Ombudsman unfazed, to pursue Duterte probe

The Office of the Ombudsman said the agency would not be cowed by President Rodrigo Duterte apparent attempt to “intimidate” the agency amid its ongoing investigation on his and his family’s alleged hidden wealth. AP, File

Ombudsman unfazed, to pursue Duterte probe

Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - September 29, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman said the agency would not be cowed by President Duterte’s apparent attempt to “intimidate” the agency amid its ongoing investigation on his and his family’s alleged hidden wealth.

“Sorry, Mr. President, but this Office shall not be intimidated,” the ombudsman said in a press statement issued yesterday afternoon.

The anti-graft body issued the statement following Duterte’s pronouncement on Thursday that he intends to create a commission that would investigate the alleged corruption activities in the ombudsman’s office, especially by state prosecutors.

“You’ll be investigated also. One of these days, I am sure you will be pursued because of your partiality. If you don’t start investigating yourself, I will set up a commission to investigate you,” Duterte said in a television interview on PTV-4.

Duterte hinted that ombudsman prosecutors have received bribes from military, police and local officials in exchange for dismissing graft cases.

But the ombudsman believes that Duterte’s threat of an investigation has something to do with the agency’s ongoing fact-finding probe on the President and his family’s bank transactions, especially when he was still mayor of Davao City.

“The President’s announcement that he intends to create a commission to investigate the ombudsman appears to have to do with this office’s ongoing investigation into issues that involve him. This office, nonetheless, shall proceed with the probe, as mandated by the Constitution,” the ombudsman said.

In a recorded television interview, which aired on Tuesday night, overall deputy ombudsman Arthur Carandang said he was authorized by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to lead the investigation on the supposed wealth of the Duterte family allegedly hidden in several bank accounts.

Morales had earlier announced that she would inhibit in investigation concerning any complaint against Duterte or his family as she and the President are related by marriage.

Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara, is married to Morales’ nephew, Manases Carpio.

Carandang said the investigation was launched after his office found sufficient basis on the complaint filed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV against Duterte during the campaign period for the May 9, 2016 presidential elections.

In his complaint, Trillanes alleged that Duterte has more than P2 billion in undeclared wealth in the form of deposits and credits under several bank accounts.

Duterte had earlier denied Trillanes’ allegations and said that he is willing to step down from office if the senator can prove the existence of even half the total amount of his alleged hidden wealth.

Carandang said the deputy ombudsman for Mindanao, who is leading the fact-finding investigation, has recently secured several bank documents from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), which also found sufficient grounds to conduct its own probe on Trillanes’ complaint.

But in a statement issued on Thursday, the AMLC denied providing any bank records to the ombudsman.

The AMLC further said it has yet to evaluate if there is ground to initiate an investigation on Duterte’s bank transactions.

In a statement, it said the total amounts presented on Duterte’s alleged assets were “wrong and misleading.”

But the ombudsman, in its statement yesterday, said “As to the documents in its possession, the office (ombudsman) stands by its word. If the President has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear.”

The ombudsman further welcomed any possible investigation of its officials and employees, including the prosecutors.

“This office, all the same, welcomes, as it has always welcomed, efforts to help it cleanse its ranks. Its Internal Affairs Board has, in fact, entrapped and removed ombudsman officials and employees for various offenses,” the ombudsman said.

In a television interview, Carandang said the documents they obtained from AMLC shows that Duterte, as well as his sons Davao City vice mayor Paolo and Sebastian and Mayor Sara, have hundreds of millions of pesos worth of transactions in several banks from 2006 to 2016.

Carandang said they also obtained from AMLC the bank transaction records of accounts under the names of Duterte’s common-law wife, Honeylet Avanceña, and their daughter Veronica.

Administrative sanctions

Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo on Thursday warned Carandang that he might face administrative sanctions for divulging details of Duterte and his family’s bank records while the ombudsman’s fact-finding investigation, which is supposed to be confidential, is still ongoing.

Panelo surmised that the ombudsman might have acquired false information on the Chief Executive’s bank accounts after the AMLC denied that it is the source of the documents attached by Trillanes to his complaint.

“The only conclusion that could be arrived at from such denial is that the documents attached to the complaint of Sen. Trillanes are fake,” Panelo said.

Panelo also slammed Trillanes for accusing Duetrte’s supporters of spreading fake news when he himself is involved in propagation of false information.

He noted that the AMLC’s move also showed that the alleged bank records claimed to have obtained by the overall deputy ombudsman from the council “are fake as well.” 

He said Carandang might face charges of “conduct unbecoming.”

“It seems that there are malignant forces behind the spreading of false news and information against President Duterte,” Panelo said. “In the meantime, we are studying the cases that may be filed against these people… apart from those arising from the violation of their own rules.”

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said President Duterte should not be onion-skinned as the Office of the Ombudsman investigates his wealth.

IBP president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo yesterday reminded Duterte that when he became a government official he made his life open to public scrutiny. 

“The creation of another body either by executive issuance or by an act of Congress that effectively defeats the independence and flexibility needed by the ombudsman in the discharge of her duties is, at best, constitutionally suspect,” he said.

Duterte’s threat to form a commission to investigate Ombudsman Morales and underlings clearly aims to intimidate the corruption watchdog, opposition Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo said yesterday.

“Let us digest what we have here: Ombudsman announced the start of its investigation on Duterte’s hidden wealth and confirmed receipt of AMLC documents regarding the matter. A day after, Duterte said he wants to create a commission that would investigate the ombudsman,” he said.

Alejano said he expected the President to make a “diversionary” statement after the deputy ombudsman announced that they have started investigating the allegation of Trillanes that Duterte has amassed P2 billion in ill-gotten wealth.

The President has denied the accusation. 

He said the circumstances surrounding AMLC’s denial that it provided the ombudsman with documents on the Duterte family’s bank transactions were suspicious.

“Note that AMLC issued a statement in the evening, past working hours, and without a date and signatory, as if it was made in a hurry,” he said.

Trillanes and Alejano said they have been vindicated.

Alejano had filed the first impeachment complaint against the President.

The House of Representatives dismissed the case in May. It was based largely on Trillanes’ allegation of Duterte’s hidden wealth.

Alejano said he hoped that despite the President’s threat of investigation, the ombudsman “would remain steadfast in its mandate of being a vanguard against corruption in government.” 

Trillanes urged the AMLC to just expedite its final report regarding Duterte’s alleged questionable bank transactions instead of issuing “unnecessary statements” to the media.

The AMLC came out with a statement denying that it released any information regarding the alleged bank accounts of the President to either Trillanes or the Office of the Ombudsman.

Trillanes said that it was improper for the AMLC to come out with such statement, which he said sounded like it was “defending and absolving Duterte.”

In its statement, the AMLC noted that “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 should just expedite its final report regarding Duterte’s questionable bank transactions as requested by the ombudsman, so that the public would know the truth about the Duterte bank accounts,” Trillanes said. – With Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez      

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