Ombudsman's proposed changes to SALN law penalizes commenters

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Ombudsman Samuel Martires (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 20) — The Office of the Ombudsman has proposed an amendment to the law on the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) that would penalize commentaries on it.

A draft of the Ombudsman’s proposed amendments to Republic Act 6713 states that the media’s use of the SALN "shall be strictly limited to reporting of facts provided in the statement and no further commentaries could be made thereon."

If Congress passes the amendment, violators could face jail time not exceeding five years or P5,000 fine or both.

Under the Ombudsman’s proposed revisions, government officials can exclude from their SALNS real properties that are used solely and exclusively as their personal residence.

They will also not be required to declare any transaction solely and exclusively between themselves and their spouse or unmarried children.

A source, who forwarded a copy of the draft bill on Tuesday, said it has not yet been filed. The person also said that according to the Ombudsman, their office will send a final draft after a thorough review and discussion of the proposed amendments.

Access to SALNs

Ombudsman Samuel Martires earlier proposed jail time for people who will comment on SALNs of government officials, which he eventually formalized in the draft bill. He also stood by his memorandum circular that will require consent from the SALN owner before it can be released to the public.

The office of President Rodrigo Duterte has used this memo to defend his refusal to release his annual wealth report since 2018, despite repeated requests from the media.

In the Ombudsman's new proposal, official repositories of government employees’ SALN have the option to restrict access to the document or redact particular details if revelation of certain information could endanger the government employees’ lives.

The Ombudsman has also proposed that the period of safekeeping for SALNs be shortened from ten years to eight years with the document destroyed after the period indicated unless it is needed in an ongoing investigation.

Group of journalists reacts

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines slammed the Ombudsman for promoting secrecy instead of championing transparency in the interest of the Filipino people.

"The SALN is just one of the many effective tools we can use against corruption. As the Ombudsman, he should be the first to promote the spirit of transparency and accountability. Why is he the first to prevent us from doing such?" it said in a statement.

CNN Philippines correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.