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Monday, June 17, 2024

Eroded trust

"It is Ombudsman Martires who does not know enough about his own job."

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The Ombudsman in government or in any institution is supposed to be a comforting presence.

The Ombudsman—formerly called the Tanodbayan, or watchdog—is exactly that: Someone keeping watch and making sure everything is done according to the letter and spirit of the law, and flagging anything that might be construed as a violation of the rules.

Under our Constitution, the Ombudsman is empowered, primarily, to “investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient.”

Now comes our current Ombudsman, former Supreme Court Justice Samuel Martires, first putting restrictions on the public’s access to government officials’ Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, and then more recently suggesting that the law be amended to imprison anybody who makes a comment on the SALN of any official.

In September 2020, Martires issued a circular saying that SALNs may only be made available if the official in question gives a notarized consent to release his or her SALN, if there is a court order, or if it would be part of a government investigation.

In the past, Martires lashed out at those who pointed out that his personal wealth increased by P15 million from August to December 2018.

And then earlier this month, amid the controversy surrounding the procurement of COVID-related items and apparent misuse of funds, with no less than the President defending the personalities behind the company that won billions of pesos worth of contracts, Martires asked: Why are the people so interested in the SALN of Mr. Duterte?

The President has never made his SALN public despite his declarations of war on corruption.

At a congressional budget hearing, he brought up his wild idea of a five-year jail term for those who dared comment on anyone’s SALN.

He also insulted the media for not knowing enough English to interpret Republic Act 6713 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Clearly, it is Martires who does not know enough about his own job.

His words and demeanor have eroded our trust and confidence in a sacred office whose mandate is to ensure honesty and transparency among government officials, from the most powerful to the lowliest. We are at our wits’ end figuring out what to do and where to turn when the watchdog just won’t watch.


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