Ombudsman claims there is no law requiring SALN submission

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 20) — The Office of the Ombudsman said there's no law requiring government officials to submit their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), even if it is provided for under the Constitution and the 34-year-old Code of Conduct for Public Officials.

During plenary debates on the Office of the Ombudsman's 2024 budget proposal Wednesday, Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas asked the Office of the Ombudsman's opinion about the non-disclosure of SALNs and its supposed "non-proactive" stance on conducting lifestyle checks.

Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante, the sponsor of the Office of the Ombudsman's budget, said there's no law requiring public officials to submit their SALNs.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires was present and would approach Abante for some of the concerns raised by lawmakers as it is the budget sponsor who answers the questions during interpellation.

Abante said the Office of the Ombudsman can conduct lifestyle checks if it is authorized to do so.

"Ang sabi ng ating Ombudsman, there is actually no law na we should submit the SALN," Abante said. "In fact, 'yung lifestyle check na 'yan, during the time of Ombudsman (Simeon) Marcelo, ay nakuha doon sa Hong Kong."

[Translation: The Ombudsman said there is actually no law that we should submit the SALN. In fact, the practice of lifestyle checks during the time of Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo was modeled after Hong Kong.]

Marcelo was appointed as Ombudsman during the Arroyo administration. In 2003, the government introduced lifestyle checks of government officials as part of its anti-corruption campaign.

"Now, there is no problem, Mr. Speaker, Your Honor, na mag-lifestyle check ang Ombudsman [that the Ombudsman conduct lifestyle checks] if there is any authority given by the agency," he added.

However, Article XI, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution provides that: "A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth.

"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," it adds.

The submission of SALN by government employees is also required under Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

With or without a law requiring the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct lifestyle checks, Brosas said the constitutional body should exert all efforts to hold public officials accountable.

"Whatever gap in legislation ay maaari namang i-address [can be addressed] via legislation," she said. "But in carrying out its constitutional mandate, we expect the Office of the Ombudsman to be more proactive in addressing corruption issues."

In 2020, Martires restricted public access to SALNs, requiring those seeking the document to first obtain permission from the employee who filed the SALN. 

He also said he ordered a stop to lifestyle checks on public officials since he assumed office in 2018 due to questionable provisions of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.