Retiring justice, nationalist’s son eyed as Ombudsman
MANILA, Philippines—A retiring Supreme Court justice and the lawyer-son of an illustrious nationalist are among those being considered by President Benigno Aquino III to be the next Ombudsman with the resignation of Merceditas Gutierrez on May 6.
A member of the administration coalition in the House of Representatives identified them as Associate Justice Conchitina Carpio-Morales (who is set to retire on June 19) and De La Salle University law dean and Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) chair Jose Manuel I. Diokno.
The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) will open this week the nominations and application process for the next Ombudsman, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
The source said the addition of Morales and Diokno to the list would give the President a broader base of candidates to choose from.
Already mentioned for consideration by his allies in the Liberal Party are former Sen. Wigberto Tañada and former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rene Villa.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone suggested that Aquino look for a legal mind in the mold of the late former Sen. Jose W. Diokno, who was known for his anticorruption crusades.
“The next Ombudsman should stand for what is right, legal and moral, and be without a fiber of partisanship or cronyism in his or her body— someone like the late Senator Diokno. The next Ombudsman must be able to speak the truth to power; his or her independence and integrity must be unquestionable,” said Evardone.
President Aquino should pick “the best material,” otherwise an “inutile Ombudsman” would bring down the government, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said.
“You cannot just put someone there who is not tested,” he told reporters.
Gutierrez’s replacement will be expected to act on cases promptly,” said Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. “Now the bar is higher,” she added.
De Lima said the JBC had reached a consensus that the next Ombudsman should serve a full seven-year term.
Even before she had stepped down from office, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares warned that Gutierrez had reportedly made a number of “midnight appointments” for assistant ombudsman and director general, apparently to ensure her protection in the agency after she leaves.
According to Colmenares: “She appointed eight assistant ombudsmen, including the head of the fertilizer scam panel that drafted the error-filled charges against (Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn) Joc-joc Bolante. Gutierrez also appointed various directors thereby closing the door on the new Ombudsman from bringing in credible and independent officials into the Ombudsman’s office.
“If Merci’s appointees have delicadeza (sense of propriety) then it would be best if they immediately tender their courtesy resignation, so that the office of the Ombudsman would have a clean slate,” said Colmenares.
Deputy Minority Leader and Zambales Rep. Ma. Milagros Magsaysay said the President should include even his allies who benefited from the alleged corrupt activities in the previous administration among those the new Ombudsman would go after.
Unfair to single out Arroyo
Magsaysay said it would be unfair for the next Ombudsman to zero in on one individual, former President and incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when there were other individuals who were now administration allies that were implicated in the alleged corruption cases.
Malacañang Monday said it hoped the next Ombudsman would review the controversial plea bargain between outgoing Ombudsman Gutierrez and former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.
President Aquino has been questioning the plea bargain which virtually lets Garcia off the hook if he returns about half of what he is accused of stealing.
It’s up to JBC
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the Palace Monday sent the resignation letter of Gutierrez to the JBC so that the body could start accepting nominations for her replacement.
Lacierda said the Palace would have “no control or discretion over the actions of the Ombudsman” once he or she is appointed.
Asked whether the choice of the new Ombudsman would factor in his stand on the Garcia plea bargain, Lacierda said the President will choose the country’s chief graftbuster according to the “requirements and qualifications” stated in the Constitution.
The presidential spokesperson also said President Aquino still had “no specific person in mind” since Gutierrez’ resignation was “unexpected.”
Asked to comment on calls made by some groups for a revamp in the Ombudsman’s office so that allies of the outgoing chief would not remain, Lacierda said it would be up to the new Ombudsman to “do the necessary reforms that he or she feels should be introduced in the Office of the Ombudsman.” With reports from TJ Burgonio, Christine O. Avendano and Philip C. Tubeza
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