MANILA, Philippines - Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez has filed a bill seeking to empower the Office of the Ombudsman to freeze the illegally acquired wealth of any government official or employee.
“There is need to further strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman to maximize its ability to resort to asset forfeiture by enabling it to freeze assets in a timely manner,” he said.
“The ultimate objective is to be able to freeze the proceeds of graft and corruption before they are dissipated and eventually lost. The people are the real losers.”
Very often, corrupt public officials and employees facing cases before the Office of the Ombudsman or the Sandiganbayan are able to dispose of illegally acquired properties or empty bank deposits, he added.
Golez said the country is still losing some P280 billion annually to corruption. “This money could have otherwise been allocated and used for the country’s educational, health, and other basic needs,” he said.
The bill would introduce three new sections in Republic Act 1379, “An act declaring forfeiture in favor of the state any property found to have been unlawfully acquired by any public officer or employee and providing for the proceedings therefor.”
One section provides: Whenever any public officer or employee has acquired a property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary and his other lawful income, said property would be presumed to have been unlawfully acquired.
Another gives the Office of the Ombudsman the power to freeze illegally acquired properties, including bank accounts, for not more than three months.
The Office of the Ombudsman may issue the freeze order on its own or upon motion of a complainant.
The proposed third new section states that if a public officer or employee fails to file his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth within 30 days from assuming office, he is presumed to have no property, asset or business to declare.
The bill would allow the Office of the Ombudsman to grant immunity from criminal prosecution to any person who testifies to the manner a public officer or employee has unlawfully acquired an asset.
Golez said for anti-corruption laws to deter corruption, there has to be timely freezing and forfeiture of ill-gotten assets.
“Any delay in the seizure of these assets will provide a window, no matter how narrow, for the same to be dissipated and placed beyond the reach of the law,” he said.
Once the illegal assets are dissipated, the anti-corruption laws and the campaign against corruption become ineffective, he added.