Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez signs her letter of resignation in the presence of President Benigno Aquino III in a brief meeting at the Private Office, Premier Guest House, Malacanang Friday April 29, 2011. (Jay Morales / Malacanang Photo Bureau)
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 8) - Embattled Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on Friday submitted her resignation letter to President Benigno Aquino III.
"I am resigning my office effective May 6. Even as a private citizen, I will still support the efforts of government in stamping out corruption," Gutierrez said in her one-page resignation letter to Aquino.
The letter was dictated by Atty. Tomas Syquia, Gutierrez's impeachment spokesman, to ABS-CBN correspondent Anthony Taberna.
Syquia confirmed that Gutierrez personally went to President Aquino at around 10 a.m. Friday morning to submit her resignation letter, which the President immediately accepted. Gutierrez is expected to inform her staff about her decision before President Aquino issues a statement.
Syquia said Gutierrez thanked the President for accepting her at his office even on short notice.
News of the Ombudsman's resignation came less than a week before Congress resumes sessions. Gutierrez has been impeached by the House of Representatives through an overwhelming 212-46 vote and was scheduled to face an impeachment trial before the Senate.
She is accused of protecting former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her allies from prosecution.
'Resignation won't absolve her of liability'
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, House justice committee vice-chairman, was the first to confirm news of Gutierrez's resignation on ABS-CBN News Channel.
"It is a welcome move in that it would spare the nation a lot of trouble," he said.
Fariñas said Gutierrez's resignation does not necessarily mean the end of the impeachment trial against the Ombudsman.
"It depends on leadership of the House or Senate if they want her to be convicted because if she is convicted, she will not get any benefits from the government," he noted.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile lauded the news, saying "it is the best move that the Ombudsman ever did."
“It will spare the nation the expense of conducting a long drawn case against the Ombudsman."
He said it is doubtful that Gutierrez's impeachment trial would still push through. "I don't know how we can make it go through when the person involved is already resigned. The purpose of impeachment is to remove her."
He, however, added that Gutierrez's resignation "will not free her of any criminal responsibility."
Impeachment, a painful process
Senator Francis Escudero said the resignation of Ombudsman Gutierrez had always been a distinct possibility because any impeachment is a painful process not only for the person being impeached but for the country as well.
Escudero said the process may have bore heavily on the Ombudsman and pushed her to resign.
“If confirmed, I commend the Ombudsman for her statesmanship in relieving the country of this painful process of impeachment and at the same time for relieving also the Senate of this burden of going through the trial. Now we can concentrate on important pieces of legislation needed for nation building and the development of our country,” Escudero said.
The Ombudsman’s resignation rendered the impeachment trial moot and academic, the senator said.
“However, it does not give her immunity from cases that may be filed by other groups," he added.
Public interest lawyer Harry Roque, one of the first to call for Gutierrez's impeachment, said he hopes President Aquino will appoint an Ombudsman who "will make the office relevant in upholding public accountability."
"I hope the new Ombudsman will also heed the Alston report and embrace the challenge for the Ombudsman also to deal with human rights violations," he added.
The Black and White Movement said that while it wanted a conviction through the impeachment trial, it still joins the country in welcoming the Ombudsman's resignation.
"The threat of justice must have been too much for Merceditas Gutierrez to bear...We are pleased that a major obstacle on the 'daan na matuwid' has been removed," it said in a statement.
The group said it expects the Ombudsman's resignation to "chill the hearts of Gutierrez’s former boss, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her family and her allies accused of corruption. There will now be fewer places for them to hide, less opportunity to thwart accountability."
The group urged Aquino to appoint an "impartial, credible person of unquestionable integrity" to the Office of the Ombudsman as soon as possible. It said Gutierrez's subordinates should resign to give the new Ombudsman the latitude to appoint fresh, enthusiastic and competent legal eagles.
"We pray that the new Ombudsman will work with haste to restore honor to the office and grant justice to those who yearn for it – Jun Lozada, the family of Ensign Philip Pestano, the farmers bilked by the Fertilizer Fund Scam, the complainants in the Mega Pacific Deal, the AFP in the matter of the Euro Generals Scandal, among so many others. Now, indeed, justice and fairness will prevail," the group said.
Bayan: Evidence was strong
Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), one of the complainants in the impeachment case, said Gutierrez's resignation shows the "strength of the allegations and evidence against her.”
“It is a development most welcome. The option to resign has been a valid one from the day the impeachment complaints were filed. The challenge now is for the Aquino government to appoint an Ombudsman that will file the necessary plunder charges against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. GMA should be next to be held accountable,” said Bayan secretary-general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“We would have wanted to present evidence on how the Ombudsman not just delayed but in fact sabotaged the investigation on the fertilizer scam. In a way, her resignation shows the strength of the allegations and evidence against her,” he said.
Reyes, along with Sister Mary John Mananzan of Pagbabago, Danilo Ramos of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Ferdie Gaite of COURAGE, Atty. Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’ Lawyers, and Terry Ridon filed the second impeachment complaint in 2010.
The Bayan complaint included as bases for the impeachment the Ombudsman’s inaction on the fertilizer scam, inaction on the Euro Generals case and whitewash of the Mega Pacific scam.