Lawyers seek dismissal of Ombudsman officials

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 03 2017 12:06 PM | Updated as of Oct 03 2017 05:58 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) – Lawyers on Tuesday filed separate complaints against officials of the Office of the Ombudsman citing alleged irregularities in their investigation into the wealth of President Rodrigo Duterte and his family.

The complainants- Manuelito Luna and Eligio Mallari in one, and Former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras and Glenn Chong in the other - filed the cases before the Office of the President after Duterte criticized the Ombudsman for supposedly using “illegally obtained” documents from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) just to pin him down.

Duterte had said he was puzzled at how the Ombudsman obtained documents, noting that the AMLC cannot release bank records without a court order.

Luna and Mallari’s complaint seeks the dismissal of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, lead investigator in the Duterte case, Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao Rodolfo Elman, and members of the Ombudsman’s field investigation unit.

Paras and Chong’s complaint meanwhile named only Carandang as respondent. 

Carandang, an appointee of Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III, has asserted that he “observed confidentiality” in conducting the probe.

'GUILTY OF GRAFT'

In their complaint, Luna and Mallari said the Ombudsman officials were guilty of graft and corruption for divulging confidential information and giving a private party unwarranted benefit.

They also accused the officials of betrayal of public trust for “falsely and maliciously claiming that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) had issued a Report regarding the alleged account deposits of President Rodrigo Duterte.”

Carandang earlier said the Office of the Ombudsman has started looking into the wealth of the President and his family, and that it was coordinating with the AMLC.

Citing AMLC documents, he said the Duterte family’s transactions amount to hundreds of millions of pesos from different banks between 2006 until 2016. He, however, clarified that it was hard to say how much the deposits were in total, since money went in and out of the accounts.

The AMLC, however, said it has not released any report to the Ombudsman as it has yet to evaluate its request for an investigation of the President's and his family's bank accounts.

“Carandang not only violated the Bank Secrecy Law and all the laws proscribing disclosure of confidential information and secrets as well as details relative to the fact-finding, but also grossly misrepresented the facts, if not indulged in misinformation calculated to undermine the integrity of the Anti-Money Laundering Council and bring about the weakening of the institution of the Presidency,” Luna and Mallari said in their complaint.

“His disclosures of the inflows and outflows of funds, amounts of the account deposits, nature of the bank deposits, depositors’ names, and other details are not benign, but are calculated to destabilize the economy, if not the entire Government.”

Luna and Mallari said Elman was “equally liable for graft and corruption” as he allegedly co-opted and conspired with Carandang.

“Elman, too, has caused undue injury to the President, including the Government, through his manifest partiality and evident bad faith, and, hence, should be proceeded against. He has played a silent but active role in the shenanigans of Carandang,” the lawyers said.

“As head of the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao, he exercises control and supervision over the Fact-Finding Investigation Team/Field Investigation Unit assigned to the case filed by Sen. [Antonio] Trillanes IV, and necessarily is in possession of the bank documents and records in violation of the Bank Secrecy Law.”

The complaint said “mere possession” of the bank records and documents is a crime in itself.

“Therefore, the Fact-Finding Investigation Team/Field Investigation Unit members can be held liable administratively and meted the penalty of dismissal. There are no ifs and buts here. And good faith is not a defense,” the lawyers said.

‘DUTERTE CAN REMOVE DEPUTY OMBUDSMAN’

Paras and Chong’s complaint, meanwhile, explained that under the Ombudsman Act of 1989, the President may investigate and remove a deputy ombudsman.

“A Deputy or the Special Prosecutor may be removed from office by the President for any of the grounds provided for the removal of the Ombudsman, and after due process,” Section 8, paragraph 2 of the law reads.

Paras and Chong argued: “While the Ombudsman is removable by impeachment, the deputies are not.”

“Under the doctrine of implication, the power to appoint carries with it the power to remove,” Paras and Chong said in their complaint.

“As a general rule, therefore, all officers appointed by the President are also removable by him.”

Paras and Chong cited the same grounds mentioned in the first complaint, saying Carandang “has maliciously and in bad faith accused President Duterte and his family of having bank transactions in the millions of pesos.”

They said the subsequent denial of the AMLC on the report Carandang told the media the Ombudsman had received just proved that he “was deliberately lying and misrepresenting to the public.”

“The act of illegal disclosure and using falsified and spurious bank transaction records of President Duterte and lying about the source of said bank records by making them appear as authentic records coming from AMLC is an act constituting grave misconduct in office,” Paras and Chong said.

They also slammed Carandang for adopting a “deceptive computation” that led to the conclusion that Duterte’s bank accounts reached as much as P1 billion.

Speaking to reporters, Paras denied he was ordered by the President to file a case against Carandang.

Paras has been working on a possible impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. 

Another impeachment complaint he filed against Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista was recently junked by the House of Representatives Justice Committee.

In a news briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella stressed that the lawyers who filed the complaints were independent individuals and should not be linked to the administration.

On possibly removing Carandang, Abella said in a chance interview that the President may do so “if necessary,” but noted that the final recommendation would have to come from the Office of the Secretary.


DUTERTE VS OMBUDSMAN

Duterte on Monday said he "will not obey the Ombudsman because she is corrupt and she is holding illegally obtained evidence."

Morales had 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 also insisted he is not hiding his wealth from the public, adding he can be shot if his wealth turns out to be beyond P40 million.

“It could not be more than P40 million. It is a lifetime saving. Seventy-two [na] ako. I started to work when I was 27. Naging prosecutor ako. Pati kasali ang mga minana kong lupa. You can shoot me. You can overthrow me if you want kapag sumobra ako doon,” he said in a speech in Marawi City.

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. 

In response to Duterte’s tirades, Morales said her office would not be intimidated and that the President should not be afraid if he has nothing to hide.

Morales has received support from Duterte’s political foes and Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo, who said the President’s plan to set up a commission to investigate the Office of the Ombudsman was “constitutionally suspect.”

Abella, meanwhile, told reporters in a chance interview that the President was not being vindictive when he decided to turn the tables on the Office of the Ombudsman.

“Vindictiveness is a perception. You know, he may have strong words. He may sound emotional regarding these certain matters. He is a human being with full range of emotions but, however, you have to credit him [because] he goes back to the law,” he said.