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Lawyer says SALNs, lifestyle checks ‘weaponized’

RECORDS OF public officials’ assets have been “abused” and “weaponized” for politics, an analyst said following Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires’ statement on Tuesday that he has ordered a stop on lifestyle checks.

The Ombudsman also recently issued an order restricting public access to the  Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) filed annually by all government employees and officials.

“We have abused the SALNs and lifestyle checks. We have weaponized it for politics,” lawyer Antonio Gabriel M. La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo- School of Government, told BusinessWorld on Wednesday.

Mr. La Viña said the Office of the Ombudsman’s memorandum restricting SALN access, including by the media, is a good move as it has been used even in past administrations to demonize some government officials.

He also noted that petitioners who usually file complaints before anti-graft agencies are not those particularly concerned about corruption but fellow government officials “who do not like other people to be promoted” or to succeed in politics.

“Nothing to do with accountability,” he said, “We have seen it in the past. In the time of (Presidents) Arroyo, Aquino, Duterte, it happened.”

Mr. La Viña, however, qualified that media should be exempted from the order given their role as society’s watchdog.

Republic Act 6713, the law on code of conduct and ethical standards for public servants, allows journalists to obtain SALNs without restrictions from the Ombudsman’s office, provided that it will not be used for commercial purposes “other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.”

Gabriela Women’s Party-list Representative Arlene D. Brosas, sought for comment, also said “that transparency is of utmost importance for public servants.”

“We should be more transparent because the 2022 national elections is fast approaching,” she told BusinessWorld on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said lifestyle checks on government officials should be accompanied by a thorough investigation of possible corrupt acts.

Mr. Guevarra said he “fully understand(s)” where Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires “is coming from” when he ordered a stop on such checks.

“Indeed a lifestyle check as a stand-alone measure will not conclusively indicate whether a person is engaged in some wrongdoing to enrich himself,” he told reporters in a Viber message.

Mr. Guevarra said lifestyle check “has to be intertwined with a much deeper process of investigating specific acts of corruption or other crimes.”

“It is meant to strengthen a finding of wrongdoing, as manifested in the lifestyle of the person concerned,” he said.

“But in any event, government officials and employees, no matter how well-to-do or wealthy they are, are encouraged to live and project a modest life as public servants,” he added.

The Justice secretary also said that the task force probing alleged anomalies in Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) started lifestyle checks to supplement the fraud and corruption investigations.

“This is a continuing joint undertaking,” he said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas

DoLE to push for higher pay for private sector medical workers

LABOR SECRETARY Silvestre H. Bello III will push for a law that will mandate higher pay for medical workers in the private sector.

In a virtual briefing on Wednesday, Mr. Bello said lawmakers have already expressed support for this and he will present the draft bill to the inter-agency task force handling the coronavirus response.

“I am going to present to the inter-agency task force a bill that will propose the pay increase of our nurses and medical workers in the private sector to the level of the nurses and medical workers in the public sector,” he said.

The draft proposes a starting pay of around P26,000 per month.

Mr. Bello said he is hopeful that the task force will endorse it to President Rodrigo R. Duterte for certification as urgent to speed up its passage in Congress.

The Labor chief noted that the low level of salaries in the country for healthcare workers has been one of the reasons why many seek employment abroad.

The government imposed a deployment ban on healthcare workers since April, exempting only returning workers and those whose pre-employment requirements were completed by August 31 this year. — Gillian M. Cortez 

NBI official, brother BI employee face bribery complaint

THE NATIONAL Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed several complaints against one of its own officials and his brother who works at the  Bureau of Immigration for bribery relating to the illegal entry of foreign nationals.

The NBI recommended the filing of graft extortion charges against its legal assistance chief, Joshua Paul Capiral, and his brother Christopher Capiral.

They are also facing complaints for violating Executive Order No. 608 or “Establishing a national clearance system for government personnel with access to classified matters and for other purposes” and Republic Act 6713 or the code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials and employees.

State agents early this month also filed a corruption complaint against 19 immigration officials and employees involved in the scheme of facilitating the entry of foreign nationals without the required documents. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

  

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