The Ombudsman: Letting Aquino off the hook

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Ricardo Saludo

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is right. The case to be filed against his predecessor, Benigno Aquino 3rd, by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales is bound to fail.

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Aquino can easily beat the charge of usurpation of authority in letting then-suspended Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima direct the botched January 2015 police commando raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

In his defense, Aquino can claim that he didn’t order his friend to exercise authority or issue orders. Rather, Purisima merely relayed presidential commands. So, no usurpation of authority, case dismissed. And no more charges allowed over the death of 44 PNP Special Action Force troopers.

That a retired Supreme Court justice like Morales can come up with such a “silly” and easily beaten charge, as President Duterte said, makes many suspect that she was out to let Aquino off the hook.

Of course, many who have followed how Morales has acted since Aquino named her to head the anti-graft Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) in July 2011, have long concluded that she favors him and his camp.

To cite some of the key roles Morales played in Aquino’s political schemes, she presented grossly inflated dollar deposits allegedly held by the late Chief Justice Renato Corona in his 2012 impeachment trial.

When former President Gloria Arroyo was granted bail in a weak election case, Morales promptly filed a plunder charge to again detain the ailing grandmother sans bail, even if OMB lawyers found zero evidence of Arroyo or her co-accused pocketing state funds — a minimum requirement in plunder cases.

People, of course, remember how Morales, then-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and then-Commission on Audit chairman Grace Tan targeted three opposition senators in pork barrel cases, but spared countless stalwarts in Aquino’s camp, who are only now being probed by current Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.

Even as the Aquino regime wound down in its final years, Morales continued going after his adversaries. Her high-profile investigations of then-Vice President Jejomar Binay brought down the erstwhile election frontrunner.

The largest malversation
But the real value of Morales to Aquino and his ilk lies in her omissions: the scams she never investigated or prosecuted.

From the largest spate of smuggling in Philippine history and probably the biggest malversation in Asia ever, to the bloodiest debacle in the annals of the PNP, Morales missed gross violations of law so easy to spot, and even easier to probe and prosecute.

If she only paid attention to even just one of those offenses, she would not have said about Aquino last December: “You have to give it to him. He is corrupt-free.”

Take the ₱157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program, probably the largest malversation in Philippine, if not Asian history.

No less than Morales’s former Supreme Court colleagues unanimously declared in their July 2014 decision voiding DAP that based on “seven packets of evidence” its funds “were allocated to PAPs [programs and projects]not covered by any appropriations.”

Last time we checked, officials who cause state funds to be spent in ways not covered by budgetary appropriations, commit malversation if expenditures benefited them, or technical malversation if money went to public use.

To investigate, Morales should have given the list of DAP allotments, and asked Aquino and his Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to show which budget provisions authorized the spending.

Yet Morales never did that. And when she finally released her DAP investigation in April, two years and 10 months after the Supreme Court ordered her to run after DAP’s “authors,” Abad was charged with — wait for it — usurpation of authority, and Aquino was declared guilt-free.

The worst smuggling
Turning to contraband, it soared to unprecedented levels under Aquino, trebling to $26.6 billion in 2014, from $7.9 billion five years before, based on International Monetary Fund trade data.

Aquino could have prevented that smuggling surge by bringing Ramos-era Bureau of Customs commissioner Guillermo Parayno back to the BoC, where his sterling performance spurred the IMF to hire him as customs reform consultant.

But Aquino named another BoC head, under whose watch some 2,500 cargo containers disappeared in 2011 while in transit between the Manila and Batangas ports — the biggest spate of smuggling in the country ever.

Like DAP, that unprecedented flood of contraband could have been easily probed just by checking who kept releasing containers after, say, 50 or 100 had gone missing. Grill those careless, if not conniving bureaucrats, and they will almost surely point to higher-ups masterminding the sleaze.

Now, how hard is it to check a few hundred BoC release papers and query the signatories? Not much harder, surely, than asking the man who initialed fund release papers in seven packets of DAP evidence to show which budget stipulations authorized the disbursements.

But Morales didn’t bother with all that.

The bloodiest bungle
For sure, investigating a bungled police commando raid with no paper trail is much harder than documentary sleuthing to uncover DAP and BoC anomalies.

But even in this wireless, paperless age, there are electronic records, like cellphone logs of key players in the Mamasapano massacre.

Suspended PNP Chief Purisima provided the Senate and PNP investigations his SMS exchange with Aquino, which began early morning, purportedly stopped around 10 a.m., then resumed about 6 p.m. after all the SAF 44 were dead.

Fellow columnist Rigoberto Tiglao doubted that Aquino and Purisima stopped texting for eight hours at the worst of the debacle. So, he urged the Senate to subpoena their texting logs, to see if the messaging continued all day.

Morales didn’t look into the phone records, or invite Aquino for questioning. Indeed, she never cared to interrogate those in the thick of the country’s worst malversation, smuggling and police carnage in years, if not ever. These inquiries were bound to fail.

The previous Ombudsman was ousted for supposedly favoring the President who appointed her. Morales has done far, far worse.

Thankfully, she steps down next July. Then Benigno Aquino 3rd will finally face truth and justice.

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