Ombudsman is Aquino’s key weapon vs graftBy Maila Ager
(Editor’s Note: Two weeks before President Benigno Aquino III is set to deliver his third state of the nation address in Congress, INQUIRER.net will be running a special report on how his administration performed in the past year and what reforms, if any, have been or would be enforced over the next four years to ensure that his vision of an honest government and of a people freed from poverty may be realized.)
MANILA, Philippines –With the appointment of former Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as Ombudsman in 2011, President Benigno Aquino III said the country would have an “honest-to-goodness anti-corruption office.”
“Not one that condones the corruption and abuses in government,” Aquino said of Morales during his state of the nation address (SONA) in July of that year when he announced her appointment.
“I expect that this year, we will have filed our first major case against the corrupt and their accomplices. And these will be real cases, with strong evidence and clear testimonies, which will lead to the punishment of the guilty,” said Aquino, whose presidential campaign in 2010 was anchored on his fight against corruption.
And Morales did. In December 2011 or after just five months in office, the new Ombudsman filed a graft case against former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court over the botched $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) agreement with China. This was her first high profile case.
Six months after, on June 7, the Ombudsman filed another graft case at the Sandiganbayan – this time, against Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, former Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Jesus Verzosa, other PNP officers and personnel, and private individuals over the alleged anomalous purchase of second-hand helicopters.
Several more cases against erring government officials were filed by Morales in the same period. Below are some cases based on the official website of the Office of the Ombudsman:
- May 9, 2012 – Filed criminal and administrative complaints against Quezon City Councilors Roderick M. Paulate and Francisco A. Calalay, Jr., for maintaining “ghost employees” in the payroll of the Quezon City Council.
- February 17, 2012 – Filed graft charges before the Sandiganbayan against ranking officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Region VII for the P35 million worth of street lighting projects in Lapu-Lapu City in 2007.
- February 9, 2012 – Ordered the filing of graft charges against former governor Miguel Escobar of Sarangani province and several others stemming from the grant of “financial assistance” worth P450,000 in 2002.
- December 2, 2011 – Ordered the filing of graft charges against former Lapu-Lapu City Mayor and now Representative Arturo O. Radaza and other local officials of Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu for the irregular purchase of personal computers in 2005.
Records of the Sandiganbayan showed that during Morales’ first 10 months in office, a total of 263 cases were filed before the anti-graft court although 291 were disposed of from August 2011 to May 2012.
The reason for the higher number in the disposition of cases compared to the actual filing was because this included unresolved cases that had been archived and which were revived and finally disposed of by the incumbent Ombudsman, the anti-graft court said.
Almost all of the cases at the Sandiganbayan, the Ombudsman’s Media Information Bureau director Edgrado Diansuy said, were filed by the Ombudsman.
Aside from filing graft charges, Morales also secured convictions, notable of which was against Aquino’s presidential adviser on environmental protection Nereus Acosta, who was meted a 90-day preventive suspension in February 9, 2012 for misusing funds during his term as congressman in 2000 and 2001.
- March 29, 2012 – Penalized 21 high-ranking officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP) for unabated killings in Davao City.
- March 23, 2012 – Dismissed from the service 13 officials of the Department of Finance (DOF) for defrauding the government of more than P82M arising from a series of “tax credit scams” from 1994 to 1998.
- February 20, 2012 – Prosecuted the graft case filed against two former officials of the Batangas State University before the Sandiganbayan.
- February 20, 2012 – Secured the conviction of former Rodriguez, Rizal Mayor Pedro Cuerpo and two others of graft charges for the unlawful demolition of shanties of about 93 families in 2003.
- December 14, 2011 – Secured the conviction of two ranking local officials of the municipality of Batuan, Bohol who unlawfully disbursed public funds in the amount of more than P250,000 from 1993 to 1997.
- November 11, 2011– Secured the suspension of two officials of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) for nine months for defrauding a fire victim, a certain Emma C. L. Lin, of her just monetary claims against an insurance company in 2008.
But there were other cases that Morales did not pursue, even when these involved “big fishes”, due mainly to lack of evidence:
- June 6, 2012 – The bribery case against former President Arroyo and six other respondents who were accused of providing transportation through the grant of 12 multi-cab vehicles and the use of a helicopter, and distributing envelopes containing money to unidentified election officers in some areas in Mindanao during the 2004 elections.
- March 15, 2012 – The administrative and criminal charges against former Education Secretary (DepEd) Jesli Lapus, five other DepEd officials, and the President of Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation, Alex Billan, who were accused of allegedly rigging the biddings that DepEd conducted in 2007 for fortified instant noodles “with fresh eggs” and in 2009 for fortified noodles “with fresh eggs and malunggay” that allegedly resulted in losses for the government amounting to millions of pesos.
- March 09, 2012 – The administrative and criminal charges against Caloocan City Mayor Enrico Echieverri and three other Caloocan City officials for alleged non-remittance of employees’ premium contributions to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
But Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño, a complainant in the NBN-ZTE case, isn’t impressed.
Casiño lamented that from plunder case that was filed against the Arroyos, it was downgraded to graft because of the alleged failure by the Office of the Ombudsman to build up a strong case.
The graft case, he said, was now at the pre-trial stage at the Sandiganbayan.
“The original case was plunder and we’re expecting the Ombudsman to build up the case. But they did not go beyond what was submitted to them,” he said.
“The work of the Ombudsman is not just to act on it, they’re not passive. They should really build up the case. They downgraded it to graft,” he said.
Casiño also criticized Morales for allegedly being slow in acting on the complaints filed at her office and for continuing the ”policy of keeping the complainants in the dark” as to the status of the cases.
“She’s not transparent. We don’t know what the status of the case is. We’re not advised. Our help isn’t being sought to build up the case,” he said.
Compared to the plunder case of ousted President Joseph Estrada, the complaint filed by the incumbent Ombudsman was still far from being resolved.
“We find it slow. Remember Erap [Estrada's nickname] before . . . I think within a span of a few months there was a trial and conviction and then an arrest. But Arroyo’s arrest wasn’t because of that [graft case], but because of another case, electoral sabotage,” Casino said.
Arroyo is under hospital arrest for electoral sabotage filed against her at the Department of Justice.
“Under Erap [Estrada’s nickname], the Ombudsman acted quickly, he was jailed . . . but this isn’t what’s happening in this case,” Casiño added.
But Morales’ first year in office may best be remembered when she testified in the recently concluded impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Her testimony on Corona’s 82 dollar accounts and at least $12 million in “fresh deposits” were said to be the biggest pieces of evidence presented in the impeachment trial that led to the conviction of the former Chief Justice.
But while she testified against Corona, Morales assured the senator-judges during the trial that she would not allow herself to be used by anyone to get back at the perceived opponents of the Aquino administration.
“Mr. Senator, I would not jeopardize my 40 years of government service, spotless, I am immodest to say that by allowing myself to be a tool of anyone in order to get back at certain persons against whom that anyone is sore at. I will assure you that,” Morales said. With a report from Tetch Torres
Read Part 1: Pagcor cuts coffee cost, no charges yet vs suspects