De Lima: Ombudsman’s orders, rulings can be reviewed only by SC
MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has defended the powers and prerogative of the Office of the Ombudsman and the government’s refusal to obey the Court of Appeal’s temporary restraining order stopping the preventive suspension of Makati City Mayor Erwin Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr.
De Lima said that under the law, the Ombudsman’s findings and decisions could only be appealed to or remedied by the Supreme Court.
“The essence of the law is to say, ‘Let the Ombudsman do its job.’ It is difficult enough to hold powerful people accountable, let us not make it more difficult by allowing court processes to be used to derail its investigations,” De Lima said Friday in a speech before a conference of the Rotary International District 3800, which groups Rotary Clubs in northern and eastern Metro Manila and Rizal cities and towns.
The Department of Justice head said the independence of the Ombudsman as a constitutional body and its “critical role in ensuring the accountability of public officials” have been covered by laws to empower and protect it in discharging its mandate.
“After all, those who are subjects of inquiry of the Office of the Ombudsman are no ordinary citizens, but are often people in positions of power who can use their position and influence to derail its investigations,” she said.
De Lima cited Section 14 of Republic Act No. 6770 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989, which provides that “no writ of injunction shall be issued by any court to delay an investigation being conducted by the Ombudsman… unless there is a prima facie evidence that the subject matter of the investigation is outside the [Ombudsman’s] jurisdiction.”
“Courts are not supposed to interfere unless the Ombudsman has acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction,” the DOJ chief said.
The provision, according to her, “expressly prohibits” the issuance of injunctions, such as a TRO, by any court, that would delay an investigation being conducted by the Ombudsman, unless the subject matter of the investigation is apparently outside the agency’s jurisdiction.
This is why, “it seems inexplicable why any court would issue a TRO against an order of the Ombudsman, in cases that are obviously within its jurisdiction, such as those involving grave allegations of graft and corruption by a chief executive of a local government unit, among others,” according to De Lima.
The Secretary also said the provision further stated, “No court shall hear any appeal or application for remedy against the decision or findings of the Ombudsman, except the Supreme Court, on pure question of law.”
“Even then, only on pure question of law; not question of wisdom, policy or equity,” she said.
De Lima, whose opinion was sought by the Department of the Interior and Local Government after it claimed to have enforced the Ombudsman’s decision to suspend Binay for six months, also lashed out against critics who contended that the government’s position was without legal basis.
“Obviously, more is at play here than the application of law and the fulfillment of the ends of justice. So-called ‘Expert Opinions’ are a dime a dozen these days, and that is but right because of the constitutionally enshrined freedom of speech. But that doesn’t mean all these ‘expert opinions’ are right, especially when they suggest that those who are legally mandated to actually render an “expert opinion” is wrong to do so,” she said.
In her legal opinion, the DOJ chief said the Court of Appeals TRO was issued too late and already moot and academic since the DILG had served the suspension order and Vice Mayor Romulo Peña had been sworn to office as acting city chief executive.
The Binay camp struck back by filing contempt charges against De Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Peña, and other DILG and police officials.
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