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Constitution Framer Slams Martires’ SALN Non-Disclosure Policy

Constitution Framer Slams Martires’ SALN Non-Disclosure Policy
Ombudsman Samuel Martires

Veteran lawyer Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, slammed Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ policy restricting public access to the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of government officials.

“The question begs to be asked: Is this the way the Office of the Ombudsman is functioning today as exemplified by the 2020 memorandum circular of the ombudsman?” Monsod said at a virtual forum organized by freedom of information advocate group Right to Know Right Now Coalition on Monday, Sept. 13.

He was referring to Martires’ MC No. 1 Series of 2020, which limits SALN releases only to the SALN declarants themselves, their duly authorized representatives and to the court and ombudsman investigators.

Monsod, a former Commission on Elections chairman, said Martires’ policy “practically puts SALNs beyond the reach of the people,” contrary to the design of the Constitution to make government officials accountable to the public.

“From the ConCom deliberations, the ombudsman was never conceived as the protector of government officials from the people who want information about their qualifications, their performance in public office, as well as their business interests and financial connections, which might jeopardize their public functions,” Monsod said.

“It seems that the present ombudsman has forgotten that in a democracy, the people are the principals, and the government officials are their agents, not the other way around,” he added.

Monsod also cited at least three provisions in the Constitution, which he said guarantee the right to information contained in SALNs – Article 2 Sections 27 and 28 and Article 11 Section 1.

“If you connect the dots from these three provisions, you will see the function of SALNs in the accountability system, with the information that helps in determining whether a public official is living beyond his means or has hidden assets because of corruption,” Monsod said.

The Philippine STAR sought a reaction from Martires on Monsod’s statement but he has yet to respond as of press time.

At a hearing at the House of committee on appropriations last week, Martires said he will not yield to public clamor for the release of SALNs of public officials even if it will cause his removal from office.

“I am sorry but yielding to public opinion is not part of my job description… No matter how much criticism I will receive, even if I will be removed (from) office,” Martires, a retired Supreme Court justice, said.

Martires even went a step further, proposing to lawmakers to amend the existing laws in order to penalize with imprisonment anyone who would comment on the SALNs of public officials.

He reiterated his earlier statement that the SALNs are being “weaponized” to malign the reputation of public officials.

Read more: Ombudsman Firm On SALN Restriction Even If He Gets Removed From Office