Palace: We respect Morales’ independence
President Aquino does not regret appointing Conchita Carpio Morales Ombudsman, even now that she is investigating him over an economic stimulus program portions of which the Supreme Court had struck down as unconstitutional, Malacañang said on Wednesday.
“When the President appointed Ombudsman Morales, he stated very categorically that he wanted an independent individual to head that office … He want[ed] someone [with] integrity,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing.
“The President expects integrity in all branches of government. And so, no, the President does not regret appointing Ombudsman Morales,” Lacierda added.
Asked if charges could be filed against the President after the end of his term, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, replied: “If there are findings.”
“In the universe of possibilities, if anybody wants to question the President subsequent to his term, there will always be people who will attempt to do so … The President has mentioned already that we have disturbed a number of rice bowls,” Lacierda said.
He explained that there were people who were unhappy with how the Aquino administration implemented reforms to curb graft and corruption, which it saw as the cause of massive poverty in the country.
He said Aquino had mentioned Morales in at least three of his State of the Nation addresses.
Lacierda also stressed that the Palace would “respect the independence of the Ombudsman,” and declined to comment on the investigation as it was in progress.
He said Malacañang was not aware that the Office of the Ombudsman was investigating the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) controversy until Tuesday, when Morales mentioned it during a hearing on the budget of her office at the House of Representatives.
“Certainly and categorically … there is no unseen hand. This is the independence of Chit Carpio Morales working as the Office of the Ombudsman was meant to be an independent office and to be able to investigate without fear or favor,” Lacierda said.
The DAP was a stimulus program launched by the Aquino administration in 2011 to pull the economy out of a slump caused by slow government spending.
The little-known program, put together from savings of government agencies, was divulged in a privilege speech by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who said the DAP was an “incentive” used in the impeachment and subsequent conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.
In July last year, the Supreme Court struck down unconstitutional practices in the DAP, such as the cross-border transfer of funds, the declaration of savings before the end of the fiscal year and their realignment for items not found in the budget law.
Estrada is now detained on plunder charges for allegedly pocketing hundreds of millions of pesos in kickbacks from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation channeled to bogus foundations controlled by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Malacañang on Tuesday said Aquino was immune from suit, but he could be investigated by the Ombudsman.
Guingona agreed, saying on Wednesday that the Ombudsman had the right to mount investigations on its own initiative.
“They are just doing [their job] so what is important is we respect the process,” Guingona told reporters.
He said Aquino was immune from suit, but added: “[T]his is an investigation. This is not yet the filing of cases.”—With a report from Leila B. Salaverria
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