Malacañang will question before the Supreme Court the Office of the Ombudsman’s move to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte for ill-gotten wealth.
Speaking to reporters, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the investigation by the Ombudsman on Duterte’s wealth was “unconstitutional.”
“My theory now is that the Ombudsman’s investigation currently of the President is unconstitutional even if there is a provision in the Ombudsman’s law that it has investigatory power, because to my mind, it will circumvent the doctrine of immunity of a sitting president from suits,” Panelo said in a news conference.
He also said Duterte could not be investigated for crimes he allegedly committed when he was mayor of Davao City.
“Apart from that, the acts being subject of investigation are alleged acts committed by the President when he was still a mayor, which cannot be the subject of an investigation for purposes of filing an impeachment complaint, assuming that it has the power to do so, which to my mind it doesn’t have, even if there is a law,” Panelo explained.
“We’re studying the circumstances. We might question that particular provision giving the Ombudsman the investigatory power to investigate an impeachable official for purposes of filing an impeachment complaint,” he added.
The Office of the Ombudsman, led by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, as authorized by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, had announced a probe into Duterte’s wealth.
Carandang said documents turned over to the office by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) showing the Dutertes’ bank transaction records were similar to those obtained by Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th last year.
The AMLC however later denied giving information on the Dutertes’ finances to Trillanes or the Ombudsman.
President Duterte had said that he would not submit to the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The probe stemmed from the plunder complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman by Trillanes against Duterte on May 5, 2016, a few days before the elections.
On Monday, the President said Morales should resign as her office was corrupt, and claimed field investigators had accepted bribes from politicians to dismiss their cases.
On Wednesday, Duterte backed impeachment complaints against Morales and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno over supposed corruption.
Morales, who has approving authority on the Office of the Ombudsman’s rulings aside from deputy ombudsmen, had inhibited herself from probing complaints against the Dutertes.
Morales is an aunt-in-law of the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
The Palace also cried foul over the Ombudsman’s “selective justice and partiality” in handling graft cases.
Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella earlier told reporters Duterte would disclose his bank accounts “if necessary and at the right time.”
But he said some Ombudsman officials had shown their political colors by being part of a supposed destabilization plot against the Duterte administration.
On Thursday, Duterte signed Executive Order 43 forming the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission.
The order was issued a week after Duterte vowed to form a body that would investigate alleged corruption at the Office of the Ombudsman.
Panelo said the commission would have a chairman and four members. It will not investigate impeachable officials such as the Ombudsman, he said.
A solidarity Mass in support of the Office of the Ombudsman was held on Friday outside the anti-graft body’s office in Quezon City.
Former education secretary Bro. Armin Luistro, who helped organized the Mass, told reporters: “What we heard in the news that the Office of the Ombudsman is really being persecuted worried many of us.”
“We just thought that the support we could do at the most is to pray,” he said.
Members of the Prayer Battalion for Truth and Justice, Tindig Pilipinas, and the Silent No More Organization Inc. attended the Mass.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, former Commission on Human Rights chief Loretta Ann Rosales, and former social welfare secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman were also present.
The Office of the Ombudsman said in a statement it was grateful for the “expression of solidarity in support of the institution and its steadfast commitment to uphold the rule of law and perform its constitutional mandate.”
WITH REINA C. TOLENTINO