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Rody’s PACC can’t touch ombudsman – Koko

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III warned yesterday the powers of the newly created Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) are limited and cannot cover or impose sanctions on the ombudsman. File

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III warned yesterday the powers of the newly created Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) are limited and cannot cover or impose sanctions on the ombudsman.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon expressed the same belief as he noted that Executive Order No. 43 creating the PACC could be challenged before the Supreme Court for overreaching the executive branch’s power as provided in the Constitution.

Opposition Rep. Gary Alejano of party-list Magdalo also said the commission “is not only redundant but also unconstitutional.”

Pimentel said while Malacañang has the power to create such bodies, it should also be aware of the extent of its powers.

“The executive branch (PACC) can’t discipline the ombudsman (Conchita Carpio-Morales) herself because the way to discipline the ombudsman is through impeachment,” Pimentel told reporters.

“I agree with the organization of the commission but just be conscious of what they can do,” Pimentel said.

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In the event the ombudsman is impeached, she will undergo trial at the Senate and charges may also be filed against her like what happened to then chief justice Renato Corona.

Pimentel, however, added the PACC will have the authority to sanction officials lower than the ombudsman.

“Let’s assume that it’s true there is corruption in the Office of the Ombudsman, below the ombudsman, where will the people go to? If you’re the president, you always hear of complaints of corruption, would you just let it be and don’t take action?” he said.

Questionable

Drilon has a different view. He said the newly created commission can only go after presidential appointees in the executive branch or it would violate the core principles of independence and checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution.

“By virtue of constitutional independence, the EO cannot be used to discipline or recommend actions against any member, official and employee of other branches of government, including Congress, the judiciary, Civil Service Commission, Commission on Audit, Commission on Elections, Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the Ombudsman,” Drilon said.

Before coming out with EO 43, President Duterte had been vocal about his intention to investigate Morales and her deputies, as well as other officials he perceives as being critical of his administration.

Drilon referred to Section 5 (c) of EO 43 as the problematic provision of the issuance, which states that “upon instructions of the President, or motu propio, the commission may also conduct lifestyle checks and fact-finding inquiries on acts or omissions of all presidential appointees, including those outside of the executive branch of government, which may be violative of the Constitution, or contrary to law, rules and regulations and/or constitute serious misconduct tantamount to betrayal of public trust.”

According to Drilon, this particular provision “may be legally challenged” as an infringement on the independence of the other branches of government and constitutional bodies.

He said this independence of constitutional offices has been upheld by the SC in several cases where the president was disallowed to remove or discipline officials belonging to constitutional bodies.

One particular case he cited was Gonzales v. Office of the President, which stated that constitutional bodies, such as the ombudsman, by virtue of constitutional independence, may not be removed or disciplined by the president.

“The limitation of the power of the president to discipline the members of these constitutional bodies is to preserve its independence and isolate them from the president’s influence and political pressure,” Drilon said.

“What we want to prevent here is a situation wherein constitutional offices would be, in effect, under the mercy of the executive that they are mandated to investigate,” he added.

As far as the other officials and personnel of constitutional bodies are concerned, Drilon said it is only the heads of these offices that can discipline them.

Suspicious

Alejano said “the commission undermines the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman and encroaches on its constitutionally mandated functions. The commission serves essentially the same functions as the Office of the Ombudsman,” he said.

Alejano also said the timing of the creation of the anti-corruption commission “is highly suspicious.”

“This move by the President is self-serving, given the context that he is currently being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman. Obviously, this is an attempt to threaten and silence the office, which is an independent constitutional body,” he said.

Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang has announced that his office has started inquiring into the allegations of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV that Duterte has amassed more than P2 billion in ill-gotten wealth.

Carandang was quoted as saying he has received documents showing that the President and his family had more than P1 billion in bank transactions over the years.

After his statement, the President repeatedly verbally assaulted him and Morales.

He has even accused the ombudsman and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of conspiring with the “yellows” to oust him.

Alejano said it is ironic that while Duterte created an anti-corruption body, he has consistently refused to sign a bank secrecy waiver so the ombudsman’s office and his critics could look into his bank accounts.

“Someone who is being accused of corruption does not have the moral ascendancy on fighting corruption,” he said.

The President has claimed that he has no more than P40 million in lifetime savings. He said he was willing to resign if his bank deposits exceed that amount.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the way EO is worded, the PACC will obviously have law enforcement but not prosecutorial powers “so inevitably, they will have to refer to the Office of the Ombudsman all corruption cases that they will investigate.”

“I’m not sure if it’s an irony that it is actually what the ombudsman needs at present – a law enforcement arm that can develop cases, conduct entrapment operations, apply for search warrants and perform other related law enforcement functions,” Lacson said.

He said he was crafting a bill amending the Ombudsman Act by creating its own law enforcement arm. 

Lacson said he will see how the PACC works out before pushing for his bill. – With Jess Diaz

                   

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