August 1, 2011
One of the major highlights of President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III’s 2011 State of the Nation Address (SONA) was his announcement of the appointment of retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as the next Ombudsman. The announcement drew the loudest and strongest applause, which was a testament to Carpio-Morales’ unblemished record and impeccable credentials during her 42 years in the legal profession.
The selection of Carpio-Morales from a shortlist of four candidates was anticipated because P-Noy made it known during the nomination process for Ombudsman that Carpio-Morales was his top choice. However, it was not an easy decision for P-Noy as a concerted opposition was mounted against Carpio-Morales from within P-Noy’s inner circle. Indeed, two weeks before SONA, former Justice Secretary Artemio Tuquero emerged as the frontrunner for the position.
As reported in the print media, two powerful allies of P-Noy identified with the “Samar” bloc lobbied hard for Tuquero. But in the end, P-Noy resisted the pressure to appoint Tuquero. But when Tuquero was taken out of the competition, Gerard Mosquera — who was acceptable to both the “Samar” and “Balay” blocs — emerged as a “dark horse” candidate. Mosquera, who is a commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), reportedly impressed P-Noy during his interview with him. However, P-Noy followed his own instincts and chose a “known quantity” that he trusts and believes would do an excellent job in prosecuting corrupt officials.
In his SONA speech, P-Noy says of Carpio-Morales, “When the new Ombudsman, former Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, takes office, we will have an honest-to-goodness anti-corruption office, not one that condones the corruption and abuses in government.” That signifies P-Noy’s total confidence on Carpio-Morales’ ability and competence to fighting graft and corruption, a “must” if he wants to fulfill his campaign promise of “Walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty).
Now that a new Ombudsman has been appointed, the last obstacle in going after corrupt officials has been removed. The Office of the Ombudsman should no longer be impeded in its mandate to bring them to justice.
So much time has been lost in the past six years only because the previous Ombudsman, Merceditas “Merci” Gutierrez, obstructed – or shelved — the investigation of those who have close ties to former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband Mike. With the appointment of Carpio-Morales, the shield protecting them has been removed.
With five plunder cases filed against Gloria to date – more are expected to follow — Carpio-Morales has her work cut out for her. Finally, the wheel of justice is going to move.
History of weak cases
But what is very important is not to make the same mistakes that Gutierrez did which led to the dismissal or rejection of many cases brought before the Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court. A case in point was the plunder case against former Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia. The Office of the Ombudsman approved a plea bargain by Garcia, which changed the plunder charge to a lesser crime.
The Ombudsman’s reason for agreeing to the plea bargain was because the plunder case against Garcia was weak. But it turned out that the special prosecutor assigned to the case didn’t really do a good job in prosecuting Garcia. Some legal experts were of the opinion that the special prosecutor, Wendell Sulit, had negligently weakened the case against Garcia. Consequently, Malacañang filed administrative charges against Sulit and suspended her for 90 days for “acts and omissions constituting graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust.”
War on corruption
If P-Noy’s war on corruption is to succeed, the Office of the Ombudsman has to build strong – and ironclad — cases that could withstand legal challenges not only in the Sandiganbayan but also in the Supreme Court.
And this is where Carpio-Morales’ nine years of experience as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court would make a big difference. Her knowledge of how the high court works is an invaluable asset in her new role as Ombudsman; thus, avoiding the pitfalls of the previous Ombudsman when graft and corruption cases brought before the Supreme Court were dismissed, many of which were based on legal technicalities.
Gloria’s last line defense
Prosecuting Gloria for plunder would be a challenge for Carpio-Morales because of Gloria’s link to many Supreme Court justices whom she appointed. If Gloria were convicted in the lower and appellate courts, the Supreme Court would be Gloria’s last line of defense. However, it would be difficult for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Gloria if the cases against her were strong.
Convicting Gloria will not be a walk in the park. Take the case of former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada which took the Ombudsman more than six years to prosecute. It’s conceivable that it could also take that long – or even longer — to try Gloria for plunder. However, facing multiple plunder cases could be financially – and emotionally — draining for Gloria. And considering that plunder is a non-bailable case, Gloria could be in detention for a long time.
In the final analysis, P-Noy’s ultimate goal is not just the prosecution of corrupt officials; he is waging war — on a grand scale — against “utak wang-wang” (“wang-wang” mentality).
In his inaugural address a year ago, he banned the use of wang-wangs (sirens) by government officials including himself. It was a successful campaign in ridding the streets of those annoying wang-wangs, the use of which caused a lot of resentment from the people.
Now, he’s taking the campaign against wang-wang to a higher level – the mindset – that he associated with abuse of power. In his SONA, he asked the people to help him fight corruption and “utak wang-wang.”
He said, “Do you want the corrupt held accountable? So do I. Do you want to see the end of wang-wang, both on the streets and in the sense of entitlement that has led to the abuse that we have lived with for so long? So do I. Do you want to give everyone a fair chance to improve his or her lot in life? So do I.”
With a new Ombudsman committed to prosecuting the corrupt, P-Noy is ready to tackle the biggest challenge of his presidency – the war on “utak wang-wang.” (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)