MANILA, Philippines - Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is not keen on engaging in a word war with President Benigno Aquino III after the latter endorsed moves to oust her from office.
Speaking to ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda", Gutierrez's spokesman, Atty. Tomas Syquia, said her client does not want to comment on Aquino's call that more people support moves to impeach Gutierrez.
"She respects the prerogative of the president to express his opinion. She doesn't want to comment. She doesn't like it to become an issue on personalities, but whether she did her job or not," he said.
In a speech he delivered at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Aquino said it has been a tough job for him to clean up the dirt left by his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, much less to implement reforms he has started because of the “bantay salakay” attitude of the chief anti-graft buster.
"Who wouldn’t lose his cool when those who were tasked to defend the common people are themselves the guard dogs of wealth stolen by the powerful?” Aquino said.
"I guess you know who I’m referring to, so no need to dwell on the issue. A simple OMG is our collective sigh here,” he said, in obvious reference to the “Oust Merci Gutierrez” move launched by civil society groups.
Ombudsman Gutierrez is facing impeachment charges before the Senate for betrayal of public trust. The trial is set to start next month.
In the interview, Syquia denied that the filing of plunder charges against personalities involved in the 2004 fertilizer fund scandal was timed to coincide with Gutierrez's impeachment trial.
The Ombudsman's inaction on the fund scandal is included in the six articles of impeachment submitted to the Senate.
Critics noted the Ombudsman took 6 years to file the charges despite Senate and Commission on Audit reports that already recommended charges against former Agriculture Secretary Luis 'Cito' Lorenzo, former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Jocjoc" Bolante and several others.
"Sabi ni Ombudsman, we have to continue working whether there's an impeachment trial or not. If we release after the trial, it's too late if now ganoon din. She didn't want to make too much comment, she wanted to downplay the filing because she didn't want it to affect the impeachment trial," Syquia said.
Syquia said the Ombudsman had to gather evidence aside from the Senate committee and COA reports.
"They had to follow the money trail. There were 173 respondents allegedly including congressmen and mayors. You have to be prudent, you just cannot charge them because they are publicly elected officials unless there's solid evidence," he said.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, meanwhile, said the public could form their own opinion about the controversy by looking at the facts.
"The fertilizer fund scandal happened in 2004. It was discovered in 2005 and now it's 2011. Medyo napatagal po yata ang pagpapataw ng kaso po dito considering na na-investigate na ito ng Senado at naglabas na rin ng report ang Commission on Audit regarding this," she said.
"It's not for lack of knowledge or any investigation kung bakit ngayon lang lumabas ang pagsasampa ng kaso sa kanila. Very extensive yung Senate investigation. The COA report also recommended charges after audit so hindi masabi na walang sapat na ebidensya laban sa mga responsable sa fertilizer fund scam," she added. With a report from The Philippine Star