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Veteran public officials oppose Ombudsman’s SALN fears

By Jose Oscar Magpusao

Veteran lawmakers and public officials rejected the Office of the Ombudsman’s recent comments regarding his refusal to disclose the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) of public officials during the Who’s Afraid of the SALN Law: Bakit Secret? Bakit Ayaw Ilabas? online public forum hosted by the Right to Know, Right Now! (R2KRN) Coalition on Monday.

Atty. Christian Monsod, a framer of the 1987 Constitution, lambasted the Ombudsman’s fear of the SALN being 'weaponized' against public officials, stating that “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.”

“The Ombudsman and the Supreme Court have chosen to defer to the concerns of their peers that the SALN can be weaponized to criticize and find ways and means to destroy their reputation, as if they cannot call on the full range and weight of the government's capability for protection and sanctions if the right to information is misused or abused,” Atty. Monsod said.

“Perhaps in view of going to an Ombudsman, who appears to have lost its purpose, we should just tell those who want the power and benefits of public office but are not willing to take the risks that go with it that they should not seek public office in the first place,” he added.

Former Senator and co-author of the SALN law Orlando Mercado said that the detailed debates they had when they were drafting the provisions of the law resulted in their agreement that it is the responsibility of government agencies to make their SALNs, which were already filed by employees and public officials, available for copying and reproduction.

“Ang SALN ay isa sa mga armamentanyo na napakahalaga. We cannot agree to a suggestion that will be tantamount to a killer amendment to this particular law. It will emasculate it. Malaki ang mangyayari na problema. Hindi na tayo uusad,” he said.

“Naiintindihan ko rin naman kung saan nanggagaling yung sinasabi na gobyerno na ang problema nito kung lumaki ang iyong income sa ifinile mong SALN, the presumption is already that it’s ill-gotten. But you are not without the ability to be able to explain. And if you can be explained then what’s the problem? Talagang tama naman yung sinasabi ng battle cry ng mga humihingi freedom of information na: ‘Kung wala kayong tinatago, wala kang dapat ikatakot,’” he added.

Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Luie Guia, who helped develop the systems for campaign-finance monitoring in the Comelec, shared his insights monitoring the campaign expenses of public officials, monitoring their Statement of Contribution and Expenditures (SOCE).

He emphasized the importance of transparency through the lens of political campaigning, but closely related it to the disclosure of already elected officials and their SALN, stating that the disclosure of these documents portrays a public official as honestly as possible and prevents any discrepancies regarding bribes, political favors, foreign influence, relations with criminal organizations, etc.

“The wisdom of requiring both SALN and the SOCE, plus the other mandated campaign finance reports, proceeds from the most basic nature of public office being a public trust and the necessity, under a democracy, of a transparent and accountable government,” Guia said.

"SALN is such an effective tool in helping reduce opportunities for corruption, that the dangers it is said to pose on public officers is outweighed by the benefit it has to having a transparent and accountable government," he added.

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