Ombudsman Samuel Martires is now entangling with the media about his plan to limit media access on cases filed and pending with the Office of the Ombudsman.
Martires justifies, “There is always a limit to that right to information…hindi porke nasa media tayo lahat na lang binubusisi natin o inuusisa natin. Kung minsan huwag natin pagkanegosyohan o pagkaperahan ang karapatan ng ibang tao – ‘yan ang term ko, masakit,” Martires said. (Not because we’re part of the media we’re always scrutinizing everything. Sometimes let’s not make a business or make money out of the rights of other people – that’s my term, it hurts.)
He went on, “The Office of the Ombudsman will not let the media know about complaints being filed. Currently, complainants tell media ahead of their filing, and reporters are allowed at the lobby of the Office of the Ombudsman to interview complainants.”
Martires said there are no sanctions for complainants who talk to media “for now,” but this mechanism will be difficult moving forward.
“I will make it a point that the office of the receiving section will be shielded, will be away from the media so we can always deny that a particular complaint was filed,” Martires said.
Martires’ predecessor Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales before always issued press releases whether a case would be elevated to the anti-graft court, or whether the case had been dismissed. In fact during the forum last July 27, Morales also asked the members of the media to remain vigilant at this time when “the assertion of press freedom was even more challenging.” This is counter to what Martires wants to happen.
Morales said, “The Ombudsman and the media, as entities both discharging watchful conscience, should continue to work hand in hand in upholding public interest, and keeping government resources, systems and personnel less vulnerable to corruption”.
She even reminded the media to remain faith and assertive to the truth and freedom. “In the midst of fake news, it is high time that journalists reaffirm their commitment to truth and freedom by putting pen to paper in order for the story to see the light and combat the falsities that surround us” she said. “I challenge you to continue emitting that spark even as my turn is about to come to a close,” she added.
With this new system set by the Ombudsman’s office that there will be no longer make any announcements to be made on the progress of the cases.
“We will not make any announcements with respect to even high-profile cases because there is no distinction between a high-profile case and a low-profile case, it’s all the same,” Martires said.
Reporters will now have to discover for themselves if the case has been filed with the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, which, at the moment, remains open to media.
For the dismissed cases, the reporters will have no way to know if a case has been dismissed except if the respondents themselves reveal it to the media.
There are the high profile cases still pending with the Office of the Ombudsman that warrants public interest:
Ill-gotten wealth cases against President Rodrigo Duterte’s son Paolo Duterte Plunder case against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo related to a P57-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office fund (a different set of funds from the P366-million case which was dismissed by the Supreme Court)
Graft case against former president Benigno Aquino III over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)
Cases against top officials, like Solicitor General Jose Calida, Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson and former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II
In closing, Martires claims this does not violate the public’s right to information.“Which is more important, the freedom of information or the rights of the person? Sana huwag nating pagkaperahan ‘yung mga tao (Let’s not make money out of the people)”.