Lawyer Larry Gadon, who played a key role in the ouster of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, slammed on Wednesday Ombudsman Samuel Martires for restricting public access to the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN) of government officials and personnel.
Gadon who used his research of Sereno’s SALN in pursuing her impeachment, questioned Martires’ interpretation of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.
“The exclusive power of the Ombudsman is that he can ask and examine documents from other agencies to verify the contents of the SALN in connection with an investigation .. but not the power to deny access by the public on the SALN itself,” explained Gadon.
Martires declared during a budget hearing for the Ombudsman’s 2021 allocation that he decided to restrict public access to SALN records of politicians in public office and other government executives because this is being “weaponized” against them.
Before the budget hearing ended, members of the House of Representatives proposed the restoration of the original P4.67 billion Ombudsman budget or an additional P1.31 billion to the current proposal of P3.36 billion
Almost in an instant, his predecessor, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales criticized Martires, pointing out that allowing the public to look into SALN records is important in pursuing complaints against erring public servants.
“Testimonial evidence is not the only evidence to build up a case,” Morales pointed out as she stressed that SALN and bank records are significant evidence that will prove innocence of guilt of a public official facing graft and other similar charges.
Gadon stressed that Martires should realize that the transparency policy in government and the right of the public to information are significant in ensuring clean and honest governance which the Ombudsman is tasked to guarantee.
“The Supreme Court itself provides in its website the official request form when someone asks for copies of SALNs of judiciary personnel.”I myself used that publicly downloadable form from the SC website when I secured copies of Atty Lourdes Sereno’s SALNs which was granted by the SC,” he said.
Gadon added: “The restrictions laid down by Ombudsman Martirez contradicts the purpose of the SALN .. the law itself provides for the right of the public on its access.”