Ombudsman tightens rules on access to SALNs of government officials

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 15) — The Office of the Ombudsman has declared new restrictions on the public's access to the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of government officials.

Under Memorandum Circular No. 1, the Ombudsman's Office said a copy of the SALN will be provided 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 this Office's Field Investigation Office/Bureau/Unit (FIO/FIB/FIU) for the purpose of conducting fact-finding investigation

No copy will be furnished in all other instances unless the requester "presents a notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing the release of the requested SALN," the order read.

The order also provided the requirements a request must satisfy before getting evaluated and submitted for action of the Ombudsman, namely the Office is the SALN's official repository; the SALN is on file with or in actual possession by the Office, and the requester completely fills-in the form, complies with the submission of the requirements and pays applicable fees as herein provided.

Requests to inspect or take pictures of any SALN will also be denied, said the order.

Interested parties may file requests for any SALN after 10 working days from the time it was filed as required by law, and for a period of 10 years from the receipt of the Office and its area offices.

"The SALNs shall be destroyed ten (10) years after the receipt thereof unless needed in an on-going investigation," stated the order.

Duterte's 2018, 2019 SALN yet to be published

The amended guidelines came long after reporters began requesting copies of President Rodrigo Duterte's 2018 and 2019 SALN to no avail.

During his virtual briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the chief executive had already submitted both documents, but is unsure whether they have already been made available to the public.

RELATED: Panelo: Release of SALN not Duterte's 'style', still up to Ombudsman

Still, Roque assured the President's commitment to ensuring transparency in his administration.

"I don’t think the President is keeping anything from the public," Roque said. "The fact is, he is the only branch of government that has in fact issued an issuance, an Executive Order No. 1 on transparency, and that is FOI (freedom of information) in the executive branch of government."

All public officials and employees, whether regular or under temporary status, are required to file a SALN annually under the 1987 Philippine Constitution and Republic Act No. 6713.

Duterte's E.O. No. 1 reminds state officials of "their obligation to file and make available for scrutiny their SALN.”