A lawmaker in hot water for malversation charges for allegedly diverting her husband’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her own foundation is seeking to delay the Ombudsman’s investigation against them.
Toward that end, Rep. Florida Robes of San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan filed House Bill 2188 or Act Providing Additional Requisite for Filing of Complaints Against Members of Congress in Relation to Their Office, which prevents the public from filing graft, malversation, plunder and other related charges against members of Congress before the Office of the Ombudsman and also bans the Ombudsman’s office from filing the same charges against public officials before the Sandiganbayan unless the culpability of the alleged erring official has been determined by the respective Ethics Committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Congresswoman Robes and her husband, former congressman and now San Jose del Monte City Mayor Arthur Robes are facing malversation complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Lawyer Levi Baligod, who filed the complaint in September 2015, as well as Robes’ former staff Bernadette Ricalde, is accusing the Robes couple of funneling then- congressman Robes’ P3 million worth of PDAF to non-government organizations WorkPhil and Sagip-Buhay, which are run by Mrs. Robes and her other staff.
The Robes couple has denied the allegation.
“The conclusive finding of the [House] Committee on Ethics, evidenced by a resolution adopted for the purpose, will be deemed a condition sine qua non for elevating the case to the proper courts. Absence of which will be a ground for the dismissal of the complaint,” Mrs. Robes’ bill read.
Also her bill repeals all laws, ordinances, rules and regulations and other issuances or parts thereof which are inconsistent with her proposal to clip the powers of the Ombudsman.
Congresswoman Robes argued that many members of Congress are immediately “persecuted” when cases related to the conduct of their office are filed and brought to the Ombudsman or the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
“Without due process, they are presumed guilty notwithstanding the fact that such cases could have been maliciously filed to discredit them or are political machinations employed by their opponents. They become victims of trial by publicity,” Mrs. Robes said in her explanatory note.
Congresswoman Robes argued that while the Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan dismiss cases for lack of merit, the public has already passed on the verdict of guilty.
Under existing laws, a citizen can file complaints against erring public officials before the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman’s office will then launch an investigation to determine if the complaint is meritorious enough.
If the Ombudsman’s office finds the complaint meritorious, it will then file charges against the erring public official before the Sandiganbayan.
“Even the order of dismissal is used, the harm has already been done. It would be difficult for a legislator to rectify his or her name and tarnished reputation,” Congresswoman Robes said.
The rules of the House and the Senate, however, provide that the House’s and the Senate’s respective Ethics panels can only take jurisdiction on actions committed by the lawmaker during his tenure as an incumbent member of Congress.
This means that under existing laws and House rules, the House Ethics Committee has no jurisdiction on the pending malversation charges filed against Mr. and Mrs. Robes since the alleged offense happened before Mrs. Robes was elected as a member of the House.
Congresswoman Robes, however, argues that her proposal is in consonance with existing laws providing for exhaustion of possible means and remedies to address a grievance against a public official, including members of Congress.
“This does not aim to circumvent or cover up issues or salvage a member who has obviously violated oath of office. It is initiated in the name of justice and fair play,” Congresswoman Robes said.
LLANESCA T. PANTI