THE Office of the Ombudsman has asked the Congress to restrict public’s access to the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) by amending the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees or Republic Act 6713.
In the copy of the draft bill recently submitted to the lower chamber, the Office of the Ombudsman proposed to amend Section 8 of RA 6713.
Under the bill, such statements shall be made available for copying or reproduction after 10 working days from the time they are filed as required by law.
Provided, that each official repository shall have exclusive authority in approving any request for copying, reproduction, inspection of or any other form of access to such statements and shall enact reasonable conditions, guidelines, rules and regulations for this purpose.
Under the bill, the availability and access to any statement filed under this proposal shall not be approved if a finding is made by the official repository of the document/s that revealing personal and sensitive information could endanger the individual who filed the statement or his/her family member.
It added that a statement may be redacted to the extent necessary to protect the individual who filed the statement or a family member of that individual and for as long as the danger to such individual exists.
Also, the bill bars any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public; provided that such use by news and communications media shall be strictly limited to reporting of facts provided in the statement, and no further commentaries could be made thereon.
The Ombudsman also proposed that any issues on the statements required to be filed under this proposal, including allegations of willful misrepresentation, perjury, and incongruence of networth with earning capacity or inability to explain the changes in the SALN, shall be first brought to the review and compliance committee of each repository agency.
The bill provides that no criminal or administrative charges may be brought to the Office of the Ombudsman related to the statements required under this proposal without an endorsement to this effect by the pertinent review and compliance committee.
Under the bill, violation of this proposal shall be punishable with imprisonment not exceeding five years, or a fine not exceeding P5,000, or both, and in the discretion of the court, disqualification to hold public office.
For his part, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said penalizing or jailing a media person for merely expressing an opinion or comment on the SALN of a government official or employee is certainly “very harsh, and, may even constitute an undue curtailment of a constitutionally guaranteed right.”
“This is more so since the phrase ‘no further commentaries could be made’ is very broad and vague,” Zarate added.
Earlier, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said he will not yield to pressure to have the SALNs submitted by government officials, including President Duterte, released to the public.
Since 2017, Duterte has not publicly released his SALN.