Ombudsman and retired Supreme Court justice Conchita Carpio Morales should really have nothing more to prove. Her decades in public service — Department of Justice, 1971-83; Regional Trial Courts, 1983-94; Court of Appeals, 1994-2002; Supreme Court, 2002-11, and Ombudsman since — speak for themselves, along with her awards and distinctions as a magistrate and as Ombudsman.
This past year, however, Morales has taken pains to show that she is not playing politics in her graft-busting work, especially against Vice-President Jejomar Binay and his family. Of late, Morales has gone on a flurry of dismissals of administration officials on corruption charges, including Aquino ally Capiz Gov. Victor Tanco Sr., as well as mid-level functionaries in some agencies, including 19 police officers.
Yet Morales has yet to act on the real cases casting doubt on her impartiality. If she truly has no qualms about displeasing Aquino, here are the things she should do.
Charge pork-tainted Aquino allies
First, Morales should act speedily on Priority Development Assistance Fund anomalies implicating administration legislators, including those charged in a PDAF malversation complaint file with her office by Atty. Levito Baligod, former lawyer of pork barrel whistle blowers Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas.
Among those in Baligod’s complaint are: former senator Edgardo Angara (P20 million in alleged dubious allotment), former congressmen Prospero Nograles (P96 million), Roberto Cajes (P90 million), and Joel Villanueva (P45 million); and incumbent Representatives Marina Clarete (P37 million), Reno Lim (P33 million), Joseph Santiago (P32 million), Carol Lopez (P29 million), Julius Ledesma 4th (P27 million), and Florencio Miraflores (P25 million). Baligod said these allotments went through dubious non-government organizations not among NGOs used by accused pork scam operator Janet Lim Napoles.
And if Ombudsman Morales really wants to show that her handling of PDAF cases is truly independent of Palace meddling, she can subpoena Aquino’s pork barrel records in the House and the Senate, and check if he dealt with dubious NGOs.
Investigate the vanished containers
But maybe that’s asking too much. So here’s something far less difficult than PDAF sleuthing: probe the disappearance of more than 2,000 cargo containers traveling between Manila and other ports in 2011.
This vanishing act is the worst spate of smuggling in the country ever, kickstarting the tripling of contraband from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion last year, based on International Monetary Fund trade data.
The good news is, identifying culpable officials of the Bureau of Customs is easy.
Every container leaving port needs release papers signed by BoC authorities. At destination ports, customs officials must report which boxes got there and which didn’t.
Hence, Ombudsman probers can check which officials kept releasing containers even after 50 or 100 or 500 or 1,000 boxes got lost; which staff failed to report vanished containers; and which superiors failed to take action after disturbing reports came out?
Once officials are charged for gross negligence, actions prejudicial to the service, or corruption over the container smuggling, some may reveal if and which higher-ups were behind it.
Who were those masterminds? When one deputy customs commissioner first alerted that 600 containers were lost, he was charged with graft and suspended — by Malacañang. Go figure.
Probe unbudgeted DAP spending
If the Ombudsman can’t spare staff to go through all those container documents, here’s something even easier: read and act on the Supreme Court’s material on unbudgeted expenditures funded by Aquino’s illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program.
In its unanimous July 2014 decision declaring DAP unconstitutional, the High Court stated: “Upon careful review of the documents contained in the seven evidence packets [presented in the case], we conclude that the ‘savings’ pooled under the DAP were allocated to PAPs [programs and projects]that were not covered by any appropriations in the pertinent GAAs” or General Appropriations Acts, the national budget laws.
So, Madame Ombudsman, please ask the High Court for copies of the DAP evidence packets and the internal staff report on which the above-quoted declaration was based.
That report named DAP-funded PAPs not authorized by GAAs. Those expenditures broke the rule that even state menial workers know: The government cannot spend on anything with no budget allocation (“walang badyet”). Or as clearly stated by Article VI, Section 29 of the Constitution: “No money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.”
So Morales should let investigators go through the seven packets of DAP evidence and the High Court internal report on allegedly unbudgeted expenditures. Then ask Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to identify GAA provisions covering those items. PAPs for which he cannot find budget cover can be cited in charging DAP’s “authors,” as Morales’s former Supreme Court colleagues ordered 15 months ago.
Trains, plates, guns and choppers
Now maybe she cannot spare staff to even read case materials on the P157-billion DAP, due to voluminous work on such monumental cases as the P4.5-million procurement of 16 defective patrol boats six years ago, for which she recently dismissed 18 Eastern Visayas police officers.
Then how about charging administration officials on irregularities investigated years ago: the 2004 fertilizer scam, in which P728 million was spent through dubious NGOs, as in PDAF anomalies. Many implicated lawmakers are now LP members. Morales should prosecute them with the same kind of NGO funding endorsements which nailed opposition stalwarts on trial for pork schemes.
Other anomalies where Morales is seen as sparing administration stalwarts include the Metro Rail Transit maintenance contract, for which she exonerated contract signer Transportation Secretary Jose Emilio Abaya; and the yet uninvestigated Land Transportation Office procurement of license plates in 2013 sans budget allocation.
Plus the overpriced billion-peso PNP rifle bidding cited by Aquino himself and implicating his shooting buddy Rico Puno, and the recent billion-peso combat helicopter deal, which may have prompted the U.S. to curtail military aid over corruption concerns.
Still, we won’t push our luck, Madame Ombudsman. Just resolutely prosecute administration bigwigs for one of the above irregularities — pork, DAP, fertilizers, containers, trains, plates, guns or choppers.
But we won’t hold our breath waiting.