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My unsolicited advice to a couple of friends--one who works in the Palace and another who writes a popular column--was for them to recommend to the President to turn over the whole Puno event to the Ombudsman. That way the President will not be accused of a whitewash if an internal investigation finds groundless the allegations against former DILG undersecretary Rico Puno. Anyway, they think I’m nuts to begin with so they dismissed my suggestion outright. Hopefully, you won’t.
In the US, a Special Prosecutor is named whenever there is an issue that requires independent investigation. That was done in Nixon’s Watergate and several other gates. Neat, right? Except that in the US, the appointment of a special prosecutor is a highly politicized weapon used by both political parties against each other. Normally, it is the party out of the White House that calls for special prosecutors to investigate allegations against members of the Executive. It is rare when there is a bipartisan call for one.
We don’t have that problem in this country. The framers of our Constitution were wise enough to create an independent constitutional office, the Office of the Ombudsman, with the following powers, functions, and duties:
Article XI Sec. 13 of the Constitution:
The Office of the Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions, and duties:
1. Investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient.
2. Direct, upon complaint or at its own instance, any public official or employee of the Government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, as well as of any government-owned or controlled corporation with original charter, to perform and expedite any act or duty required by law, or to stop, prevent, and correct any abuse or impropriety in the performance of duties.
3. Direct the officer concerned to take appropriate action against a public official or employee at fault, and recommend his removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution, and ensure compliance therewith.
4. Direct the officer concerned, in any appropriate case, and subject to such limitations as may be provided by law, 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.
5. Request any government agency for assistance and information necessary in the discharge of its responsibilities, and to examine, if necessary, pertinent records and documents.
6. Publicize matters covered by its investigation when circumstances so warrant and with due prudence.
7. Determine the causes of inefficiency, red tape, mismanagement, fraud, and corruption in the Government and make recommendations for their elimination and the observance of high standards of ethics and efficiency.
8. Promulgate its rules of procedure and exercise such other powers or perform such functions or duties as may be provided by law.
If we have a credible Ombudsman, like the one we have now, then the sort of congressional probe that Sen. Miriam Santiago held last Friday will be seen for what it is: nothing more than epal, the slang for self-promotion by politicians at taxpayer’s expense.
Here’s Miriam doing some self-promotion in a Tweet several days before her hearing:
“There will be a lot of sound and fury. There will be a lot of sound from Mr. Puno and maybe a lot of fury from me.”(http://t.co/HDgSSQFe) Was she promoting the Bourne Legacy? Dispensing viagra to our sensationalist media?
Here is more of her teasing in a press interview: “Maybe the president is not defending Mr. Puno, but is just trying to assuage or protect the backers of Usec. Puno.” Asked to name the backers, she replied, “Now, I can’t because I may be accused of unfair allegations without any evidence.” More viagra for reporters and politicians who are always looking for someone to screw.
Previous presidents, Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo, appointed controversial ombudsmen. Their appointees were seen as their personal bodyguards against prosecution. Consequently, the public did not give any credibility to their work.
But that’s not the case with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. She proved her independence as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Her legal acumen plus her independence are beyond reproach. She is nobody’s protector. She ain’t nobody’s fool. That’s why on July 11, 2011 the Daan Matuwid president appointed her to serve as Ombudsman. She will serve until 2018, two years after he steps down from office, enough time for her to go after him if he commits any crime during his incumbency. That proves the president had no self-interest in mind when he appointed her.
Consequently, Ombudsman Carpio-Morales is the right person to look into the allegations against Puno, any member of the Cabinet, and anyone else perceived to have close personal ties to the president, not only because that’s her constitutional mandate but more importantly because she has the credibility to do it.
The President could have saved himself a lot of flak from politicians and media if he had simply announced, “I’ve turned the papers over to the Ombudsman. I await her findings and will respect whatever action she may decide to take. If you have any questions, go see her. Now let me get back to work.”
Trust me on this one, Mr. President.
Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph).