Another blow from the Ombudsman

posted September 23, 2020 at 12:20 am
"Mr. Martires’ recent pronouncement frustrates not corruption, but the fight against corruption."

The Office of the Ombudsman has dealt another blow, not to corruption in government which would have been good, but to the fight against corruption which is downright bad.

Just last week we learned that Ombudsman Samuel Martires had limited the public’s access to the Statement of Assets and Liabilities of government officials.

A memorandum on Sept. 1 laid down the three conditions in which the SALN could be released: If the official or his or her representative requests it, if a court orders its release in relation to a pending case, or of a request is made through the Ombudsman’s field investigation office for the purpose of a fact-finding probe.

Someone who requests a copy of an official’s SALN must present a notarized letter of authority from the owner of the SALN granting the request. No requests for inspecting or taking photos of the SALN shall be allowed.

We were hoping that Ombudsman Martires has had the time to reflect on his decision and how blatantly it goes against the avowed fight for transparency. Unfortunately, he has used his time to perfect his argument against the holding of lifestyle checks for government officials.

“Wealth does not translate to corruption,” he said before lawmakers at a budget hearing Tuesday. In fact, he said that the law governing lifestyle checks is illogical and that he intends to ask Congress to amend it.

He takes issue with the phrase “living beyond one’s means” and insists that a person may only have “distorted values and priorities.” This, he says, is none of our business.

We agree that wealth does not necessarily equate to corruption. Mr. Martires should not take Filipinos for simpletons. We know that many government officials come from prosperous families to begin with, or may have other business interests or sources of income. If all these are indicated in the SALN—assuming we can still have access to them—then we can very well appreciate some context.

Lifestyle checks, however, are there for a reason. “Living beyond one’s means” is not a fanciful term but a statement of fact that says one’s expenses exceed one’s income and all other revenue taken together. Specifically, if a government official is able to drive a BMW on a low monthly amortization—we wonder where that exists—or buys multiple houses on a limited salary that has not significantly increased over the years, then that serves as a red flag, a pointer, on where to look more closely.

How difficult is this concept to grasp?

We are aghast to hear that these words are being uttered by the very official whose job it is to champion transparency and accountability in government. We are much alarmed over Mr. Martires’ distorted thinking. Because it’s our taxes and our well-being that are at stake here, it is very much our business.

Topics: Editorial , Office of the Ombudsman , Ombudsman Samuel Martires , Statement of Assets and Liabilities , SALN
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