Ombudsman is Aquino’s key weapon vs graft

(Editor’s Note: Two weeks before President Benigno Aquino III is set to deliver his third state of the nation address in Congress, INQUIRER.net will be running a special report on how his administration performed in the past year and what reforms, if any, have been or would be enforced over the next four years to ensure that his vision of an honest government and of a people freed from poverty may be realized.)


Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales during the impeachment trial of ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Ranato Corona at the Senate. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines –With the appointment of former Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as Ombudsman in 2011, President Benigno Aquino III said the country would have an “honest-to-goodness anti-corruption office.”

“Not one that condones the corruption and abuses in government,” Aquino said of Morales during his state of the nation address (SONA) in July of that year when he announced her appointment.

“I expect that this year, we will have filed our first major case against the corrupt and their accomplices. And these will be real cases, with strong evidence and clear testimonies, which will lead to the punishment of the guilty,” said Aquino, whose presidential campaign in 2010 was anchored on his fight against corruption.

And Morales did. In December 2011 or after just five months in office, the new Ombudsman filed a graft case against former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court over the botched $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) agreement with China. This was her first high profile case.

Six months after, on June 7, the Ombudsman filed another graft case at the Sandiganbayan – this time, against Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, former Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Jesus Verzosa, other PNP officers and personnel, and private individuals over the  alleged anomalous  purchase of second-hand helicopters.

Several more cases against erring government officials were filed by Morales in the same period. Below are some cases based on the official website of the Office of the Ombudsman:

Records of the Sandiganbayan showed that during Morales’ first 10 months in office, a total of 263 cases were filed before the anti-graft court although 291 were disposed of from August 2011 to May 2012.

The reason for the higher number in the disposition of cases compared to the actual filing was because this included unresolved cases that had been archived and which were revived and finally disposed of by the incumbent Ombudsman, the anti-graft court said.

Almost all of the cases at the Sandiganbayan, the Ombudsman’s Media Information Bureau director Edgrado Diansuy said, were filed by the Ombudsman.

Aside from filing graft charges, Morales also secured convictions, notable of which was against Aquino’s presidential adviser on environmental protection Nereus Acosta, who was meted a 90-day preventive suspension in February 9, 2012 for misusing funds during his term as congressman in 2000 and 2001.

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But there were other cases that Morales did not pursue, even when these involved “big fishes”, due mainly to lack of evidence:

Morales fires the gun signaling the start of a Run Against Corruption, at the Office of the Ombudsman where she was accompanied by more than 100 working citizens calling for the truth, during the Senate Probe on CJ Corona. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

But Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro  Casiño, a complainant  in the  NBN-ZTE case,  isn’t impressed.

Casiño lamented that from plunder case that was filed against the Arroyos, it was downgraded to graft because of the alleged failure by the Office of the Ombudsman to build up a strong case.

The graft case, he said, was now at the pre-trial stage at the Sandiganbayan.

“The original case was plunder and we’re expecting the Ombudsman to build up the case. But they did not go beyond what was submitted to them,” he said.

“The work of the Ombudsman is not just to act on it, they’re not passive. They should really build up the case. They downgraded it to graft,” he said.

Casiño also criticized Morales for allegedly being slow in acting on the complaints filed at her office and for continuing the “policy of keeping the complainants in the dark” as to the status of the cases.

“She’s not transparent. We don’t know what the status of the case is. We’re not advised. Our help isn’t being sought to build up the case,” he said.

Compared to the plunder case of ousted President Joseph Estrada, the complaint filed by the incumbent Ombudsman was still far  from being resolved.

“We find it slow. Remember Erap [Estrada’s nickname] before . . . I think within a span of a few months there was a trial  and conviction and then an arrest. But Arroyo’s arrest wasn’t because of that [graft case], but because of another case, electoral sabotage,” Casino said.

Arroyo is under hospital arrest for electoral sabotage filed against her at the Department of Justice.

“Under Erap [Estrada’s nickname], the Ombudsman acted quickly, he was jailed . . . but this isn’t what’s happening in this case,” Casiño added.

But Morales’ first year in office may best be remembered when she testified in the recently concluded impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Her testimony on Corona’s 82 dollar accounts and at least $12 million in “fresh deposits” were said to be the biggest pieces of evidence presented in the impeachment trial that led to the conviction of the former Chief Justice.

But while she testified against Corona, Morales assured the senator-judges during the trial that she would not allow herself to be used by anyone to get back at the perceived opponents of the Aquino administration.

“Mr. Senator, I would not jeopardize my 40 years of government service, spotless, I am immodest to say that by allowing myself to be a tool of anyone in order to get back at certain persons against whom that anyone is sore at. I will assure you that,” Morales said. With a report from Tetch Torres

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