MANILA, Philippines – Newly-retired Supreme Court(SC) Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales debunked allegations she cannot be an independent and fair Ombudsman because of her alleged ties with President Benigno Aquino III and her alleged track record of voting against the previous administration.
During her public interview with the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), Carpio-Morales said the only time President Aquino communicated with her was when he requested last year that she administer his oath-taking.
"I never met him before he wrote me a letter asking me to administer his oath of office," she said.
On the sidelines of the public interview, she also said she was not even able to talk to Aquino after the oath-taking.
Carpio-Morales is only one of 27 nominees for the post. The JBC, which submits names for the Office of the Ombudsman and the judiciary to the President, started the public interviews on Wednesday.
Asked by the JBC if she could deal with the pressures that will come along with the post of Ombudsman, Carpio-Morales said she was "insulated" from pressures.
"I feel I am insulated from threats or any pressure or the possibility of resignation, impeachment or resigning. I have had a lot of similar experiences and thank God, I'm still here appearing before you," she said.
As for her alleged animosity against the Arroyo administration, Carpio-Morales said a survey by a media entity showed she voted 50-50 respectively against and in favor of cases involving the Arroyos and their allies.
Ties to 'The Firm'
In a previous letter to the JBC, Arroyo contested Carpio-Morales’ nomination. "If appointed Ombudsman, I sincerely believe that Justice Conchita Carpio Morales would not have the required independence and impartiality in resolving cases involving me and my family,” she had said.
Carpio Morales noted: “My voting record has been that, I think, there were 11 against and 10 in favor of vice versa... animosity, again, would not be material to their opposition to me.”
She also downplayed oppositions to her age. She retired on June 19, upon reaching the compulsory retirement age of 70. Some quarters said she could not anymore handle the Ombudsman work because of her age.
Carpio-Morales pointed out that her stint at the Supreme Court, where she handled a variety of cases, was more "difficult" than the work of the Ombudsman.
"That is something belied by my wellness exam in mid-May. I do not know why being 70 has something to do with my work... I tell you, the work of a Supreme Court justice is much more difficult than the work of the Ombudsman," she said.
In response to those who raised issues against her blood relations with Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, she said she will decide on the case based on its merits.
Both are cousins. Some say Carpio-Morales would favor the CVC Law or the so-called “The Firm,” which was founded by the senior justice.
"The famous line 'You cannot choose your relatives' bears stating. He is my relative but I don't ape him, neither does he ape me," she pointed out.
'Ombudsman post not a demotion'
Meanwhile, Carpio-Morales stressed she is not one who is conscious of titles in response to comments the post of chief of the anti-graft court is a demotion from being a magistrate of the high tribunal.
"We must not see appointment of position on the point of view of ranking but on your contribution to the eradication of graft and corruption, such that the suffering of those among us, if not eradicated, is lessened," she said.
"I'm not a title-conscious person (nor a) protocol-conscious person, and going to the Ombudsman would not, in any way, diminish my self-respect," she added.
Carpio-Morales was also asked to comment on criticisms she "does not have experience in the prosecution of criminal cases, especially graft cases before the Sandiganbayan."
"I was a trial judge in Camarines Sur, then in Pasay City. If it does not have anything to do with experience with prosecuting, I do not know what is," she said.
Carpio-Morales also pointed out that her 12-year stint with the Department of Justice(DOJ), where she reviewed petitions arising from resolutions of city and provincial prosecutors, prepared her for the Ombudsman post.
"It is very difficult to marshal facts. I was trained to marshal facts at the DOJ," she stressed.
Should she be appointed Ombudsman, she said she would: ask for an inventory of pending cases; ask for statements of the case including the incidents attending the proceedings; conduct seminars to brief prosecutors of the latest in jurisprudence; subject prosecutors and personnel to periodic reorientation; get a list of all the names of officers and employees of the anti-graft office, their job description so that faults, if there are any, would be traced.
"What I will do is institute reforms by trying to get an inventory of all the cases because it's a challenge to resolve cases whether pending determination of probable cause or on litigation with the Sandiganbayan," she said.
Asked to state a strong reason for her appointment, Carpio-Morales said: "I feel I have the moral fiber to prosecute those who ought to be prosecuted and to ward off any extralegal factors which impede the prosecution (of cases)."
JBC members present during Carpio-Morales' interview were Chief Justice Renato Corona, chair; Justice Regino Hermosisima, Jr. (Retired Supreme Court Justice Representative); Justice Aurora Santiago Lagman(private sector representative); Atty. Ma. Milagros Fernan-Cayosa(IBP representative); and Atty. Jose Mejia (academe representative).
Corona did not pose questions for Carpio-Morales, saying that having worked with her, he knew her abilities well.
"I've worked very closely with Justice Morales for close to 8 years and am thoroughly familiar with her qualifications," the chief justice pointed out.
Carpio-Morales was interviewed first among a batch of 4 scheduled for public interview on Thursday in deference to her recent stint at the Supreme Court.
Other candidates scheduled for interview are Jose Calida, Howard Calleja, and Felix Carao, Jr.