• The Office of the Ombudsman is a seemingly fractured institution and must be overhauled

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    AL S. VITANGCOL III

    IN his speech at the oath-taking of new presidential appointees in Malacañan on July 17, President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and told her to shut up.

    The President castigated the Office of the Ombudsman in this manner,

    “Bakit iyang Ombudsman, hindi corrupt? Put**g I**. Tanungin mo kaya lahat ng nagkaroon ng kaso diyan. (Why, is the Ombudsman not corrupt, too? Son of a b—-! Why don’t you ask all those who have cases there?)”

    “I had dealings with them when I was a prosecutor. My God! Akala mo santo kayo diyan. (You think you are all saints there.) Do not play God.”

    “Pero alam ko ang batas ko. Ikaw, dumating ka pa ng Supreme Court hindi mo alam yan. Hiya ang sarili mo. (But me, I know the law. You even reached the Supreme Court but you don’t know the law. You should be ashamed of yourself.)”

    My insight tells me that the Office of the Ombudsman is a seemingly fractured institution and should be revamped, if not totally overhauled.

    The Office of the Ombudsman was established by Republic Act 6770, or The Ombudsman Act of 1989. The Ombudsman was mandated to “promulgate its rules of procedure for the effective exercise of its powers, functions, and duties.” The Ombudsman thus created its own rules of procedure that vested in it a wide latitude of discretionary and arbitrary powers – at the sole whim of its chief.

    For example, Section 20 of the law specifies that the “Office of the Ombudsman may not conduct the necessary investigation of any administrative act or omission complained of if x xx (5) The complaint was filed after one (1) year from the occurrence of the act or omission complained of.”

    However, the Ombudsman, in some “questionable” cases, emphasized that Section 20 does not prohibit it from conducting an administrative investigation after the lapse of one year from the occurrence of the act or omission complained of. This is clearly against the law. It transgresses the provisions of the law. This issue alone is proof enough that the Office of the Ombudsman arrogated upon itself and usurped the legislative function of amending RA 6770 and invalidated by itself Section 20, Paragraph 5.

    Thus, on the whim and caprice of the Ombudsman, she can file or opt not to, an administrative case against a respondent for acts or omissions beyond the one year prescriptive period as provided by the law.

    An added area of contention is the penalty which can be imposed by the Office of the Ombudsman. In their rules, it says, “[i]n administrative proceedings conducted under the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman, the penalty of reprimand, suspension without pay for a minimum period of one month up to a maximum period of one year; demotion, dismissal from the service, or a fine equivalent to his salary for on month up to one year, or from P5,000 to twice the amount malversed, illegally taken, or lost or both, at the discretion of the Ombudsman, taking into consideration circumstances that mitigate or aggravate the liability of the officer or employee found guilty of the complaint or charge.”

    Again, the magic word/phrase here is “at the discretion of the Ombudsman.” There exist no standard metrics or rubrics by which these penalties are imposed. It is only at the fancy of the Ombudsman. Is this not despotic?

    If the Ombudsman does not like your face, she can dismiss you outright from the service and slap you with a fine equivalent to a year’s salary. If she likes you, she can just reprimand you and suspend you for three months—a slap in the wrist, so to speak (just like in the case of former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.)

    The Sandiganbayan, in its recent decisions, dismissed several criminal cases under the “inordinate delay doctrine.” The court said that the delay in investigating and filing the charges (by the Ombudsman) was “inordinate and capricious,” a violation of the constitutional right to a speedy disposition of cases, and thus merits dismissal over inordinate delay. “Keeping in mind the constitutional duty of the Ombudsman and the concomitant dispatch with which it is expected to handle and dispose of cases, the delay attending this case can be considered inordinate and capricious,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    If the Ombudsman wants you to escape prosecution, all it had to do is to sit on your cases and for sure the Sandiganbayan would dismiss the same. Otherwise, the Ombudsman will rush the disposition of your case and file it in court for you to be persecuted, I mean prosecuted.

    No one is watching the Office of the Ombudsman. There is no check and balance. With such awesome powers at her discretion, the Ombudsman is playing as if she is indeed God.

    It is time for this administration to revamp and overhaul it to prevent further miscarriage of justice.

    allinsight.manilatimes@gmail.com
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