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Sunday, July 21, 2024

2 senators hit Ombudsman for shielding SALNs from public scrutiny

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The Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth of government officials are public documents that should be open for public comments, Senator Risa Hontiveros said Friday.

“We all know that SALNs are public documents that are supposed to be accessible to anyone who requests it. And since these are public documents, these are matters of public knowledge and it should be open for comments by any citizen, even us who are working in the government,” said Hontiveros. 

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima also took potshots at Ombudsman Samuel Martires for defending public officials instead of investigating them.

“If an alien from another planet landed on the Philippines for the first time, it would think that the Office of the Ombudsman was created to defend and protect abusive and corrupt public officials from the citizenry, instead of the other way around,” said De Lima.

“Because that is what Ombudsman Samuel Martires projects to be the mission of his office: to protect public officials from the public, instead of investigating their wrongdoing,” she added.

Hontiveros underscored the importance of SALNs in investigating cases of graft and corruption. 

She mentioned Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon’s request for resigned Budget Undersecretary Christopher Lloyd Lao to submit his SALNs to the Senate blue ribbon committee, as the panel continues to probe issues hounding the government’s procurement of overpriced pandemic-related medical supplies.

Hontiveros said it is “just natural for us to comment on this, for better or for worse, during this kind of investigation.”

“It would be difficult for us if there would be a chilling effect in commenting on these documents in a negative fashion especially if it is warranted,” she said. “So I really hope and pray that the Ombudsman would change his opinion on this as well as the actions of his office on this matter of SALNs.”

De Lima also pointed out that Martires even proposed a law penalizing citizens who would comment on the SALNs of public officials “in the off chance that they are even given access to it by the Ombudsman.”

She slammed Martires “for forgetting all the Constitutional Law lessons he has learned from law school and wrote about as a Supreme Court Justice on what is otherwise well-known to everybody else as the freedom of speech, the unconstitutionality of prior restraint statutes, and finally, the purpose of the constitutional mandate on the filing of SALNs.”

Because of his defense of public officials and their SALN from the public, De Lima said Martires “has come out with another inane question.”

“How come, he asks, everybody is interested in the SALN of the President, when corruption is widespread and endemic among all other public officials?” said De Lima.

“Well, because the President is the highest official of the land, and therefore the people are more interested in his honesty and integrity than the rest of officialdom,” added the senator detained over alleged drug charges.

De Lima said under his watch, Martires has undeniably stood the Office of the Ombudsman on its head, lacking the requisite zeal in running after corrupt public officials and even perceived to be protecting instead of investigating them.

If it was all left to him, De Lima said she is not sure Martires won’t even investigate and prosecute the suspects in the Pharmally “heist,” especially if they include his “patron” President Rodrigo Duterte.

“For Ombudsman Martires, his job as Ombudsman is clear: keep the President’s SALN away from the public, as he has already done after denying the request made by my lawyers, and protect the interests of public officials, rather than that of the public,” said De Lima.

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