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Ombudsman won’t grant request for SALN without public officials’ consent

The Office of the Ombudsman has restricted access to public officials’ Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) by requiring consent of the SALN’s owner before a SALN request can be evaluated by the Ombudsman’s office.

This is stated under the September 1 Memorandum Circular signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires which provides that the copy of the SALN will be furnished to the requester if:

  • he/she is the declarant or the duly authorized representative of the declarant;
  • the request is upon lawful order of the court in relation to a pending case; and
  • the request is made by the Ombudsman's Field Investigation Office/Bureau/Unit (FIO/FIB/FIU) for the purpose of conducting fact-finding investigation.

“In all other instances, no SALN will be furnished to the requester unless he/she presents a notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing the release of the requested SALN,” the memo read.

The same memo provides that should a requester for a public official’s SALN secure such consent from the owner of such wealth statement, the request will still be evaluated and submitted for the action of the Ombudsman “provided that the following requirements concur”:

  • that the Ombudsman’s office is the official repository of the requested SALN;
  • that the requested SALN is on file with or in actual possession by the Office; and
  • that the requester completely fills in the form, complies with the submission of the requirements and pays the fees, if applicable as herein provided.

Likewise, the said memo states that “all requests to inspect or to take picture of the SALN will be denied.”

The request for a SALN can be filed after 10 working days from the time the SALN was filed as required by law until for a period of 10 years from receipt of the SALN by the Office of the Ombudsman and its area offices.

The Ombudsman will then destroy the SALN copies 10 years after its receipt thereof, unless needed in an on-going investigation.

The Ombudsman’s office said that all requests will be acted upon within a reasonable period unless the following conditions are present:

  • the documentary requirements are lacking and/or the information necessary to process the request is inadequate;
  • the office lacks resources caused by circumstances beyond its control;
  • there are legal constraints such as restraining orders and injunctions issued by proper judicial authorities; and
  • in fortuitous events or force majeure.

A request for a SALN copy should be filed with the Office of the Ombudsman Central Records Division (CRD) for public officials required to submit their SALNs before the Ombudsman Central Office, or the concerned Case Records Evaluation, Monitoring and Enforcement Bureau (CREMEB) of the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon (OMB-Luzon), the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas (OMB-VIS), or the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao (OMB-MIN) for those required to submit their SALNs in these area offices.

In the event that the requester is convinced that the public official in question has accumulated wealth disproportionate to his or her income, Martires' memo offers no recourse save for the requester to file the complaint himself/herself.

“Where the request for the SALN is denied and the requester insists that there is a strong reason to believe that the assets and properties of a declarant are unreasonably disproportionate to his/ her income, the chief/head of the CRD or CREMEB will advise the requester to submit instead a verified complaint, together with the documentary evidence he/she may have gathered against the declarant, for appropriate action of an Ombudsman lawyer-evaluator,” Martires’ memo said.

All requests for SALNs will be made by accomplishing and signing the prescribed SALN Request Form (form) in duplicate copies, except when a subpoena is issued by the court due to a pending case.

The process of requesting a SALN form does not end with consent and accomplishing the form. If the person requesting is not the declarant (owner of the SALN) or the declarant’s duly authorized representative but has notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing the release of the requested SALN, he/she will still be required to present two original valid ID’s, one of which is a government issued ID bearing the requester’s picture and signature.

IDs with expired validity dates will not be honored.

The restrictions could only go on from there as the memo requires that a request form for a SALN should only cover one declarant (one public official who filed the SALN).

“If the requester indicates two or more names in a form, the processing officer shall return the form to the requester and advise him/her that there can only be one subject declarant in a form,” the memo read.

All requests by government agencies for the SALNs of their officials and employees for any purpose will also be denied unless the request form is supported by the declarant’s notarized letter of authority.

Further, the fees for the copies of the SALNs will only be paid after the request has been approved by the Ombudsman, except if the request was made by the government agency.

Except for the payment of the fees, a government agency will be required to observe the above procedure in requesting the SALN. Likewise, the courts and the FIO/FIB/FIU will not be required to pay the fees for the copies of the SALNs.

“All SALN requests shall be evaluated by a processing officer of the CRD or CREMEB, as the case may be, and reviewed by the division/unit chief/head. All requests for SALNs shall be subject to the approval of the Ombudsman,” the memo said.

Ultimately, a request for a certification whether a SALN was filed by a public official or employee before the Office of the Ombudsman will be treated as a request for a copy of the SALN and the above procedures and requirements shall be observed in processing the request.

“All pending SALN requests will be acted upon pursuant to this Circular. All previous issuances inconsistent herewith are repealed or modified accordingly,” the memo read.

'The public has the right to know'

Martires' predecessor, retired Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, did not require consent from the SALN owners before granting a request for a SALN copy.

Under the Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, public officials and employees "have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under 18 years of age living in their households.”

Moreover, Chapter 9, Section 34 of the Administrative Code of 1987 Book 1 reads "in the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.” — BM, GMA News