‘I am not protecting Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’
MANILA, Philippines—After months of tough talk, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez quit her post on Friday, saying the time spent removing her from office would be better used to solve the country’s problems.
Up to the end, Gutierrez continued to deny that she had been protecting former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—one of the persistent allegations leveled at her by her critics.
President Benigno Aquino III, who had made no secret of his conviction that Gutierrez should go, received her in Malacañang when she came Friday morning to submit her resignation letter.
“I repeated to her that this fight was not personal. I have a commitment to the public to uphold the Constitution to which I subscribed,” the President said in a press conference later in the day.
He said he thanked Gutierrez for her decision and also acceded to her request that she retain her security detail.
A top member of the once-ruling Lakas-Kampi, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the issue, said Gutierrez quit her post because of mental anguish and lack of support from Arroyo.
Her resignation takes effect on May 6, three days shy of the opening of Congress and the start of her impeachment trial at the Senate.
Gutierrez’s office phoned the President’s private secretary at around 7 on Thursday night to seek an appointment and was told he would be free at 10 a.m. Friday., a source privy to the matter said.
The Ombudsman arrived in Malacañang at 10:20 a.m. and proceeded to Mr. Aquino’s office at the Guest House.
“It was a very cordial meeting. As the President said, this wasn’t a personal fight,” the source said, adding that Gutierrez left at around 10:55 a.m.
The Inquirer first got confirmation on Gutierrez’s resignation from Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo at noon Friday.
Robredo said in a text message that Gutierrez “personally submitted her resignation, which the President accepted.”
“She’s on her way now to formally inform her staff and then announce it to the media. Thereafter, the President will make a statement,” Robredo said.
At his press conference, Mr. Aquino said Gutierrez “personally submitted to me her resignation as our country’s Ombudsman, effective May 6.”
“Her action has spared the country a long and divisive impeachment process that would have distracted our lawmakers from dealing with the many problems that we face today. It also paves the way for the appointment of a new Ombudsman,” he said.
The President said he was happy with Gutierrez’s “unexpected” resignation as it removed one stumbling block in his administration’s campaign to go after grafters, particularly persons “of higher priority.”
“How can one not be happy when she did that? How can one not be glad now that there is one less worry to spend time on?” he said.
He added that Congress would now also have more time to tackle the administration’s priority bills.
Loyalty to the people
In her own press conference where she read a prepared statement, Gutierrez said “it is my fervent hope that the misconception bred that having been appointed to public office by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, I owed my allegiance to her and am accountable only to her, and not to the Filipino people and the Constitution, be discarded and laid to rest.”
“While I acknowledge with deep gratitude the opportunity given me by ... Arroyo, my undivided loyalty always was, is and will forever remain, to the Constitution and the Filipino people,” she said.
She added that while the Office of the Ombudsman had been accused of delay and inaction, it was only because it chose to accord due process to public officials facing complaints.
Gutierrez did not take questions from reporters. No one from the Office of the Ombudsman joined her at the table during her press conference, but employees packed the room where it was held and clapped loudly when she came in.
According to Gutierrez, leaving before the end of her term in 2012 is an “abhorrent” thought.
She said she had not succumbed to pressure, been cowed into submission, or been influenced by anything other than truth and justice.
“I wanted to face my accusers whatever the personal agony it would have involved. But the interests of my family, my office and, more importantly, the nation, must always come before any personal considerations,” she said.
Last thing nation needs
Gutierrez said the country needed a full-time Ombudsman and a full-time Congress.
As it is, she said, the impeachment proceedings had also consumed the legislative branches and even the President.
“At a time when the present administration is in its infancy and beset with more urgent problems, the last thing that the nation needs is for the House and the Senate to be embroiled in a long-drawn-out impeachment proceeding against a single public official,” she said.
“The President needs an Ombudsman in whom he has complete trust and confidence. To carry on my battle to cleanse my name before the Senate would detract from the time which could otherwise be devoted to legislative work which would address the needs of millions of Filipino people.”
Gutierrez further said that in resigning, she hoped that the country would focus on solving problems rather than spend resources to remove her from office.
“I shall leave this office with regret at not completing my term, but with gratitude for the privilege of serving as Ombudsman for the past five years,” she said.
She thanked her colleagues who, she said, had worked hard to build up the institution, and added: “And to my detractors, I bear them no rancor because I have learned to make myself believe that we all love our country and our people no matter how our judgments might differ.”
Aquino’s kind words
Gutierrez thanked the President “for graciously accommodating me on very short notice, and for all the kind words he said to me.”
She said she would turn over the day-to-day affairs of the Office of the Ombudsman to Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro.
After she left, Gutierrez’s spokesperson Tomas Syquia said reports that former employees of the Office of the Ombudsman would testify at her impeachment trial had nothing to do with her decision to quit.
Syquia said Gutierrez had been mulling over the idea of resigning as early as two weeks ago, and reflected on the matter during the Holy Week.
“It was not a sudden decision,” he told reporters.
Syquia said Gutierrez did not consult with Arroyo over her decision. Instead, she talked with her family, key officials of the Office of the Ombudsman, her legal team and her trusted advisers.
She received no pressure from anyone to resign, he said.
He also said that if suits would be filed against Gutierrez, she would face these as a private citizen.
Search for replacement
The President thanked the House of Representatives, which had voted to impeach Gutierrez, and urged the Judicial and Bar Council “to begin the search for a new Ombudsman.”
“With the support of the public, we can now proceed more decisively in making government officials more accountable to their bosses: the Filipino people,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said that he was still consulting his legal advisers as to whether the new Ombudsman should serve out the remainder of Gutierrez’s term or be given a full term in office.
Asked if Gutierrez was now off the hook, Mr. Aquino said: “I’m not saying Merceditas is the least priority, but there are people who have higher priority.
“Unfortunately, one of the problems of our country is that it takes six years to adjudicate a case. I have five years and two months to go ... I cannot [charge] everybody ... There has to be a prioritization. I want to be realistic.”
On Gutierrez’s security detail, Mr. Aquino said: “She asked about her security and I said that was not a problem. The people protecting her will continue doing it ...
“I think that as the Ombudsman, you go after many powerful people. Maybe she really went after some who want to take revenge. That would not be right.”
Arroyo spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn said in a text message to reporters that she respected Gutierrez’s decision.
“All of us are aware of the tremendous pressures she was subjected to throughout her trial by publicity over the past year. We can imagine how this affected, not only the Ombudsman, but also her family, her friends and the very office she holds. And so we respect her decision to spare them and herself further punishment,” Horn said. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Marlon Ramos
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