Second of two parts
TWENTY-FIVE (25) years ago since the enabling law that created it took effect, the Office of the Ombudsman today still does not have the capacity to perform its mandate. The main reason is because its capability has not been institutionalized in terms of both the resources and the leadership that are required by the organization to be truly effective.
While this is true of many national government agencies, it should not — never! — be the case for a constitutional body such the Office of the Ombudsman. Its “Powers, Functions & Duties,” as defined in Section 15 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 (R.A. 6670) are too important for our country and people to be trifled with and/or taken for granted.
I recall my conversation with the late Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francis Garchitorena in 2002 before he retired from office six years ahead of time. Casually, if not lacking in tact, I asked Francis why the government was losing many of its cases before Sandiganbayan. He told me that the problem was that the complaints filed by the Office of the Ombudsman at his office were not prepared well as if they were meant to lose.
What Presiding Justice Garchitorena told me was actually nothing new since it has been observed before in media, particularly by the political columnists. He merely validated – straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak – the suspicion of the Filipino people, as articulated by the opinion-makers and quoted by reporters from their sources.
My own personal experiences with the Office of the Ombudsman since I filed my first complaint 20 years ago in 1994 and then in 2011 to 2013 clearly showed that this vital constitutional body needs a lot of help to strengthen and institutionalize its capability.
Complaints against the DPWH
On September 1, 2011, I filed my first complaint against the Department of Public Works & Highways (DWPH) in my capacity as the Executive Director of the Citizens’ Infrastructure Integrity WatchDog (InfraWatch). The case is about the anomalous Mega Bridges Project of the DPWH worth P15.0 Billion of obscenely overpriced imported modular steel bridge components that cost five times the pre-stressed concrete flyovers.
The controversial Mega Bridges Project was included a year later in the expose of Senator Sergio Osmeña III on the P111 Billion President’s Bridges Program (PBP) that he referred to as the “Grandmother of all scams” in his Privilege Speech. In one of the Senate hearings, the CoA Auditor assigned to the DPWH revealed that there were no records of payments made by the DPWH for the loan amounting to billions of pesos in the past years.
Before the Privilege Speech of Senator Osmeña in September 2012, the Field Investigation Office (FIO) of the Ombudsman began to act on our InfraWatch complaints. In February 2012, we had our first meeting with the lawyers of the FIO at their office. The result was the creation of a Special Panel after we made the formal request to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. The Special Panel started their investigation on the Mega Bridges in Iloilo, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro and Baguio for the concrete flyover there.
Later on in May, we were informed about the status of the investigations made and that the Special Panel had requested a meeting with Senator Osmeña whose office had started a probe on the President’s Bridges Program (PBP). I was invited to attend the meeting between the Ombudsman Special Panel and Senator Osmeña and his staff.
During the meeting, I was amazed and impressed with the research work that the good senator and his staff had done. In September 2012, Senator Osmeña delivered his Privilege Speech and the Senate hearings commenced in the last quarter of the same year.
However, we have not heard from the Special Panel of the Ombudsman in the past two years (2012-2014). Perhaps they got busy with the P10-Billion PDAF pork barrel scam that surfaced in July 2013 and the first two batches of complaints filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ). We also have not heard on our separate complaint filed on the Dungon Bridge Iloilo City that was shamelessly demolished by the DPWH.
What needs to be done!
In the past 25 years, the best performing period of the Office of the Ombudsman was during the three years (2002-2005) of Atty. Simeon Marcelo. Known as one of the country’s top litigators, Ombudsman Marcelo was said to have put in a working schedule of 100 hours per week (that later cost him his health), which is 2.5 times the regular 40 hours a week. Mr. Marcelo was able to do it because he was only 49 years old when President Gloria M. Arroyo appointed him to the top post.
Thus, what is needed in the leadership of the Ombudsman is a top litigator in his late 40s or in his 50s who can manage an organization. It is not fair to appoint retired Supreme Court justices who are already in their 70s and should be enjoying their grandchildren.
Other than their age, it is better to appoint young top litigators from private practice or prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DoJ) rather than from the judiciary.
I recall former DBM Secretary Guillermo “Gem” N. Carague who was appointed CoA Chairman in early 2001 at age 61 and retired in early 2008 at age 68. Had Gem Carague been appointed to CoA in his late 60s or early 70s, his performance at CoA may have been not as effective due to his advanced age.
President Benigno S. Aquino III appointed retired Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales in 2011 and acknowledged her in his State of the Nation Address (SONA).
However, the budget given to the Office of the Ombudsman in the past three years (2012-2014) as submitted by the DBM and approved by the administration-controlled Congress betrays the insincerity of President B. S. Aquino and his Daan na Matuwid slogan.
As mentioned in my two previous articles (MT, September 27 and October 11, 2014), the Ombudsman must have the wherewithal to effectively do its work. Yet since the start, the President of the Philippines (through DBM) and Congress have never given it what it needs to do its work properly. The budget allocated in the past 25 years to this important constitutional body that is supposed to probe and prosecute all corrupt officials and employees in government has been miserably inadequate.
Thus, it seems that the Office of the Ombudsman was never meant to succeed so the corruption can continue in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government. Nothing much has changed in the past 28 years since the People Power EDSA 1 Revolt.