Ombudsman opposes bill shielding officials from suspension

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 27 2016 07:46 PM | Updated as of Sep 28 2016 04:22 PM

MANILA - The Office of the Ombudsman is opposing a House bill that could save public officials from preventive suspension while facing trial for offenses committed in a previous government position. 

Proponents of House Bill 3605 said preventive suspension is no longer necessary for officials who have left the office wherein the offense was committed since they can no longer influence potential witnesses or tamper with records.

Deputy Ombudsman Gerardo Mosquerra, however, argued that public officials can still exert influence on the investigation of their cases, especially if they are elected to a higher office. 

“That is also based on our experience. If the governor is charged and is eventually is elected mayor, the possibility of influencing witnesses and tampering with documents is less but still exists," he said. 

"But if a governor or mayor is charged before the Sandiganbayan and eventually is elected to the Senate, to the House of Representatives the possibility not only exists, in fact, it is greater we would like to take the other side of the debate," Mosquerra added. 

He also noted that the three-month preventive suspension buys prosecutors time to build up their case. 

"That's when the prosecutors start calling in government witnesses for interviews and for affirmation of affidavits. That is also the period -- the three months from the filing of the indictment -- that we call in documents, particularly originals or certified true copies." 

“It is also during that period that the possibility for influencing witnesses and tampering documents is very high. We will be hampered if that remedy for preventive suspension is removed," the Deputy Ombudsman said. 

But ABS Party List Rep. Michael de Vera said the Ombudsman can suspend officials during preliminary investigation, and another three-month suspension when the case reaches the anti-graft court may already be excessive. 

In response, Mosquerra emphasized that the Ombudsman only uses the power of preventive suspension “sparingly and in the most meritorious cases.”

The filing of the bill comes while the House has yet to deal with the preventive suspensions issued by the Sandiganbayan against congressmen Amado Espino and Luis Raymund Villafuerte. Their suspensions were referred to the Committee on Rules.

The panel has endorsed the bill to a technical working group for further study.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Deputy Ombudsman Gerardo Mosquera's surname as Mosquerra. Our apologies.