OMBUDSMAN  TIGHTENS  RULES  ON  ACCESS  TO  OFFICIALS'  SALN

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 10
, 2009 (STAR) By Michael Punongbayan - Following a series of negative reports on the First Family’s wealth based partly on their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, the Office of the Ombudsman has tightened rules in giving out copies of government officials’ SALN “to protect the integrity of the document.”

Instead of a simple letter-request, requirements now include a sworn statement before a prosecutor of the anti-graft body stating the reasons for the request.

Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus Jr. said an applicant has to declare under oath his or her purpose in order to ensure that SALNs “will not be used for harassment.”

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez’s Memorandum Circular No. 1 signed on June 16, 2009 also requires the presentation of two government-issued identification cards.

“While the Office of the Ombudsman is willing to furnish copies (of the SALNs) of public officials and employees to persons requesting for the same, the reason for the same must be legitimate,” the order states.

Gutierrez said requests for copies of SALNS will only be granted if it will be used for study purposes in school, when it will be disseminated to the general public through news, or if a court or any other quasi-judicial agency asks for it.

“This office is cognizant of the fact that in other times the request is made under circumstances which may endanger, diminish, or destroy the independence and objectivity of the Office of the Ombudsman and its officials in the performance of their quasi-judicial functions and expose them to revenge for adverse decisions,” the memorandum circular states.

“We have set rules for the purpose of attending to public and media requests for copies. We just want to make sure that we are giving them out for legitimate purposes,” De Jesus told The STAR.

“We are just laying out requirements,” he said, adding that the Office of the Ombudsman is not making it hard for the public or the media to gain access to a public document.

“We just would like to make sure that the request is legitimate and the copy will be used for a legitimate purpose and not for harassment or a fishing expedition,” he stressed.

Procedural

De Jesus said the “added safeguards” do not in any way intend to infringe on the public’s right to access public documents.

He insisted that the new regulations have nothing to do with recent media exposés about President Arroyo and the First Family’s wealth.

“There has to be a procedure,” De Jesus explained, noting that requiring an applicant to present two valid identification cards merely seeks to ensure that the person is not fictitious.

“We have to put some regulations. This should not be construed as something to infringe on the people’s right to access to information or public documents,” he stressed.

The memorandum circular specifically points to specific instances wherein a request can be denied, especially when the applicant plans to use the SALNs for extortion or blackmail.

“Where the purpose stated is contrary to morals or public policy, or is commercial in nature other than by news and communication media for dissemination to the general public, the request shall be denied outright,” the order states.

De Jesus said the new rules are patterned after that of the Supreme Court, which implements even stricter rules in giving out copies of the SALNs of justices.

Under the law, the Office of the Ombudsman is the legal repository or keeper of the SALNs of presidents, vice presidents, and that of other constitutional officials working for agencies like the Commission on Human Rights and the Commission on Elections.

De Jesus said that SALNs of Cabinet secretaries are filed at the Office of the President while those of senators and congressmen are kept by the secretaries of the respective houses of Congress.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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