Concerns raised on Ombudsman’s recent statements during budget deliberations

Photo from Office of the Ombudsman/Facebook

September 12, 2023

Karapatan views with grave concern Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ statements in yesterday’s budget deliberations which call for greater opaqueness rather than transparency in government transactions. This, at a time when we are being buffeted by reports of graft, massive corruption in high places and misuse and abuse of public funds, especially the so-called confidential and intelligence funds (CIF).

Martires urged Congress to pass a law that would prevent the Commission on Audit (COA) from publishing its initial audit reports and observations on government agencies. 

Then, he claimed that submission of receipts by government agencies was unnecessary in reporting the use of confidential funds, despite the existence of a 2015 joint circular providing guidelines for the entitlement to, release, use, reporting and audit of confidential and intelligence funds. This 2015 circular requires the submission of quarterly reports, including detailed accounting, on the utilization of confidential and/or intelligence funds to the COA, as well as other agencies of government and the posting of such reports on the official websites of the agencies or corporations. It also mandates the conduct of regular audits by COA on the confidential and/or intelligence funds, as well as the imposition of sanctions for any violation or misuse of the funds.

As Martires cannot feign ignorance of this circular, he is openly flouting the law. With these recent statements, questions on the Ombudsman’s compliance to its mandate of being the “protector of the people” arise. In 2020, he gained notoriety for restricting access to the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of public officials, including that of then President Rodrigo Duterte.

But what takes the cake is his response to a query on the status of cases filed before the Ombudsman on the red-tagging of several activist leaders and organizations. Saying that the cases had been dismissed because “there is no law against red-tagging” and subsuming the charges under other laws would be mere “palusot” (excuse), he turns a blind eye to the numerous rights violations attendant to red-tagging and the clear dangers this malevolent practice brings to its victims. Or is he essentially validating the view that domestic mechanisms, especially the Ombudsman, are inadequate or ineffective in pursuing accountability of government officials who endanger people’s lives? 

It is becoming increasingly evident whose interests Ombudsman Martires is protecting, and it definitely is not that of the people.