By Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos and Ben R. Rosario
Malacañang said that the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) should be open to any probe to disprove allegations of corruption among its officials, employees, and personnel.
It made the call in the wake of President Duterte’s plans to form a body to investigate corruption in the OMB, while threatening to arrest its officials who refuse to cooperate in the investigation.
However, opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman dared the President to scrap his plans and instead form a similar body to probe unabated extrajudicial killings (EJKs) of suspected drug users and peddlers.
While recognizing that the OMB is an independent constitutional body, Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement Saturday that the office is not exempt from corruption allegations.
“We recognize that the Office of the Ombudsman has the constitutional duty to probe erring government officials. As the protector of the people, the OMB is expected to act promptly on complaints filed against officers or employees of the government,” Abella said.
“The sad reality, however, is that the OMB is not exempt from allegations of corruption, which the President said, need to be investigated,” he added.
“The OMB should be open to any probe that would check into alleged corrupt practices among its officials and employees to underscore that there are no sacred cows in the government,” he continued.
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said it would not be illegal to create a commission that could probe the supposed partiality of the Office of the Ombudsman.
He said President Duterte can form a fact-finding commission to look into reports of bias by the Ombudsman.
Pimentel, however, said the commission should not operate under the Executive Branch, but the Congress for possible impeachment of officials.
In an interview aired over PTV-4 Friday afternoon, Duterte said he cannot allow the government to be inutile and let alleged corruption in the OMB go unchecked.
“I can create my own commission like the Agrava Commission and summon you,” Duterte said, referring to the commission established by the late President Marcos in October, 1983 to investigate the murder of the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.
Threat of arrest
“Now ‘pag ayaw mo sumipot in obedience to that summon, I will move for your arrest – contempt of court. I will order the military or the police to arrest you,” Duterte added.
Duterte also called on public servants who have “fallen victims” to the OMB’s corruption to come forward and testify against erring personnel.
“Tell the Filipino the truth… you owe it to the Filipino, not to me,” Duterte said. “Now is the time na mag-resbak kayo (It’s payback time). I will pin them down.”
“The creation of another body either by executive issuance of by an act of Congress that effectively defeats the independence and flexibility needed by the Ombudsman in the discharge of her duties is, at best, constitutionally suspect,” said IBP president, lawyer Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo, in a statement.
“It is judicially established that the Office of the Ombudsman does not owe its existence to any act of Congress. It was created by the Constitution itself. It enjoys fiscal autonomy,” he explained.
“As an independent body it must be insulated from political pressure – most especially from the highest political office in the land. To allow such pressure would result in the prostitution or impairment of its core functions,” Fajardo stressed.
He also advised Duterte not to be too critical of the Ombudsman which has launched a probe against the President over his alleged unexplained wealth.
“Public officials must not be onion-skinned,” Fajardo pointed out.
The OMB remains unfazed despite the threat of the President and said they would pursue the investigation on Duterte’s alleged bank accounts.
“Sorry, Mr. President but this office shall not be intimidated,” Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said in a statement.
“The President’s announcement that he intends to form a commission to investigate the Ombudsman appears to be a retaliation to our ongoing investigation. We will, nonetheless, proceed with the probe, as mandated by the Constitution,” she added.
Lagman reminded Duterte that Ombudsman’s independence is guaranteed under the Constitution. He said the planned partisan inquiry would only imperil such constitutionally guaranteed independence.
“The purported investigation of the Ombudsman is perceived as vindictiveness and reprisal against the Ombudsman for authorizing an inquiry into the supposed unexplained wealth of the President and his family,” stated Lagman.
The OMB had earlier revealed that the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s (AMLC) bank records on the Duterte family show more than P1 billion flow of money.
The AMLC, however, denied releasing any report to the OMB as it has yet to evaluate its request for an investigation on the First Family’s bank records.
Lagman said the formation of the commission that would investigate summary killings has been proposed long before a possible hidden wealth case threatened Duterte.
“The commission will be similar to the Agrava, Feliciano and Melo Commissions which were created by the then sitting Presidents,” stated Lagman.
Under his proposal, the independent body will be composed of retired justices who, among others, will conduct an investigation on the causes, motives, and rewards for the extrajudicial killings.
Lagman said the commission will also find out the total number of victims of summary killings both by the police and vigilante groups since the start of the anti-drug campaign in 2016 and determine a possible collusion between the police and vigilantes.
It will also recommend the prosecution of errant police officers and personnel and private parties and recommend policies and alternatives to solve the drug problem.
“In the midst of accusations that he was the mastermind of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos created the Agrava Commission to investigate the assassination,” explained Lagman.
Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano, another Duterte administration critic, backed Lagman’s call as he noted that the President quickly proposed the creation of the Ombudsman investigative body after an official of the anti-graft agency exposed alleged hidden wealth of the chief executive. (With reports from Jeffrey G. Damicog and Vanne P. Terrazola)