President Benigno Aquino 3rd is ready to face whatever charges would be slapped against him in the future, Malacañang said on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the President is not discounting the possibility that he will face charges after his term expires in 2016.
“In the universe of possibilities, if anybody wants to question the President subsequent to his term, there will always be people who will attempt to do so,” Lacierda replied when asked if the President and his administration are open to the idea that they could face charges after 2016.
“The President has mentioned already that we have disturbed a number of rice bowls. Will there be people unhappy with the government? Will there be people unhappy with the President? In the universe of possibilities, yes, there are people who will be unhappy with how we went through daang matuwid [straight path],” he said.
Lacierda made the statement after Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales revealed that her office is conducting an investigation against Aquino and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), some parts of which the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, however, called the Ombudsman’s investigation as nothing but drama.
“Basta’t ako, my feeling is, drama lang ito para ngayon pa lang ay mapatay na ‘yong mga bintang at kung anu-ano. Kasi issue ‘yan sa darating na halalan [This is all for show. Right now, they’re already attempting to extinguish the issue because that will crop up in the next elections],” Binay said.
Lacierda laughed off Binay’s statement.
“Subsequent to his break up from the administration, he’s been attacking the administration and President Aquino relentlessly. This is just part of his ‘nega’[negativity]campaign against the administration, so we are not surprised,” he told reporters.
Lacierda said Binay should respect the Ombudsman’s authority to investigate public officials.
“When he [Binay] is being investigated by the Senate, he said, ‘Bring it to the proper court.’ Nung dinala sa Ombudsman, binanatan ang Ombudsman [When it was brought to the Ombudsman, he hit at the Ombudsman]” he added.
“He’s a lawyer. He should not preempt what the Ombudsman is doing, ” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said the President does not regret appointing Morales despite the inquiry into DAP.
“You know, when the President appointed Ombudsman Carpio-Morales, he stated very categorically that he wanted an independent individual to head that office. And does the President regret? The President has mentioned Ombudsman Carpio-Morales, I think, thrice in the six times that he delivered the SONA [State of the Nation Address]—2011, 2012, and I believe [in]the last SONA, he also mentioned Ombudsman Carpio-Morales,” he added.
“He [Aquino] wants someone who will look after integrity. He wants someone… The President expects integrity in all branches of government. And so, no, the President does not regret appointing Ombudsman Carpio-Morales,” Lacierda said.
Meanwhile, he added, the Palace has no hand in the Ombudsman’s decision to conduct the probe.
“There is no unseen hand. This is the independence of [Carpio-Morales] working as the Office of the Ombudsman was meant to be. To be an independent office and to be able to investigate without fear or favor,” Lacierda said.
“So I do not wish to preempt any statement for or against, or, rather, the status of the case that is being investigated right now by the Office of the Ombudsman. We would rather respect the independence of the Ombudsman,” he added.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said while the President is immune from suit, members of his Cabinet are not free from any criminal or administrative charges.
“This [Ombudsman probe] only goes so far as the fact-finding stage because he [Aquino] cannot be subject to preliminary investigation without violating his immunity. Again, only the President is immune from further stages of prosecution,” she added.
“No one else possesses this… immunity other than the President, neither high government leaders nor religious leaders [possess it],” de Lima said.
She was reacting to a declaration of Morales before a budget hearing in the House of Representatives that her office is investigating Aquino and Budget chief Florencio Abad on the DAP.
“What I know is there is also a complaint or complaints [involving the DAP]. Even then, the Ombudsman indeed has motu proprio powers. Even the President can be the subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman,” de Lima said.