MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday said it stands by its decision to suspend and file administrative charges against Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, the lead investigator probing the wealth of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Malacañang on Monday revealed it has filed an administrative case against Carandang for grave misconduct and grave dishonesty for his supposed illegal disclosure of the President and his family’s bank transactions.
Carandang has also been placed under 90 days preventive suspension.
In a news conference in Lanao del Sur, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Palace maintains that the decision to charge and suspend Carandang was regular, and that the latter may seek court relief if he wants to.
“It’s actually up to him. We will implement the order. If he wants to go to court - because I understand they are saying it is unconstitutional - let him,” Roque said.
“But we will not go to court because our reading is the Office of the President has the power to discipline.”
The Palace has taken this stance despite a 2014 Supreme Court ruling declaring as unconstitutional a provision in the Ombudsman Act of 1989 granting the Office of the President the power to remove a deputy ombudsman.
Roque earlier expressed confidence that the ruling can be reversed, even as he maintained that the Palace will not be the one to bring the issue to court.
The 2014 SC ruling was based on the case between former Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales III and the Office of the President.
Gonzales was dismissed in 2011 by then-President Benigno Aquino III over the case of police officer Rolando Mendoza, the hostage-taker in the August 23, 2010 Manila hostage incident.
The Aquino administration cited Gonzales for alleged gross neglect of duty and gross misconduct in handling the dismissal-complaint against Mendoza.
The high court in 2012 initially ruled in favor of Gonzales, but in 2014 overturned its decision and declared “Section 8(2) of RA No. 6770 (Ombudsman Act) unconstitutional by granting disciplinary jurisdiction to the President over a Deputy Ombudsman, in violation of the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman.”
The Duterte government’s action against Carandang was described by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a fierce Duterte critic, as “impeachable” and a bullying tactic.
The Palace's action against Carandang stemmed from the complaint filed by Manuelito Luna and Eligio Mallari in October last year.
Carandang earlier said the Office of the Ombudsman had started looking into the wealth of the President and his family, and that it was coordinating with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
The AMLC, however, said it had not yet released any report to the Ombudsman as it still had to evaluate its request for an investigation into the President's and his family's bank accounts.
Duterte had criticized Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales over the probe.
Morales inhibited from the case since her nephew, Manases Carpio, is the husband of the President's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte. Still, she asserted that her office would pursue the probe.
Duterte has insisted he is not hiding his wealth from the public, adding that he can be shot if his wealth turns out to be beyond P40 million.
Duterte has said he would not submit to the Ombudsman's investigation. He has also said he would create a commission to investigate alleged corruption in Morales' office.
Morales is an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III.