President Rodrigo Duterte’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) will remain restricted from public access unless otherwise ordered by the Office of the Ombudsman, Malacañang has said.

Duterte had filed SALNs his first two years in office. In 2018 and 2019, access to the chief executive’s documents was barred by Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ office.

Martires, who belonged to the same law college fraternity as Duterte, was appointed by the President to the Supreme Court in 2017 and as Ombudsman in 2018.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), in an Oct. 15 report, released public wealth documents of Philippine presidents since 1989. It said Duterte is the only president to not have his SALNs made available to the public in 31 years.

“These documents show that President Duterte is breaking a long tradition of presidents making their annual wealth disclosures public year after year, often even without a formal request from the press or the public to do so,” the report read.

PCIJ graph

Sought for comment on the report, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said releasing the documents was up to the Ombudsman.

“We leave that to the Office of the Ombudsman which is a constitutional body tasked with implementation of our laws relating to public officers,” he said in a Palace briefing on Oct. 19.

Duterte’s vow of transparency

Shortly after assuming the presidency in 2016, Duterte released an Executive Order mandating the “full public disclosure” to ” information, official records, public records and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development.”

However, Roque said the Office of the Ombudsman’s Sept. 1, 2020 Memorandum Circular, in which it required a SALN owner’s consent before furnishing copies of a SALN to a requester, must be followed.

He also claimed that the Ombudsman’s new guidelines were not contrary to Duterte’s transparency policy.

“Hindi naman po siguro [contradictory] dahil may bago pong guidelines na sinusunod ang Office of the Ombudsman… hindi naman co-equal kung hindi constitutional body iyong Ombudsman ay dapat naman sundin natin iyong kanilang mga guidelines,” he said.

Duterte’s EO 2 covers “all government offices under the Executive Branch, including but not limited to the national government and all its offices, departments, bureaus, offices, and instrumentalities, including government-owned or -controlled corporations, and state universities and colleges.”

It said no request for information should be denied unless it “clearly falls under any of the exceptions listed in the inventory or updated inventory of exceptions circularized by the Office of the President.”

“[N]o exception shall be used or availed of to deny any request for information or access to public records, or official records if the denial is intended primarily and purposely to cover up a crime, wrongdoing, graft or corruption,” the EO stated.

Duterte’s net worth after assuming the presidency in 2016 was at P27.42 million. It rose to P28.54 million in 2017. John Ezekiel J. Hirro