"Don’t comment on the SALNs, he said."
Last week, Ombudsman Samuel Martires announced that he wants imprisonment for at least five years for anybody who even dares to comment on the Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of any government official or employee.
Toward that end, Martires is urging Congress to amend Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, to include a penal provision that will impose a five-year sentence on anybody who comments on those SALNs.
To justify his plan, Martires said public access to the SALNs of government officials has been “weaponized” particularly by the media, and the same can be used to “destroy the reputation” of an official.
Martires also insulted the media, saying, “I do not know if they understand English … I am sorry to say this, but the provisions of 6713 is (sic) very clear. Napakaliwanag, only for publication, walang komentaryo — that’s transparency.”
In short, Martires says Republic Act No. 6713 only allows the media to publish the SALNs but not to comment on them.
Martires’ latest public display of his tantrums is nothing new.
In September 2020, Martires issued Memorandum Circular No. 1 which prohibits the public and the media from accessing the SALN of top government officials on file in his office. The circular allows access to those SALNs only if the prior written consent, duly notarized, of the official whose SALN is sought to be accessed, is submitted to Martires’ office by those interested in obtaining them. That’s making public access illusory.
A news website traces Martires’ odd behavior to an incident when the media reported on his SALN for 2018, which supposedly showed an increase of P15-million in Martires’ personal wealth over just five months (from August to December 2018) when Martires was already the Ombudsman.
Martires was supposedly upset with that revelation, but the news report did not indicate if Martires explained the P15-million increase in his personal wealth.
It appears, therefore, that Martires issued his Memorandum Circular No. 1, and wants a prison term for anyone who comments on any SALN, to get even with the media for the 2018 incident involving his own SALN. In other words, Martires is using his power as Ombudsman to vindicate his own private grievance.
Under the Constitution, the public has the right to access the SALNs of government officials, and only Congress has the power to regulate that right. Since Martires is not Congress, Martires’ Memorandum Circular No. 1 is unconstitutional because it is a usurpation of the legislative power of Congress. As an ex-Justice of the Supreme Court, Martires ought to know that.
Republic Act No. 6713 allows public access to, and the publication of, the SALNs of all government officials and employees. Contrary to what Martires says, there is nothing in this law that prohibits anyone from commenting on those SALNs.
As every student of Constitutional Law knows, laws cannot be construed to lead to an absurdity, and it is absurd for Republic Act No. 6713 to allow public access to those SALNs and their publication by the media, and yet disallow the public from commenting on them.
Evidently, it’s Martires who does not understand Republic Act No. 6713.
Martires insults the media by suggesting that media practitioners don’t understand English. It’s Martires who does not understand English, as seen in his faulty interpretation of Republic Act No. 6713.
In fact, Martires can’t even speak proper English when he told the media, “I am sorry to say this, but the provisions of 6713 is (sic) very clear. Napakaliwanag, only for publication, walang komentaryo—that’s transparency.” Apparently, Martires does not know when to use the singular or plural form of verbs, and he has difficulty composing sentences in complete English.
Martires’ idea of “transparency” in government is faulty. Transparency presupposes the absence of needless restrictions. Prohibiting public commentaries is incompatible with transparency.
Further, Martires’ opinion that the SALN has been “weaponized” by the media against government officials cannot prevail over what the Constitution and the law provide. The SALN is precisely designed by the Constitution and the law as a public weapon against corruption in government. Besides, if a government official has nothing to hide, then he should not be afraid to allow public access to his SALN.
I agree with Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate when he called Martires’ plan to muzzle public commentaries on the SALNs as an abridgement of the freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution.
The 73-year old Martires says he will stand by his views even if it means being removed from office. That told, it’s time for Congress to impeach Martires for culpable violation of the Constitution and for his betrayal of the public trust reposed upon him as Ombudsman.