Four business groups are opposing Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ bid to criminalize commenting on the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) of government officials, saying it is a violation of freedom of speech.
In a joint statement, the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Integrity Initiative, Judicial Reform Initiative, and the Makati Business Club said the Ombudsman should allow public access to SALNs in the interest of transparency.
For the Integrity Initiative, Martires’ proposal is even worse that the corruption it ought to address.
“The Ombudsman should prosecute government officials involved in graft and fraud not persecute citizens who complain about them, or comment on their SALN. This overprotection at the expense of civil liberties is as corrupt, or even more corrupt that the corruption it is preventing to be exposed,” Integrity Initiative chairman Alexander Cabrera said.
The statement said it has been a year since access to SALNs was restricted and criminalizing commenting on them will further chip away at the constitutional right to public information and official records.
“Integrity is critical to our society and leaders in government, business, and other sectors, should set the tone. We need leaders with integrity who will work for the people, not themselves, who will ensure public resources go to the common good, not their private interest,” the statement added.
“The SALN—and the ability to access and comment on it—is important because bribes often end up in assets,” the statement read.
The businessmen said that a culture and environment of integrity and good governance is needed to attract investment and create jobs and businessmen need to know there is fair play and that they will not be edged out by those paying bribes.
“To attract investment, business people need to know they have a fair chance to succeed. A fair chance that comes from not having competitors who have an unfair edge because those competitors are bribing officials. A fair chance that comes from not having to bribe officials themselves just to stay in business,” the statement said. (Eileen Mencias)