‘Walang personalan’ in graft casesCebu Daily News
(First of two parts)
On turning 65 years old today Virginia Palanca-Santiago, outgoing Assistant Ombudsman for the Visayas, reflects on her 16 years in the anti-graft office in a talk with Cebu Daily News reporter Ador Vincent Mayol.
So (July 16, Monday) is your last day in office?
That will be my 65th birthday. It also falls on the feast day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
What will you miss most?
When someone comes to me and asks for help; more on giving assistance to people. There were even couples who had strained relations who came to me for assistance. Luckily they patched up their differences.
No one is indispensable in office. If I’ll be gone, someone will take over what I left behind. They will continue. I am just an ordinary employee working hard for the office.
What are the improvements in the Visayas Ombudsman’s Office?
There are a lot. It’s not by me. Perhaps there are delays in the resolution of cases but that’s because more needs to be done even while we lack personnel.
We’ve done so much like deciding cases that involve high-ranking government officials, risking our lives. Charges were filed against me. Luckily, all cases were dismissed before I retire from office. It was not easy.
What needs to be improved?
We have to dispose cases on time. All problems are lodged before the office. Other agencies have regional office but the Ombudsman has only a sectoral office covering several regions. Hopefully, the anti-graft office will be regionalized like the other agencies.
We really lack employees in the anti-graft office. Before we were prohibited, I used to bring records home to work on them on Saturdays and Sundays. I had to work there.
Here, there are people who are crying, seeking our assistance. We also conduct hearings. With a lot of work to do in the office, sometimes you can’t concentrate on these cases.
What was the biggest accomplishment of the Ombudsman’s Office during your watch?
The cases which were under fact-finding investigation are now with the Sandiganbayan like, without identifying the persons involved, the Girl Scouts scam and the Racho case.
At least we have shown in the Office of he Ombudsman in the Visayas that we do look at the people nvolved, we base our findings on evidence: walang personalan. There are those who say that we are just after the small fish; the big ones are spared. But I recommended the dismissal from service of a relative. The family got angry but I coudn’t do otherwise. There was nothing personal here.
Otherwise, if I defend my relatives, I better get out if the office because if that happens, (if I am not impartial) I cannot sleep. I become unfair.
What were some of the memorable major cases you investigated
The overpriced lampposts purchase and the Cebu International Convention Center constructionm both in 2007, and the Balili land purchase controversy (in 2009), and Perdido Lex.
Did you receive any threats about work?
There was a time when then graft investigator and now judge Allan Graciano came to me trembling. We received a decision which bears a cross made of ribbon.
It involved an Iloilo case. I told Allan: ‘We will not die at their time. We will die at God’s time. We don’t have to be afraid. If we fear, we better get out from office. I received threats even when I was still a fiscal.
My children told me to get a bodyguard. But no. If it is your time, it will really be your time. All I do is attend Mass every morning. I would ask God’s guidance, that I may not commit any mistake in deciding cases. You should be fair. I also ask God to guard me.
What were your most unforgettable experiences in the office?
I won’t forget everything. When you see the people whom you’ve helped… It’s a fulfillment that you have helped families reconcile with each other. I also remember the fair decisions we’ve render in the office.
What are your hopes for the Ombudsman’s Office?
Under Tanodbayan Conchita Carpio Morales, I know that the office will be really moving forward. Hopefully, work will continue.
People get mad at the Ombudsman because of delays in the resolution of cases.
I read a statement by Congressman Tomas Osmeña who said ‘I will not file a case before the Ombudsman because it will last forever.’
They don’t understand that the Ombudsman is different from the prosecutor. Here, some can file a case even without evidence. We have to conduct fact-finding (to evaluate the allegations ). That’s why there are delays. (More tomorrow).