Strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman as an institution (2)


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.


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  1. There is a problem with appointing “retired” SC justices to the office of the Omsbudman. We do not need soemone in that office to keep things as they are and just be a caretaker. We need the young blood to be there and make changes for the better. The old ones do not create problems. The young will try to make things better and push to make things better. We do not need someone with a reputation to protect. We need someone trying to make a name for himself and establish a reputation for justice and stopping corruption.

    • That “young blood” qualification is not the defining requisite for this office but integrity and patriotism. The occupant must be above suspicion of corruptibility.

  2. Roldan Guerrero on

    With an Ombudsman appointed by the President of the Republic, incompetent and substandard as the incumbent, the Office of the Ombudsman remains a RUBBER STAMP of the President. Carpio-Morales who is proven as a real tool for Aquino`s vindictiveness,probably a beneficiary of the DAP BRIBE has prostituted herself to bow on the orders of a LEGAL-RETARDATE undoubtedly too as Psychologically-ill and no sense of qualifications to lead a state that is fully in mesh. I wonder how this retired SC Associate Justice emerged somewhere in the Supreme Court she perfectly does not belong. This is also another misfortune for the Filipino people that SC Justices being a co-equal branch of the government, SC Justices appointed by the president surely will not deliver their functions properly as a result of political debt. I must be wrong therefore for the president to appoint any government officials exercising critical functions. Independent non political bodies should do the job to avoid politicking.

    • Yes, the Judiciary is a co-equal branch of government as the Executive and Legislative.Supreme Court justices are appointed by the President of the Philippines based on the short-list of names recommended by the Judicial & Bar Council (JBC). The President cannot appoint anyone who is NOT in the List submitted by the JBC. However, the process can also be “politicized.” The JBC did NOT include the the name of former Solicitor-General Jardleza submitted to the President. The SC Chief Justice was against him. However, Jardaleza went to the SC to appeal the JBC list. The SC ruled that Jardeleza SHOULD be in the JBC list. Once the SC made the ruling, President B.S. Aquino immediately appointed Jardaleza to the SC. “Bata-bata” system lang.

  3. I look at how the uk, where i come from, does things & its all so simple. I look at how the usa does things & its all so simple, i look at how europe does things & its all so simple, then we look at how the philippines does things & its a joke. These systems & procedures have been put in place to aid & abet corruption. The leaders of the philippines are very clever but the average filipino is very stupid. They see ( or would see if the could be bothered to look ) how the rest of the world does things right but then see how the philippines does it differently & does it wrong. But no one ever complains. Your leaders know this so keep doing it. Here is P10 vote for me,
    I just dont know where you will start to put this country right.

    • Dustin, I agree with your observations. Very sad for the Philippines. Yes, the government has the knack for making things DIFFICULT. Perhaps it is to enhance their importance other the obvious reason of Making Money.

    • Yes Sir that’s right. Here in the Philippines our solutions to any problem be it national or local are always in short cut or palliatives only. We have no vision for the future. Look everywhere. From infrastructures, environment protection, population control, management of economy, culture, Laws, justice, education, industries, sports, etc. All are if not inadequate are not envisioned, planned or designed to last for the future of our children.

  4. i agree with you mr ramos. dapat new blood at hindi old blood, pardon po sa mga senior citizens like the present ombudsman, ang iluklok sa pwestong ombudsman o kahit anumang ahensya. sana pati na rin sa mga elected positions ay new blood na ang maupo. sa enerhiya lamang ng mga new blood ay talo na ang mga old blood. dapat ang mga old blood ay consultants na lang to avail of their knowledge and experiences.

    • Ren, very good observations and suggestion for the old folks to be consultants or advisers for their expertise and wisdom. Mabuhay!

  5. That’s the problem with appointing a retired justice in the most important institution to fight corruption in the government. Most likely he or she will just do routinary work in his or her office just to kill and enjoy his time while receiving his pensions and other remunerations. Her capacity to work more harder is limited by his or her aging physical condition. Like the saying, the mind or the spirit is willing but the body is weak. Obudsman’s works need some butt kicking motivation acts, overtime works, do some physically tiring visitations to problematic Ombudsman sub-offices and other nerve and physical activities that a younger soul can do aside from being an academically brilliant qualification.

    • Very insightful observations. By the way, both Aquino mother and son presidents appointed retired Supreme Court justices. At least the mother had admitted she made a mistake when she confided to some people in her office in Malacañang. The son seems to be a hopeless case who will NEVER admit having made any mistake with his appointments.