Bill gives Ombudsman power to issue freeze order

By Joel San Juan, Business Mirror

Posted at Jun 06 2011 09:07 AM | Updated as of Jun 06 2011 05:07 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has endorsed a bill in the Senate that would give the Office of the Ombudsman the power to issue a freeze order in order to prevent the dissipation of assets that are subject of a forfeiture case.

In a five-page reply-letter to Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the DOJ sees no legal impediment to the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 1448.

The bill aims to strengthen the forfeiture power of the government, amending for the purpose certain provisions of Republic Act (RA) 1379, or the forfeiture law.

The Justice secretary described the proposed law “laudable act” and agreed with Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, the proponent of the bill, that it would maximize the Ombudsman’s ability to resort to asset forfeiture by enabling it to freeze assets promptly.

“By bestowing the Office of the Ombudsman a ‘freeze-order’ power, which has long been overdue, it is a laudable act. Such freeze order will not only strengthen, in more ways than one, the antigraft court, but also granting them a power that is plenary in the campaign against corruption in the government,” de Lima said.

Section 5 of SB 1448 says the Ombudsman may “motu propio or upon motion of the complainant,” issue a freeze order on properties believed to have been unlawfully acquired by any public officer or employee which will be valid for not more than six months pending court proceedings.

SB 1448 also introduced new provision in RA 1379, which states that properties acquired by any public officer or employee which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary and other legitimate income, said property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.

Thus, it added, the Office of the Ombudsman may, on its own, or upon complaint by any person, conduct preliminary investigation to determine if there is reasonable ground to believe that a violation of RA 1379 has been committed.

A petition for a writ commanding said officer or employee to show cause why the property should not be forfeited in favor of the government would then be filed with the Sandiganbayan or the appropriate regional trial court.

Meanwhile, de Lima also said the Justice department has no objection to consolidated SBs 2373 and 2389, amending Section 6 of the Forfeiture Act by earmarking 30 percent of the value of forfeited assets as additional funding for the Office of the Ombudsman.

The DOJ, however, recommended to rephrase the proposed section to read: “Provided that, in a final and executory order of the court, 30 percent of the value property forfeited shall be earmarked as additional funding in favor of the Office of the Ombudsman; Provided further, that real or personal property forfeited shall be sold at public auction, 30 percent of the cash proceeds of which, shall accrue to the Office of the Ombudsman and the remainder 70 percent shall accrue to the general fund.”