|In happier times, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and Deputy Melchor Arthur Carandang|
|Newly appointed Ombudsman Samuel Martires takes his oath of office before Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio|
Aug. 06, 2018
The sacking of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang by President Duterte, as conveyed in a 10-page decision by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea last July 30 will be watched for weeks, months and even years to come---for a good number of reasons. The Palace had objected to the disclosure by Carandang of bank records of the Duterte family, which it felt Senator Antonio Trillanes could use to accuse the President of plunder. Carandang had claimed that the figures were obtained from the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
Actually, sympathizers of the President are predictably rallying to his defense inasmuch as the release of the figures would be regarded as questionable from their perspective. As Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo put it, "What is patently illegal is that Carandang created a prejudiced environment against a person he is investigating".There is some truth to this, no doubt.
For the moment, however, the legality or non-legality of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang's disclosure of the supposed wealth of the presidential family becomes less interesting---compared to the way he was dealt with by the Administration and implications for the Office of the Ombudsman in the long run.
A major point at issue here is the harshness of the manner whereby Carandang was fired. According to Secretary Medialdea the dismissal order spells "accessory penalties" of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, being barred from taking civil service examinations and perpetual disqualification from holding public office." For a civil servant with lifelong service to the government, the forfeiture of retirement benefits is doubtless the harshest, as it deprives him of the nest egg he hopes to enjoy in the twilight of his life.
What's interesting was that the Palace clearly waited until Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was safely retired two weeks ago, before firing Carandang. Actually ex-Ombudsman Morales already clashed with the Palace over her Deputy's dismissal by the Palace as early as last Feb. 1, but the fiercely independent and seemingly arrogant Morales simply refused to carry it out.
Morales argued with her signature arched-eyebrows that the President had no business firing Carandang, inasmuch as the Supreme Court had ruled as early as Jan. 28, 2014 that the provision of the "Ombudsman Act" of 1989 that gives the Office of the President disciplining powers over the government's watchdog deputies is UNCONSTITUTIONAL. As per that Act, only the Ombudsman can discipline his or her deputy, and she probably would have done so, except that the Palace couldn't wait for her retirement to cool off a bit in axing Deputy Carandang. .
As Morales insisted to media, "The Ombudsman will not allow herself to betray her sworn duty to uphold the Constitution by recognizing what is patently unconstitutional, as ordained by the Supreme Court." There were initial threats about impeaching Morales on this issue, but this was abandoned inasmuch as the feisty lady graft-buster remained popular and admired for her guts vis-a-vis Duterte. While Morales was in the saddle, the Duterte administration kept its distance.
The Palace appointed 69-year old former Supreme Court Justice Samuel Martires last Monday as Morales' successor and all eyes are now on the poor man, who will be measured by standards set by the feisty lady. Would Martires enforce the President's order to kick out Carandang or would he have the guts to follow his gutsy predecessor on her avowal of independence for the office?
Recall that the Palace had already clashed with Ombudsman Morales when it ordered the 90-day suspension of her Deputy Ombudsman---on the issue of his supposedly irregular release of bank records of the Duterte family, allegedly in the billions, to the President's arch-critic, Sen.Antonio Trillanes. The Palace feared that the information supposedly from AMLC would be used by Trillanes to charge Mr. Duterte with plunder.
Solicitor-General Jose Calida of quo warranto fame defended the validity of Carandang's dismissal resulting from this issue---arguing that the Constitution does not bar the President from disciplining a
deputy official. The Administration's rationale seemed to be that the authority TO HIRE also implies the authority TO FIRE, but this is not upheld by recent decisions of the Supreme Court.
Some observers rue, however, that SC decisions are not cast in stone, and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has already predicted confidently this reversal by the SC.. New Ombudsman Martires, however, seems to take the safe way out when he stressed that the sacking of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang "is a matter left to the courts to decide." .
President Duterte will retire on June 30, 2022, and until then, it is easy to predict that many legal skirmishes will still be fought by his officials in his name. With the retirement of the feisty Conchita Carpio Morales, aunt of the President's son-in-law, lawyer Maneses Carpio, last July 26, the ball is now in the court of new Ombudsman Martires whose association with Mr. Duterte appears to have come a long way.
Some observers don't give Mr. Martires the same allowance for impartiality that Carpio Morales displayed. For one, Martires, a fraternity brod of President Duterte, who took his oath as Associate Justice on March 8, 2017---who also happened to be Mr. Duterte's very first appointee to the SC. Justice Martires had previously occupied the post of Sandiganbayan for 10 years, starting in 2005, leaving a trail of controversial decisions.
In 2012, he rendered the verdict clearing Marcos and Bobby Ongpin in the alleged Binondo Central Bank scam. News accounts also said that in April 2013, Martires penned the Sandiganbayan resolution upholding the plea bargaining agreement struck between military comptroller Carlos Garcia and the Ombudsman.
The Filipino people are in for interesting times.