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(UPDATE 2 - 8:48 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines - Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on Tuesday defended her authority to investigate Renato Corona and secure information on the impeached chief justice's dollar accounts from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
During Tuesday's Senate impeachment trial against Corona, the Ombudsman said that the Constitution and the Ombudsman's Law have empowered her to investigate and prosecute officials.
She also said that in the waiver attached to the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), the ombudsman "is authorized to seek the help of agencies" to secure information on the financial records and business interests of a public official.
"To me, that is a blanket authority," said Carpio-Morales.
When she was questioned by Sen. Francis Pangilinan on the importance of the SALN waiver, the Ombudsman said, "It is very valuable because it authorizes me...There should be no doubt that he (SALN filer) authorizes me to look into his assets."
Under the waiver attached to the SALN, the Ombudsman or his duly authorized representative is authorized "to obtain and secure from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue such documents that may show" the SALN filer's "assets, liabilities, networth, business interests and financial connections," which include those of the filer's spouse and unmarried children below 18 years old living with the SALN filer covering previous years to include the year that the filer first assumed office in government.
Also, under Section 15 of Republic Act 6670 or the Ombudsman Act of 1989, the Office of the Ombudsman is given the power to "Investigate and prosecute on its own or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient."
The same section further states that the office has the power to, "Direct the officer concerned, in any appropriate case, and subject to such limitations as it may provide in its rules of procedure, to furnish it with copies of documents relating to contracts or transactions entered into by his office involving the disbursement or use of public funds or properties, and report any irregularity to the Commission on Audit for appropriate action."
Corona's camp is questioning how the Ombudsman was able to obtain data on the chief justice's alleged dollar accounts from the AMLC.
According to Defense spokeswoman Karen Jimeno, a court order should first be obtained to get information about Corona's dollar accounts. Exceptions are only given in cases involving kidnapping, hijacking, illegal drugs but not in cases of impeachment and graft and corruption.
"In this case there should have been a court order," Jimeno said.
"The question here deals with the due process of the accused," she added.
Asked if the defense would raise the question in another court, Jimeno said the defense needed to consult the chief justice on the matter.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is also questioning Carpio-Morales's authority in securing reports from AMLC without a court order.
”I think we should ask the Ombudsman if this is the new policy? Is this a new doctrine that in fact on the basis of the complaint that the Ombudsman can already gain the information from the AMLC and publicize that information?” Marcos said.
Senator Franklin Drilon took the cudgels for Carpio-Morales. He agreed that eveb without a court order, the Ombudsman could get informtion from AMLC because the SALN waiver authorizes Carpio-Morales to look into the records of the government.
”The SALN of Chief Justice Corona has waiver which authorizes the Ombudsman to check all the records of the government if it is accurate as reported in the SALN,” Drilon told members of the Senate media before Tuesday’s regular session.
Drilon said the waiver is specifically granted to the Ombudsman to inquire into the records of government agencies, including the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) which gave the report to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.
"All of us, if somebody filed a case against us, the Ombudsman has responsibility to check the SALN and this waiver does not need a court order,” Drilon said.
Based on the AMLC report, Morales testified before the Senate impeachment court on Monday that Corona allegedly owned 82 dollar accounts in five banks and “fresh deposits” of more than US$ 12 million.
Drilon said the Ombudsman has the right to reveal to the public the dollar accounts of the Chief Justice because “she was called upon to testify by the defense." - with reports from Abigail Kwok