Ombudsman Samuel Martires doth protest too much in claiming that journalist Malou Mangahas misrepresented herself and deceived him into talking out of turn.
He strikes a laughable pose in accusing Mangahas of engaging in wiretapping by recording their exchange on President Duterte’s undisclosed statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) when she did not expressly seek his permission to do so.
And he appears to forget that he is a public official sworn to safeguard the interest of the public — which has every right to be apprised of the President’s 2018 SALN that mysteriously remains under wraps even after the filing deadline has lapsed.
In a report on Dec. 18, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) quoted Martires as saying that he was unsure if the Office of the Ombudsman was authorized to release Mr. Duterte’s SALN, and that reporters should just get a copy from the Office of the Executive Secretary if they couldn’t do so from the Office of the President.
In a statement written in Filipino and issued on the same day, Martires rather dramatically said Mangahas disrespected his person when she recorded what he described as a casual conversation while she was tailing him in the hallway of a hotel on Dec. 9 as he emerged from a “health break” and was heading back to an anticorruption summit being held there.
“Sa ganang akin, hindi lamang niya nilapastangan ang aking pagkatao ngunit nilabag pa niya ang Anti-Wiretapping Law,” he declared. He also said he was surprised that their exchange was reported.
Mangahas, who is executive director of the PCIJ, issued a lengthy response countering Martires’ claim of misrepresentation and deception and detailing her earlier efforts to be granted an interview on the matter.
“Ombudsman Martires knew that as a public official with expertise and mandate on the issues raised, he was speaking face to face with a journalist with a legitimate journalistic purpose, on a matter of public interest,” she said in part. “The conversation occurred in a public space and even with the full knowledge and in full view of his own personnel from the Office of the Ombudsman.”
The matter that Malacañang has cavalierly dropped onto Martires’ obviously reluctant lap illustrates the surreal situation of an administration that has promised transparency but constantly fails to deliver.
Shortly after the President took office in July 2016, he signed an executive order reminding public officials that each is obliged to file their SALN and release it to public scrutiny, and stating that “no request for information shall be denied unless it clearly falls under any of the exceptions listed” in the Office of the President’s inventory.
The yearly filing of SALNs, including a disclosure of business interests and financial connections, is required under the 1987 Constitution as well as Republic Act No. 6713 (or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).
In his statement upbraiding Mangahas, Martires said that while he was aware of every Filipino’s right to know the SALNs of all government officials and employees, he was also duty-bound to safeguard the rights of the latter according to the implementing rules and regulations of RA 6713.
A dilemma, to be sure, on the horns of which he will remain securely impaledʖbut a dilemma that must recognize, and be resolved in favor of, the primacy of the public interest at all times.
This man was named to the post of “protector of the people” in July 2018, when he was associate justice of the Supreme Court. While there, he was among the eight justices who voted to oust then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on the grounds of her failure to submit all her SALNs to the Judicial and Bar Council when she was still applying for the post. That failure was deemed just cause for her appointment to be rendered invalid.
The deadline for the filing of SALNs by government officials and employees lapsed on April 30, but the President’s own has yet to be publicly disclosed — a first in 30 years, according to the PCIJ.
But astoundingly, Malacañang can’t be bothered. Speaking with reporters, Salvador Panelo said Mr. Duterte “has not transgressed any law” and, by the sheer act of filing a SALN, showed that he had nothing to hide.
“Maybe that’s their style,” Panelo said of other government officials who had submitted their SALNs to public scrutiny. “This President’s style is different.”
Is adherence to the law a matter of style then? If, say, officials of this administration are found to have committed acts of corruption, can those acts be merely dismissed as their style?