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Redactions

By: Dr. Ramon Ricardo A. Roque, CESOI, Diplomate

Is it proper for officials in the Executive Department, particularly Cabinet Secretaries, to do or allow redactions in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs)?

Redaction is the censoring of information in a document by, among others, blackening words, number and images contained therein.

Concern is rightfully raised on the issue of redaction on the SALN of some Cabinet Secretaries because it is clearly against the principles of transparency and accountability that are at the core of Republic Act. No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards For Public Officials and Employees.

The SALN form was obviously designed to contain information that will enable the people to see, among others, whether a government official or employee questionably enriched himself or herself while in government service. But the agencies responsible in the form design must also admit that the SALN, in its current form, is far from being perfect.

One imperfection of the SALN form is the required plate number of vehicles owned by a government official or employee. While the requirement is obviously intended to identify the vehicle/s being declared in the SALN, it also has implications on the security of the declarant and the members of his/her family. An alternative information – one that does not endanger a government official or employee but factually identifies the vehicle/s being declared – can be required such as the vehicle’s engine or chassis number.

It is, however, not proper and ethical for a government official or employee to redact information that does not have negative personal security implications.

It is simply not right for a government official to shield himself/herself with the constitutional right to privacy in fulfilling the obligation of declaring personal information, when such declaration is necessary in illustrating his or her fidelity in public service.

As government officials and employees are stewards of the people’s power and resources and are responsible in advancing public interests, they are “less private” than non-government-employed citizens. It is a reality that all government officials and employees should embrace when they sought public office or accepted appointments in government offices.

The current issue on reduction needs to be addressed because it threatens to erode whatever gains we have already accomplished in advancing the causes of transparency and accountability in public service.

The concerned Cabinet Secretaries and/or those responsible for the redaction have a lot of explaining to do because redaction in the SALN is against President Duterte’s directive on the freedom of information. After all, such freedom and the principles of transparency and accountability should not be subject to information limitations that are set and determined by the very people who should be transparent and accountable.

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