POSTSCRIPT / October 22, 2020 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Nothing to hide? Open Du30 SALNs!

THE LOGIC is compelling. If President Duterte is not corrupt and has no unexplained wealth to hide, he should make public his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) for 2018 and 2019 as required by law, decency, and normal practice.

What’s the use of RA 6713 — the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees – that requires the annual filing of SALNs by government personnel if their statements are not accessible to the public anyway?

In the case of President Duterte, what is he afraid of? A tweeter going by the name @IamCharotism says it better in Filipino:

“Sabi nga ng mga DDS wag matakot sa Anti-Terror Law kung hindi terorista, wag matakot sa tokhang kung hindi adik, at wag matakot sa bitay kung hindi kriminal. Kaya Tatay Digong wag ka matakot sa SALN kung hindi ka korap. Charot!”

(DDS ask why be afraid of the Anti-Terrorism Act if you’re not a terrorist, or fear Oplan Tokhang if you’re not a drug addict, or dread the death sentence if you’re not a criminal? Tatay Digong, don’t be afraid of SALN if you’re not corrupt.)

Indeed, if Duterte has nothing to hide, he should not be afraid to disclose his meticulously prepared SALNs. He should not hide behind his fraternity brother and appointee, Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires, who warns that SALNs could be “weaponized” and used for harassment.

Enabled by the law to act motu proprio, the Ombudsman should be the shining vanguard in the campaign against corruption and unethical practices in government. But he is the one blocking the public scrutiny of SALNs filed freely under oath.

He explained during a Senate budget hearing on Sept. 22 that the SALN (required to be filed yearly together with a Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections) has become a “weapon” in political combat.

In a memorandum circular dated Sept. 1, 2020, the Ombudsman restricted the release of SALN copies. He also stopped lifestyle checks on officials after finding, he said, some provisions of the law questionable.

When there is a request for copies of the President’s SALNs, Malacañang now points to the Ombudsman’s memo restricting their release only to (1) the officials who filed them, or their representatives, (2) a court, in relation to a case, and (3) the Ombudsman’s field investigators.

Martires proposed that the law be amended, because “there really are provisions there na kung hindi malabo walang hulog sa logic (if not vague, seem to have no logic).” While everybody awaits the amendments, are the filing and examination of SALNs put on hold?

Even the Ten Commandments can be “weaponized” and abused. Do we then suspend obedience and close our eyes to all transgressions until Yahweh descends again on Mount Sinai and hands over an amended Decalogue? https://tinyurl.com/y2zvyxe6

Before Martires entered the scene, SALNs of all presidents from Cory Aquino through Duterte (until 2017 only) were being disclosed upon proper request. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, having regularly obtained and examined copies, posted on Twitter on Oct. 19:

“Duterte’s wealth increased from less than P1 million in 1998 to nearly P29 million in 2017. But in 2018, his SALN was kept under lock and key by the @OmbudsmanPh. Here’s Duterte’s wealth as reported in his SALN from 1997 to 2017. Read our report at http://bit.ly/3m0tz2R

The restrictions imposed by the Ombudsman have the effect of a total embargo on the examination of SALNs at all levels. Since the blackout applies to the President, it must apply to everybody else in government.

Martires’ memo says inquiring media must present a notarized letter from the official whose SALN they want to obtain. His memo cites RA 6713 as basis for this rule, yet the same law allows journalists to secure copies of SALNs and report on them.

The filing of SALNs aims to discourage graft and corruption. This objective is negated or rendered meaningless, however, when the corresponding right of the people to access and to know under Section 8 is denied them.

For reference, Section 8 (C) of RA 6713 also provides access as follows:

“Accessibility of documents. — (1) Any and all statements filed under this Act, shall be made available for inspection at reasonable hours.

“(2) Such statements shall be made available for copying or reproduction after 10 working days from the time they are filed as required by law.

“(3) Any person requesting a copy of a statement shall be required to pay a reasonable fee to cover the cost of reproduction and mailing of such statement, as well as the cost of certification.

“(4) Any statement filed under this Act shall be available to the public for a period of 10 years after receipt of the statement. After such a period, the statement may be destroyed unless needed in an ongoing investigation.”

The abuses and “weaponization” that Martires dreads have been anticipated under Section 8 (D) which provides: “It shall be unlawful for any person to obtain or use any statement filed under this Act for (a) any purpose contrary to morals or public policy; or (b) any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.”

Martires noted that an official with “distorted values or priorities” who lives beyond his means cannot be summarily accused of corruption. He asked in Filipino “Who are we to judge a person, someone’s business, if that person was not proven to have stolen anything?… What’s simple living to me may not be simple living to you or anyone.”

We reiterate what we said here on Sept. 24: If indeed President Duterte abhors corruption in government, he should test Martires’ Theory of Ethical Relativity and the distortions it has wrought on the political space-time continuum.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 22, 2020)

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