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Duterte wealth prober faces ouster complaint

Carandang

MANILA, Philippines — As the Office of the Ombudsman begins its probe on the alleged ill-gotten wealth of President Duterte and his family, two of its ranking officials and several others have been slapped with separate administrative complaints for corruption, gross negligence and betrayal of public trust.

Named in the first complaint were Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Carandang, Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao Rodolfo Elman and members of the field investigation unit.

Carandang was also accused of conniving with the political opposition led by former president Benigno Aquino III in efforts to destabilize the administration.

Lawyers Manuelito Luna and Eligio Mallari filed the complaint with the Malacañang Records Section yesterday. The complainants also said the officials should be removed as they have shown bias against the Chief Executive in their conduct of investigation into his alleged ill-gotten millions.

“Carandang not only violated the Bank Secrecy Law and all the laws prescribing disclosure of confidential information and secrets as well as details relative to the fact-finding, but also grossly misrepresented the facts…,” Luna and Mallari said in their complaint. 

The ombudsman has created a body to look into the bank deposits of Duterte and his family – which reportedly reached over P200 million. 

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The Chief Executive has expressed anger over what he claimed were false accusations hurled against him by his political enemies, particularly Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

Duterte has accused Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales of political bias and challenged her to resign from her post.

In their complaint, Luna and Mallari referred to Carandang’s interviews where he was quoted as saying that the ombudsman’s office received record of Duterte’s bank transactions from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

Carandang also “indulged in misinformation calculated to undermine the integrity of the AMLC” and “bring about the weakening of the institution of the presidency,” the complainants said.

“Carandang has blindly sided with Sen. Trillanes IV and is biased against the President,” read the 13-page complaint.

They also claimed Carandang “indulged in favoritism as well as tyrannically abused his power.” 

“If this is not betrayal of public trust, complainants do not know what it is. It was even reported that he purportedly said their record of the account deposits and transactions related thereto, and those in the report of the AMLC, look the same,” the complainants added.

Elman “co-opted or conspired with Carandang” and “is equally liable for graft and corruption or betrayal of public trust,” they said.

“He played a low-key but pivotal role in the whole mess as Carandang would not have been able to gain full access to the bank records and documents illegally being kept by the Field Investigation Unit under the office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao,” the complainant said, referring to Elman.

The members of the fact-finding investigation team, they added, should be made to account for mere possession of bank records and documents. “The alleged wrongdoing constitutes gross misconduct.

“Given the very extensive media publicity given to the disclosures of  ODO Carandang, the disclaimer of the AMLC, as well as the raging exchanges between the President and the ombudsman and, hence, has become part of  the public domain, the Office of the President may also take judicial notice of the contents of the afore-quoted AMLC official statement,” it said.

The Office of the Executive Secretary said it would conduct an investigation and recommend its decision or findings to the President.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, for his part, denied the Chief Executive had connived with the complainants in the filing of the complaint. “Apparently, the person who filed it is an independent person. So there’s no need to connect any dots,” Abella said.

Power grab

In the other complaint, former congressman Jacinto Paras and Glenn Chong are seeking the dismissal of Carandang for “committing grave misconduct and gross dishonesty constituting betrayal of public trust” or violation of Section 3 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Law. 

Carandang is also accused of violating Rule IV, Section 3 of paragraph f (ii).

“His malicious and arbitrary disclosures of the bank transaction records of President Duterte and his family is a complete and wanton violation of the ombudsman prescribed rule of procedures,” their 11-page complaint read.

Paras and Chong cited Rule v, Section 2 of the Administrative Order No. 07 or the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman for dealing with matters that could unduly expose subjects of complaints to ridicule or public censure.

The complaint also referred to Carandang’s media interviews. “Evidently, respondent Carandang’s act showed his corrupt intentions, his clear intent to violate the law and the rights of the accused Duterte and his family.”

Paras and Chong said the disclosure of the accounts came amid the political opposition’s attacks against the Chief Executive.

Carandang’s media announcements, they claimed, had led to suspected destabilization efforts by TindigPilipinas and the “yellow mob.”

They also said Carandang’s actions were “tantamount to inexecusable negligence, tyrannical abuse of power and breach of official duty.”

“It may even be said that his act in putting the President in disrepute is part of the destabilization which the respondent maybe a part of. It cannot be denied that respondent, together with his boss, Ombudsman Morales, were appointed by president Aquino. And their loyalties lie with Aquino,” the complaint read.

“It can be concluded that that disclosure made by respondent Carandang by making it appear that the President is a corrupt official is calculated to weaken and cause distrust in the President by the people, thereby enhancing the strength of the opposition with end result of a power grab,” it added.

They also said the officials in their complaint should be removed immediately. “The power to appoint carries with it the power to remove,” they said. “As a general rule, therefore, all officers appointed by the President are also removable by him.

“The exception to this is when the law expressly provides otherwise – that is, when the power to remove is expressly vested in an office or authority,” their complaint read.

Paras and Chong also cited the provision under Republic Act 6770 or the Ombudsman Law that says: “A deputy of the special prosecutor may be removed from office by the President for any of the grounds provided for the removal of the ombudsman and after due process.”

True colors showing

At Malacañang, Abella said the ombudsman is showing its “true political colors” and is involved in “deliberate effort” to stir outrage against President Duterte and ultimately destabilize the government.

“We must remind them that it is an independent and anti-graft body that is supposed to conduct an impartial and fair investigation,” Abella said in a press briefing, referring to the ombudsman.

“It should not play into the hands of those who cannot accept the fact that the President won in the 2016 election. It should not be a party to a demolition job. We have seen this before. This is déjà vu,” he added.

Duterte’s chief legal adviser Salvador Panelo said Carandang had violated the code of conduct for government personnel when he revealed getting records of Duterte’s bank transactions from the AMLC.

But Carandang insisted that he observed confidentiality on the probe and that he was just reading through the documents shown to him by the media.

“The Office of the Ombudsman was being economical with the truth when it said it has observed confidentiality in its investigation of the graft complaint against President Duterte… These go against the facts,” Abella said. 

Abella said Carandang’s claim is contrary to an earlier statement from the AMLC that the overall deputy ombudsman sent a letter dated Aug. 17 to initiate an investigation of Duterte’s alleged bank accounts.

“What all this confirms is that there is indeed a deliberate effort to discredit the President, mislead the public and to create popular outrage against the duly elected Chief Executive,” the presidential spokesman said. “The public’s mind seems to be being set.”

Abella said Duterte would disclose his bank records “if necessary and at the right time.”

Abella also explained that Duterte’s plan to form a commission that would look into the supposed corruption in the Office of the Ombudsman was not related to the corruption allegations against him.

“Apparently, the President is simply acting objectively regarding infringements the office seems to be doing.”

Asked why Duterte floated the idea of probing the ombudsman, Abella replied: “Well, this was the opportune time to do that.”

“The Office of the Ombudsman is a separate entity from the people who are there, right? It’s not the office that is corrupt, it’s the individuals within,” he added.

When pressed why Duterte did not just ask Carandang to inhibit from the investigation, Abella said: “That is the process that seems to be unfolding, so we trust his decisions to do that.” 

The AMLC, for its part, said it felt vindicated by Carandang’s admission that he got his information on bank records from the media.

“We have categorically stated before that the AMLC is not the source of the documents and information attached by Senator Trillanes in his complaint, regarding the alleged bank accounts of President Duterte,” the interagency body said in a statement issued Thursday evening.

However, it confirmed that it received a letter from Carandang dated Aug. 17 last Sept. 6 requesting the AMLC to initiate investigation on subject accounts.

“We have yet to evaluate the request, and the initiation of an investigation, as well as the release of any report on the subject, will depend on such evaluation. Suffice it to state that in the attachment to the Complaint, the alleged debits and credits representing outflows and inflows of funds were added together, thus, the resulting total amounts are wrong and misleading,” the AMLC said.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta lauded the creation of a Citizen National Group, organized to “defend the republic and the President against the enemies of the state.”   –  Lawrence Agcaoli, Romina Cabrera

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