OPINION: The 'garbage' continues to stink

Ellen Tordesillas

Posted at Feb 05 2018 12:05 AM

When then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte dismissed as “garbage” the exposé of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV during last two weeks of the election campaign about  his bank deposits with the Bank of Philippine Islands, Julia Vargas branch, he thought probably that was the end of it.

Duterte was leading the surveys in the contest that he eventually won convincingly.

With the powers of the presidency, Duterte has been effective in crushing his enemies. His devoted mob has been successful in spreading chaos in cyberspace. 

But as one sage said, “Truth is always like oil in water; no matter how much of water you add, it always floats on top.”

The “garbage” that is his bank deposits  continues to stink two years after his being in power despite his intimidation of people who  wanted the truth on that issue to come out. His attempts to contain the  smell is emitting more toxic odors.

Duterte’s situation is like a man who has stepped on a quick sand. He is panicking and the more he moves, the more he sinks.

Trillanes said he is filing on Monday a resolution to formally ask the Senate to start the investigation on Duterte’s undeclared wealth.

Trillanes’ proposed resolution seeks to look into bank documents under the name of President Rodrigo Duterte and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio showing their undisclosed ‘covered transactions,’ or transactions exceeding Php 500,000.00, which may have violated the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

“President Duterte must address this issue squarely once and for all and stop fooling the Filipino people. If he has nothing to hide, he should bare it all and sign the waiver. On the contrary, he has been dilly-dallying in his statements, and instead has been bluffing the people by publicly ordering AMLC to investigate his alleged bank accounts, although we all know that AMLC would not do it unless he signs a waiver on bank secrecy,” Trillanes said.

In the proposed resolution, Trillanes particularly noted the report made by VERA Files that Duterte and his daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio failed to fully disclose in their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) their joint deposits and investments, which exceeded Php100 million, under the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI). 

According to Vera Files’ report, the transactions in their bank accounts included a P48.17 million placement in 2006 that grew to P55.13 million by 2013; a P40.55 million investment in 2009 that stood at P41.72 million in 2013; about $220,000, roughly P10 million, from 2006 to 2012; the purchase of P80 million in insurance policies in 2014; and a P16.85 million investment which begun in 2014.

Duterte’s strong-arm attempts to quash the Ombudsman’s efforts to investigate his undeclared wealth in connection with the plunder charges filed by Trillanes was met with defiance by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales who refused to carry out Malacañang’s suspension of Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang for allegedly “leaking” to media contents of the bank records transmitted by AMLC, which denied having sent anything to the anti-graft body.

Amid threats by Malacañang lawyers of impeachment against Carpio-Morales and legal sanction against Carandang, former  Solicitor General Florin Hilbay issued a statement supporting the Ombudsman:

The 90-day suspension order of the President, made thru the Executive Secretary, is a patently unconstitutional order which constitutes not just an attack on the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman and but also, and more important, the Supreme Court.

1. The 2014 Supreme Court decision in Gonzales III v. Office of the President is clear: the President has no disciplinary authority over a Deputy Ombudsman. The decision to suspend Mr. Carandang is therefore a "collateral attack" on a final and executory judgment of the Supreme Court. This cannot be done.

2. The burden is therefore on the Executive Department to first seek a reversal of the prior judgment of the SC before acting inconsistently with that jurisprudence.

3. Ombudsman Carpio-Morales acted correctly in rejecting the President's order to suspend Mr. Carandang because she has the two-fold obligation of following the Constitution and protecting the independence of her office. The law is clear, she simply followed it.

4. True, the SC can reverse its 2014 decision--but that is also beside the point. No public official, not even the President, can adopt a "violate-the-law-now, seek-reversal-later" attitude when its comes to decisions of the SC. That attitude is incompatible with his constitutional obligation to enforce the law: it is the anti-thesis of the rule of law.

5. The disrespect to the Supreme Court and the Office of the Ombudsman is even more palpable because what triggered the action of the President is an investigation being conducted by the Ombudsman regarding his ill-gotten wealth. The unconstitutional act is tainted by a personal conflict of interest. The President is acting not to protect a beleaguered citizen from abuse of power by the Ombudsman; he is acting to protect himself. This act cannot pass any standard of fairness.

6. As a procedural and constitutional matter, given the prior judgment of the Supreme Court, it is the Office of the President that must bring the matter to courts, not Mr. Carandang or Ombudsman Morales. In the meantime, unless the SC decides otherwise, the Ombudsman can rely on the prior decision of the SC.

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