Keeper and defender of the SALN

Keeper and defender of the SALN

Oct 25, 2021, 4:37 AM
Opinyon News Team

Opinyon News Team

News Reporter

Of all the lawyers who headed the Office of the Ombudsman, Samuel Martires is the most passionate in safeguarding the SALN of officials. Especially if the official is President Duterte.

IT IS either the reporters covering the Senate were not listening or Ombudsman Samuel Martires, faced by a deluge of criticisms from social media, backtracked on his statement that he wanted to add more teeth (amendments) to the law or laws governing SALN.

SALN is that controversial piece of document that has become the bone of contention among pundits lately -- the officials' Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth mandated by law to be filed by government employees every year.

Reporters from newspapers, radio, TV and online were one last week in reporting that the Ombudsman was pushing for amendments to the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which include jail time of five years for anyone who would issue “further commentaries” on SALNs.

Martires said in his draft bill send to congressmen:

“Such use by news and communications media shall be strictly limited to reporting of facts provided in the statement, and no further commentaries could be made thereon."

The draft measure also said anyone violating its provisions will be punished with imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine not exceeding P5,000, or both.

Ombudsman's side

In a press statement on Tuesday, Martires claimed there was “no censorship [or] any restriction on the freedom of speech or expression to speak of” in his proposed bill.

He said his proposed amendments to Republic Act No. 6713 were “nothing more than an expansion, for purposes of clarity, of provisions already existing in the law.”

It must be recalled that Ombudsman Martires first touted the sanction against commenters of the SALN, during the House of Representatives hearing on the proposed budget of the Office of the Ombudsman for 2022.

“What I’m proposing [are] stringent penalties that anyone who makes a comment on the SALN of a particular government official or employee must likewise be liable for at least imprisonment of not less than five years. No more, no less,” he told the representatives.

His draft bill also proposes that the Office of the Executive Secretary be the repository agency of the SALNs of the president, vice president and all other national executive officials. At present, the Office of the Ombudsman is the keeper of these documents.

In an interview over DZBB with radio anchor Joel Reyes Zobel, Martires said the SALN of justices are with the Supreme Court; the senators filed theirs with the Senate, the representatives with the House, the military with the concerned branch of service or the Department of National Defense."Why would the President's SALN be filed with us?" he asked.

2 laws on SALN

In the same interview, Martires said he can forgive reporters and mediamen who are non-lawyers for misunderstading him, but he cannot forgive fellow lawyers who do not read the law but continue criticizing his position.

In his interpretation, there are 2 laws governing SALN -- RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and RA 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.He said the former, authored by ex-Sen. Rene Saguisag, did not countermand the SALN provision of the latter.

Other lawyers disagree with him, taking the position that only one, RA 6713-- being the most recent law-- should rule on the issue.

Barrage of criticisms

Already, the left-leaning advocates of press freedom and transparency in governance such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Rappler, the Inquirer, the Makabayan bloc and others have hurled a barrage of criticisms against Martires and his position.

Especially so because this Ombudsman has constantly declined to release President Duterte's SALNs, the last one released being SALN 2017.

It is both important and interesting to follow how this controversy will develop, even as we transition to a new President in June, 2022. (With additional report by Diego C. Cagahastian)

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