New Ombudsman Martires: I won’t be used by politicians
He said he abhors hypocrites and would resist attempts to make him a pawn in political squabbles.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Martires on Friday parried insinuations that his designation as the country’s new chief graft buster was meant to silence President Duterte’s political critics and protect members of the first family.
“I will never allow myself to be used by politicians to persecute their political enemies,” Martires, 68, told the Inquirer.
“I’m not known to have a ‘persecution complex.’ As a (judge), I only based my decisions on evidence presented before the court and not because of personalities,” he said.
Martires, who took over the post vacated by former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Thursday, also reiterated that he was not fond of bootlicking subordinates.
“If you smile at me, it’s better that you really mean it. I don’t want people to treat me well only when I’m around, but talk behind my back,” said the newly designated Ombudsman.
Trusted by Duterte
He thanked Mr. Duterte for entrusting him with the task of leading the body created by the 1987 Constitution to stem graft and corruption in the bureaucracy.
But he would not let the President’s decision cloud his objectivity as Ombudsman, Martires said.
As to the pending cases against administration officials and members of the President’s family, he said he would treat them equally like any other complaints being handled by the antigraft body.
“If in case there’s evidence showing a probable cause to file charges against any member of the (Duterte) family, why not? That’s the reason why I was designated as Ombudsman,” Martires said.
“But if it turns out that there’s none, I hope (the public) would accept it,” he said.
A day after the President announced his appointment, Martires immediately paid a courtesy call on Ombudsman Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval, who he bested to succeed Morales.
Plea bargain deal
Both Sandoval and Martires were members of the Sandiganbayan division which approved the controversial P135.4-million plea bargain deal between retired military comptroller Carlos Garcia and Ombudsman prosecutors in February 2010.
Then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered an investigation of the plea bargain agreement, which the Court of Appeals affirmed in 2016.
According to Martires, he would have to formally inform the Supreme Court en banc of his early retirement during its regular full-court session on July 31 before he could officially start his new job.
Malacañang lauded Martires for being “unblemished by corruption,” and expressing hope that he would help in the government’s anticorruption campaign.
“His life is unblemished by any scandal, and I admire him. He is really an expert in law and is recognized by us lawyers as a legal luminary,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said over dzRH.
San Beda schoolmate
Roque made the remarks a day after the President announced that he had named Martires, his schoolmate at San Beda University College of Law, as the new Ombudsman.
Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who opted to quit her post to avoid facing impeachment during the Aquino administration over the Garcia plea bargain deal, thanked Mr. Duterte for “appointing a very good person in my former office.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a member of the Judicial and Bar Council which unanimously endorsed Martires’ appointment, agreed that was the “right man for the job.”
Administration senators on Friday praised the new Ombudsman, saying he was the best choice to take over the post.
Man of integrity
“I’m sure he will do well,” said Senate President Vicente Sotto III in a text message to reporters. “Track record shows that.”
“He is a man of integrity and principle and would certainly complement the government’s efforts in fighting corruption, and bring the corrupt to justice,” said Sen. Francis Escudero.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he had heard “good things” about Martires’ work in the judiciary.
But Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party, did not sound as enthusiastic, saying he hoped Martires would not condone abuse and corruption by both allies and critics of the government.
“We hope Ombudsman Martires will not be a tool of anyone and will go after corrupt officials by building a strong case backed by evidence,” Pangilinan said.
Morales on successor
Morales, known for her biting remarks, on Friday opted to use kind words in speaking about her successor.
Speaking at a forum organized by foreign news correspondents, she declined to directly comment on Martires’ supposed lack of independence being the President’s first appointee to the Supreme Court and the decisions he rendered favoring the Duterte administration.
“If indeed, by your account, he was partial to some people, there is always such a thing as turning a new leaf,” Morales, herself a former Supreme Court justice, said at the forum held in Taguig City.
“If you think he’s very partial to the administration, if it’s true that he was partial, he could be impartial this time. That’s why I said give him the benefit of doubt,” she said.
As to whether she would urge the new Ombudsman to be fair in handling graft and corruption cases, she said: “I would not do that.”
“That means if I do that, you might think that I believe that he is not partial. So I would not do that. I would not go to that extent,” Morales said.
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