Ombudsman Morales: ‘Strong institutions needed, not strongmen’

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
Ombudsman Morales: âStrong institutions needed, not strongmenâ
“In closing, let me underscore that great countries do not need strongmen. They need strong institutions,” Morales said in a speech at a forum organized by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Thursday.
Boy Santos

‘Protect ombudsman, protect the people’

MANILA, Philippines — Two months before her retirement, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has broken her silence over perceived attacks on her office and other constitutional bodies, saying the country needs strong, independent institutions more than strong leaders.

 “In closing, let me underscore that great countries do not need strongmen. They need strong institutions,” Morales said in a speech at a forum organized by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Thursday.

“Great men eventually perish, but great institutions outlast them all. By protecting great institutions like the Office of the Ombudsman, you are protecting the people,” she added.

Without delving into details, Morales admitted that her office is facing challenges to its independence.

“A check with reality evinces that the challenges hold true to this very day. Threats and intimidation always rear their ugly head along the way, sprouting from both imperfect systems and imperfect personalities,” Morales said.

The US-based TIME Magazine, in its May 14 international edition, listed President Duterte among the world’s “strongmen” along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

But Duterte refuted the “strongman” tag saying, “I have never sent anybody to jail for criticizing me.”

He had castigated the Office of the Ombudsman reportedly for having corrupt prosecutors who would accept bribe money from officials in exchange for dismissing graft charges.

Duterte had also slammed Morales and even dared her to resign for supposedly allowing her office to use illegally obtained documents in its probe on his alleged hidden wealth.

Overall deputy ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, in an interview in September last year, said that Morales had authorized him to investigate Duterte’s bank transactions when the latter was mayor of Davao City.

He claimed that his office had obtained bank documents from the Anti-Money Laundering Council showing Duterte and his family had over P1 billion worth of transactions in several banks from 2006 to 2016. AMLC denied that it had provided documents to Carandang.

In January, Malacañang ordered Carandang suspended for 90 days for administrative offenses of grave misconduct and grave dishonesty for allegedly disclosing false information about the bank transactions of Duterte and his family.

Morales called the suspension order “patently unconstitutional” and refused to enforce it.

She maintained that the Supreme Court had declared that the Office of the President has no jurisdiction over the deputy ombudsman.

“The guarantees of independence, when properly asserted and wielded, have the power to hurdle even the strongest pressure in those fleeting episodes,” Morales said in her speech. Morales also lashed out at a proposal to abolish the Office of the Ombudsman.

“One guarantee of independence is that it cannot be abolished by the legislature since it is an office created by the Constitution,” Morales said.

“More importantly, the mode of removing an ombudsman is only by impeachment. Since the ombudsman is not subject to the disciplinary authority of the President, he or she is not, and should not be beholden to the appointing authority,” she added.

Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso had floated the idea of abolishing the ombudsman and transferring its powers to the Department of Justice, but colleagues in the committee on constitutional amendments rejected his proposal.

In her speech, Morales also called on the members of the IBP and the public to remain vigilant in protecting the independence not only of the ombudsman but of other constitutional institutions as well saying “no single branch can control the entire government.”

“The responsibility of addressing social maladies rests on the shoulders of government institutions. It is thus incumbent for these institutions to be efficient, resilient and most importantly, independent in fulfilling its obligations to the people,” Morales said. Morales will retire on July 26 when she turns 77.

Aside from the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights also gets frequent tongue-lashing from Duterte and his supporters.

Critics of the administration had also accused Duterte of initiating the ouster of Maria Lourdes as chief justice through a quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General, the government’s chief lawyer.



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