Ombudsman seeks restoration of P1B in 2021 budget

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 14 2020 10:17 PM

MANILA - The Office of the Ombudsman on Monday sought for the reinstatement of its full 2021 funding after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) slashed P1 billion from its spending proposal.

Of the Ombudsman's proposed P4.67 billion funding for 2021, only P3.36 billion was approved by the DBM, according to data presented during the Senate budget hearing.

"We have written to DBM about our position on the matter, and we hope the DBM reconsiders their computation," Assistant Ombudsman Weomark Layson told the Senate Committee on Finance.

The budget is 39 percent lower than the Ombudsman's original proposal due to "the difference in the computation for authorized positions" in the agency, he said.

The Office of the Ombudsman needs the P1 billion for "additional manpower" during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires said his office is in "the process of hiring more lawyers and investigators... in the field investigation office."

"We need to strengthen our field offices," Martires said.

"Kung kami ay babawasan ng DBM.. kung ayaw nila ibigay yung hinihiling namin na dagdag, baka naman they can give us back what we had in 2020," he said.

The Office of the Ombudsman's performance was also affected by the global pandemic, Martires said.

"This pandemic has greatly affected our performance, especially because we cannot just go out there to investigate," he said.

"We could not prosecute some cases because it is hard for us to locate some of our witnesses... Even if we have access to Zoom, the witnesses that we have don't have facilities," he said.

"Prosecutors are actually scared of going to court especially with the increasing number of [COVID] cases especially in some provinces in the provinces and in Metro Manila," he said.

Another portion of the P1-billion fund removed from the Ombudsman's budget was also supposed to create a new bureau that would focus on administrative cases.

Sen. Joel Villanueva backed the Ombudsman's appeal to restore the P1 billion in its 2021 funding.

"'Yung ganda ng performance nila, ito ginaganti ng DBM? Parang hindi naman ata tama," Villanueva said, noting that the Ombudsman has exceeded all its targets in 2019.

Martires said the withholding of funding for Constitutional agencies are deemed illegal.

"I think we have to put a stop on this to avoid any abuse in the future," the Ombudsman said.

"We always keep on begging Congress to, 'Please reinstate our budget' when we should not be doing that annually,'" he said.