During a Senate budget hearing last Tuesday, October 7, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales asked for an additional P160 million on top of the P1.7 billion that will be given to the Office of the Ombudsman for 2015. The breakdown is P100 million for the Ombudsman office in Mindanao, and the balance of P60 million is for confidential (intelligence) funds, supplies, materials and professional services needed.
I completely agree with Ombudsman Morales that the additional amount of P160 million she is requesting is picayune, compared to the budget of other government agencies. In fact, I was rather surprised why she did not ask for an increase of P300 million so that her office can receive P2 billion under next year’s budget.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), one of the most corrupt departments, is getting a P300.5-billion budget for 2015. This is an increase of almost 50 percent of its current 2014 budget of P206.6 billion. Thus, even with a P2.0 Billion budget for the Office of the Ombudsman for 2015, it is only less than 7.0 percent of the DPWH budget for next year. If benchmarked with DPWH, it should be 10 percent or P3.0 Billion!
Even with the additional P160 million, the breakdown should have been reversed: the P100.0 million should have been for the resources needed for the confidential funds, supplies, materials and professional services and P60.0 million for the Ombudsman’s own office in Mindanao. Confidential funds, which are currently at P3.0 million, should be at least P20.0 million (7x) and P80.0 million for resources and experts.
Ombudsman Act of 1989 (RA 6770)
I read again the 13 pages of Republic Act (RA) 6770, known as the Ombudsman Act of 1989 in order to write this article. The title of RA 6770 is “An Act Providing for the Functional and Structural Organization of the Office of the Ombudsman and Other Purposes.” It was approved by Congress on November 17, 1989 or 25 years ago.
One of the provisions of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 is Section 38 on “Fiscal Autonomy.” It states, “The Office of the Ombudsman shall enjoy fiscal autonomy.” It however, it is a hallow provision because “Appropriations for the Office of the Ombudsman may not be reduced below the amount appropriated for the previous years and, after approval, shall be automatically and regularly released.” This sounds like a joke.
In my column entitled “Strengthen the Judiciary & Justice System” (MT, September 27, 2014), I recommended that the Office of the Ombudsman should receive an additional P1.0 Billion from its current budget of P1.7 Billion for 2014. Why? Because to be effective, it must be given the wherewithal to perform its tremendous mandate as enshrined in the Constitution and prescribed (reiterated) in its enabling law (RA 6770).
The eleven “Powers, Functions and Duties” of the Office of the Ombudsman are provided for in Section 15 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989. Thus, they have the mission and jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute officials and employees in the three branches of government: Executive, Legislative and the Judicial.
What is not well-known in these 11 “powers, functions and duties” is No. 7: “Determine the causes of inefficiency, red tape, mismanagement, fraud, and corruption in the Government, and make recommendations for their elimination and the observance of high standards of ethics and efficiency.” In its 25 years of existence, the Office of the Ombudsman has overlooked this provision in the law that created it.
Another little-known provision in the same Section 15 of RA 6770 is that “The Ombudsman shall give priority to complaints filed against high ranking government officials and/or those occupying supervisory positions, complaints involving grave offenses as well as complaints involving large sums of money and/or properties.”
This has hardly been done unless filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ) with the Ombudsman, as in the case of the P10.0-Billion PDAF pork barrel scam.
Personal experiences with Office of Ombudsman
My own personal experiences with the Ombudsman have been most frustrating over the past 20 years since I filed my first complaint in 1994. It was against the corrupt Mayor of Pasig who had a well-paved asphalt road (only three years old) in our barangay demolished in order to make it concrete. This was reported twice in the Philippine Daily Inquirer complete with photos and also exposed in a popular TV talk show over Channel 9.
The Ombudsman dismissed the complaint after they were furnished blurred photos purportedly depicting the damaged condition of the municipal road. Of course, these photos were not taken on the same street. I would know because we lived there and we pass the same road everyday. But the Office of the Ombudsman did not bother to verify nor interview the establishments along the controversial road.
My “baptism of fire” in 1994 with the Office of the Ombudsman told me the obvious: They can be and have been bought by the defendants. Nonetheless, the Ombudsman gave me the consolation of citing my act of citizenship and patriotism. It felt like adding insult to injury or putting salt to an open wound since I doubted its sincerity.
I would learn later on that Ombudsman Conrado N. Vasquez did not exactly do a good job during his fixed seven-year term (1988-1995). What was only worse was during the term of Ombudsman Ma. Merciditas N. Gutierrez from 2005 to 2011. She was unable to finish her full term when she had to resign in April 2011 to avoid an impeachment trial, having been impeached earlier in the House of Representatives.
In the case of former Ombudsman Vasquez, I recall a former Cabinet-rank official in Malacañang who told me some 20 years ago that President Corazon C. Aquino felt sorry for having appointed the former Supreme Court Justice as the first Ombudsman. In fact, if memory serves, it was one appointment that Cory Aquino confided she truly regretted having made as Chief Executive.
(To be continued on Saturday October 18)