MANILA — A shortage in witnesses against corrupt officials has stumped investigations by the Office of the Ombudsman, its chief said Tuesday, as he floated the idea of just abolishing the body.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires cited as an example speculations of corruption at the Bureau of Customs, where investigators "cannot gather enough evidence because nobody would like to testify."
Brokers "will protect their business" and "will not come out in the open and accuse this particular collector of Customs of being corrupt," Martires said during a budget briefing at the House of Representatives.
"Kaya wala kaming nahuhuli dahil 'yung mismong nagrereklamo takot. Wala hong mangyayari sa atin 'pag ganyan. Siguro sabi ko nga, i-abolish na lang ang Office of the Ombudsman," he told the House Appropriations Committee.
(We can't arrest anyone because even the ones complaining are afraid. Nothing will happen to us that way. As I said, perhaps we should just abolish the Office of the Ombudsman if this continues.)
The office is mandated to prosecute public officials charged with graft and corruption and "enforce their administrative, civil and criminal liability," with focus on high ranking officials facing complaints involving large sums of money, according to the Ombudsman website.
Charges are often filed against "small employees" while the "big fishes" remain free, Martires went on.
"So parang siguro, para wala nang problema, magkanya-kanya na ang bawat ahensya ng isang programa sa anti-corruption. I-abolish na lang siguro ang Office of the Ombudsman. Para less rin ang gastos ng pamahalaan," he said.
(Perhaps, so that there will be no problem anymore, each agency should just have its own anti-corruption program. Just abolish the Office of the Ombudsman so that the government will also have less expenses.)
"'Pag na-abolish ang Office of the Ombudsman, abolish rin ang Sandiganbayan siguro. Eh gamitin na lang ang perang ginagastos sa pagpapatayo ng pabahay sa ating mahihirap na kababayan," he said, referring to the anti-graft court that hears cases emanating from his office.
(Once the Office of the Ombudsman is abolished, perhaps abolish the Sandiganbayan, too. Just use their funds to build houses for the poor.)
He also advised accusers of corruption against government officials to be prepared to testify.
"Kung ayaw niyong lumantad at magtestigo, tumahimik kayo. Puro kayo tsismis," he said.
(If you do not want to surface and testify, just keep quiet. You are just mongering rumors.)
CODE OF CONDUCT TWEAK
Martires also told lawmakers he was eyeing amendments to the Code of Conduct for officials.
"There really are provisions there na kung hindi malabo, parang walang hulog sa logic (if not unclear, are out of logic)," he said.
Since becoming Ombudsman in 2017, Martires, a former Supreme Court Associate Justice, said he had stopped lifestyle checks.
"Matagal na hong may duda ako sa probisyon ng batas tungkol diyan," he reasoned.
(I have long held doubts about the provision of the law on that.)
He cited as an example a government worker who earns P50,000 monthly, is stingy and affords to buy a sports vehicle.
"Is he living beyond his means? Maybe he has distorted priority pero ano pakialam natin? Ang daming nabibiktima ng batas na ito," he said.
(But why would we care? Many have fallen victim to this law.)
Earlier in the hearing, Martires appealed to lawmakers to restore the budget of his agency to the initial amount before it was slashed by the budget department.
This would affect the agency's reorganization plan and the creation of an administrative bureau, he said.
"We do not feel comfortable, that's why we appeal for a reconsideration to approve our initial proposal for our Personnel Services," he said.
"Kailangan mag-realign ng budget para rito. This is a constitutional office. So we support to restore your budget, especially for the Personnel Services," said Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate .
(We need to realign budget for this.)
The Ombudsman originally proposed a P4.6-billion budget for 2021. The budget department cut this by P1 billion, down to just P3.6 billion.
This is P742 million or 22.7 percent lower than the body's P4.1 billion budget this year.
Under the law, the Ombudsman "shall enjoy fiscal autonomy and the appropriations of the OMB may not be reduced below the appropriated budget in the previous year," said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.
"The DBM should follow the law on the Ombudsman. It should not reduce the amount of the OMB's budget," he said.
"Should our request for an additional budget for 2021 be restored by the House of Representatives, we will be grateful who will move for our proposed budget to be restored," said Martires.
Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News