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[Y-SPACE] Duterte: Promoting transparency and accountability, except on SALN

by Maria Nicole Dominique Dimayacyac

"To further promote transparency and accountability in government, we also issued the order on Freedom of Information (FOI) [that] opens up the records, transactions, decisions, and issuances of all government agencies. Concerning this, we also have the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission that is tasked to run after corrupt and erring government officials and bring them to justice," said President Rodrigo Duterte in his final State of the Nation Address last July 26.

Although there have been some improvements as a result of President Duterte's FOI order, there is still some critical information that remains hidden. Since 2018, the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of President Duterte has remained a secret, breaking the record of being the first president in the last 30 years to do such - and contradicting his claims.

Not just for the sake of Freedom of Information but according to Article XI Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution and Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6713, the "Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees," submission of a SALN is a must. It has been a reliable method of tracking corruption and determining the honesty of those in government positions during their terms of office.

Over the last three decades, the Office of the Ombudsman has made the wealth declarations of Philippine presidents and other government officials widely available until it issued the Memorandum Circular No. 1 Series of 2020, prohibiting the public from seeing copies of the SALNs. Based on the current guidelines, SALNs can only be accessed by an official or a duly authorized representative, a requester acting on a court order with a pending case, and field investigators from the Office of the Ombudsman conducting fact-finding investigations. The media and the general public, on the other side, have been barred from requesting copies of SALNs.

But why limit access when the laws boldly proclaim that SALNs must be made public? Why would a constitution, which serves as a watchdog against corrupt government practices, go against the law and change the duty of public officials to reveal their wealth to the public?

"Public officials have private lives too, you know!" That may be reasonable but not always applicable. They are given immense powers and financial means by the Filipino people, and these privileges have the potential to be poisonous. It is their responsibility to be accountable for and honest about their actions on a much higher level than any other citizen.

Making it difficult for citizens to obtain critical information is a clear violation of good governance. With President Duterte's marching orders to hundreds of legislators and public officials to "serve and protect the people, practice transparency and accountability, and avoid corruption," he only adds irony to the fact that he is the most discreet president in terms of his wealth.

Maria Nicole Dominique “Nikki” Dimayacyac, 21, is a Journalism student at Cavite State University and a consistent Dean's lister who prefers feature writing over straight news writing.

YSPACE is a platform open for young writers to contribute their worth-sharing thoughts and stories to the world. It is a space for young people and by the young people which aims to promote a strong sense of empowerment and inspiration to young Filipinos.

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