Impeachment vs Ombudsman ready, waiting for endorsement: lawyer

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 29 2017 04:28 PM | Updated as of Sep 29 2017 06:13 PM

MANILA - A former lawmaker on Friday expressed hopes that President Rodrigo Duterte's latest criticism against the Office of the Ombudsman would help jumpstart proceedings on the impeachment complaint he prepared against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales a long time ago.

Former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras said the complaint he prepared was shelved because his group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), which will serve as complainant, was sidelined by the impeachment complaints they filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Commission on Elections Chair Andres Bautista.

Both complaints have been dismissed by the House Committee on Justice. Sereno is, however, still facing a separate impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

"If there are endorsers now, I'm sure the VACC or some VACC lawyers will file the impeachment against Carpio Morales. I endorsed it to Atty. Prinsipe and Atty. Luna, VACC lawyers," Paras told ABS-CBN News.

On Thursday, Duterte announced plans to create a commission to investigate alleged irregularities at the Office of the Ombudsman and again accused the anti-graft body of partiality, a move which Paras welcomed.

Morales, an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III, is serving a seven-year term set to expire next year. 

She has denied allegations of bias at the agency and, just last month, indicted Aquino himself for his alleged role in a botched 2015 anti-terror raid that left 44 police commandos dead. 

In a statement Friday, she said her office would proceed with investigating the Duterte family's alleged hidden wealth despite the President's move to investigate alleged anomalies at the agency.

Paras, meanwhile, said it is time the President used his clout in the House of Representatives to get the impeachment complaint against Morales endorsed.

"She (Morales) is behind the many anomalies in the [Office of the] Ombudsman, including selective justice, inordinate delay in resolving cases and toleration of many anomalies within," he added.

Carpio Morales, he alleged, was also "behind the lies" being spread by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang about the chief executive's deposits, "which was denied by the AMLC that they ever gave the said records."

Paras also said Duterte had the right to investigate the Ombudsman, saying the creation of an independent body to probe alleged wrongdoings at the anti-graft body is "long overdue."

"Although the Ombudsman Law itself has already given the President the power to investigate the deputy ombudsman and other high officials as upheld by the Supreme Court in the Emilio Gonzales case, there is still a need to expand his powers to investigate other officials who are suspected of delaying resolution of cases or unjustifiably dismissing cases in exchange for money," Paras said.

"The power of the President emanates from the principle [that] the power to appoint also connotes the power to remove," he said.

PBA Party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles shared this view, saying allegations of corruption in the office were "serious and must not be taken lightly."

"The Ombudsman is the public defender and they should conduct themselves with utmost professionalism. The practice of politically biased investigations should stop," he said.

"I agree that pronouncements from their office regarding ongoing investigations or preliminary findings deprive persons of due process. Any deprivation of due process by an impeachable officer may constitute betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution," he added.

Nograles also pointed out that under Administrative Order No. 7, or the Ombudsman's Rules of Procedure, the office may release details of an ongoing case or a resolution, "provided, however, that prior to such final action, no publicity shall be made of matters which may adversely affect national security or public interest, prejudice the safety of the witnesses or the disposition of the case, or unduly expose persons complained against to ridicule or public censure."

Nograles, however, clarified that nobody has approached him about impeaching Morales.

"No complainant has come to me yet and I am duty bound to study if any complaint is brought before me." 

An endorsement from a House of Representatives member is required before any impeachment complaint can be initiated.

Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, a member of the Aquino-led Liberal Party, scoffed at the idea. 

"Who is will probe the OMB??? Only Aguirre, Calida, Panelo will accept such job haha maybe this is one of the jokes," he said.