MANILA - The Ombudsman has the right and duty to investigate public officials as mandated by the Constitution, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said Wednesday, after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to investigate the office which has initiated probe on his family's wealth.
The Constitution stated that the Ombudsman, being the protector of the people, has not only the power, but the duty—to "investigate, whether by complaint or on its own, any public official or employee," said IBP Vice President lawyer Domingo Cayosa.
"It doesn’t say there’s any exception," he told ANC's Headstart.
He added the Ombudsman Law enacted in 1989 stressed this further, stating that "for the impeachable officials, which includes the President, the Ombudsman has the power and the duty to investigate them."
The Office of the Ombudsman is looking into the bank transactions of Duterte and his family, which allegedly amount to hundreds of millions of pesos. The investigation is connected with Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV's allegations that the Chief Executive kept hidden wealth.
However, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the probe violates the doctrine of immunity and is irregular because it tackles alleged acts committed by the president prior to assuming power.
Cayosa said although impeachment should only pertain to acts committed by the official while holding office, the Ombudsman can investigate Duterte's acts as mayor or even before that "for crimes that might not have prescribed yet."
"The President is immune from suit while he is in office and after that, he can be subjected to any criminal or administrative charges kung meron namang ebidensya. Posible namang for another purpose yan," he said.
The Constitution, he added, was clear that the Ombudsman should "promptly investigate and resolve the issue" before it.
CLARIFICATION ON 'ONION-SKINNED' REMARK
Meanwhile, Cayosa also clarified a statement made by IBP President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo that "public officials must not be onion-skinned."
Fajardo's statement was interpreted to be particularly alluding to Duterte, prompting the President to hit back at the lawyers' group with expletives.
"The IBP makes statements for the rule of the law, what the law is, what the Constitution is because that’s our duty as lawyers—to inform the public and everyone else on what the law is. We don’t make any judgments on who is telling the truth, motivations, perceptions," said Cayosa.
"What the IBP president said was that public officials should not be onion-skinned. Hindi naman niya sinabi that it’s the President…That’s addressed to everyone," he added.