SALN must be disclosed to the public. Ombudsman Martires’ recent pronouncements clearly go against this principle of transparency among public officials, in line with the principle that public office is a public trust.
We also note that Ombudsman Martires’ policies to refuse the disclosure of SALNs to the public is against Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. RA 6713 was enacted in the spirit of transparency; government officials are obligated to be transparent about their assets and liabilities. Section 8(C) of RA 6713 says that SALNs “shall be available for inspection within reasonable hours, xxx and for copying or reproduction within 10 days from the time they are required to be filed.”
Ombudsman Martires’ proposal to amend RA 6713 and impose imprisonment of five years for anyone who makes “commentaries” on the SALNs of government officials and employees clearly contradicts our constitutionally protected rights to freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and right to information. Such a proposal continues to undermine these rights under this administration.
Our Constitution guarantees the people the right to information on matters of public concern. (1987 Constitution, Article 3, section 7). Public officials, both elected or appointed, hold their office in trust for the people. Whether they are able to maintain honesty and integrity in their office, as can be reflected in their SALNs, is a matter of public concern.
Penalizing commentaries on SALNs goes against our freedom of expression. The people have the right to participate in matters of governance and this participation covers discussions that, at times, may put our public officials under scrutiny. By penalizing commentaries, transparency and accountability will be discouraged while public officials will receive a privilege against public scrutiny and embolden those to continuously involve themselves in corrupt acts without any means to hold them accountable – including the Office of the Ombudsman.