Ombudsman stops lifestyle checks

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    AFTER restricting public access to the Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) of top government officials, the Office of the Ombudsman has also stopped the conduct of lifestyle checks on public officials.

    Ombudsman Samuel Martires yesterday told lawmakers that he made the decision because some provisions of Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, are illogical and vague.

    “Ngayong ako’y nag-assume bilang Ombudsman, pinatigil ko na muna ‘yung lifestyle check dahil matagal na akong may question, may duda ako sa provision ng batas tungkol sa lifestyle checks (Now that I’m the Ombudsman, I’ve stopped lifestyle checks for now because I’ve had questions, reservations about lifestyle checks),” Martires told the House committee on appropriations during the budget briefing on his office’ proposed P3.268 billion budget for 2021.

    “Pinatigil ko muna ‘yung lifestyle check kasi iyong R.A. 6713 walang hulog sa logic (I’ve temporarily stopped lifestyle checks since RA 6713 is illogical). What is simple living to me may not be simple to you,” Martires added.

    Section 2 (Declaration of Policies) of R.A. 6713 states that, “it is the policy of the State to promote a high standard of ethics in public service. Public officials and employees shall at all times be accountable to the people and shall discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.”

    Before the COVID pandemic, Martires said he was supposed to ask Congress to introduce amendments to the law so that lawmakers can improve its vague and illogical provisions.

    For example, he said wearing designer clothes is not necessarily a violation of the law’s intent because the public official could have scrimped on other expenses to afford luxurious items.

    “So sino tayo para sabihin na bakit ‘yan ang mga bags Louis Vuitton? Ano ang pakialam natin sa buhay ng may buhay kung hindi naman siya nagnanakaw? (So who are we to question why someone has Louis Vuitton bags? What right do we have to meddle with his or her life if it wasn’t stolen?)” Martires said. “Ano ang pakialam natin sa buhay ng may buhay kung wala sya inaagrabyado, kung siya ay nangungutang lang para masunod ‘yung layaw niya (What right do we have to question it if he or she just took out a loan to fund such luxury)?”

    The Ombudsman also defended his decision to restrict access to SALNs of top government officials to only three entities: the declarant (the official who filed the SALN) or his authorized representative; a person authorized by the court in relation to a pending case; and an investigator of the Office of the Ombudsman.

    Martires said SALNs are being used for politics by enemies of government officials to destroy them.

    “Saan ba gagamitin itong SALN kundi para siraan ang isang kawani o isang opisyal ng pamahalaan. Iyun lang po ang aming puntos dito (Where do you use this SALN but to vilify an employee or an official of the government. That’s our only point),” he said.

    Martires, a former Supreme Court associate justice, also pointed out that Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, does not require the use of SALN to prosecute someone.