MANILA, Philippines — Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on Thursday denied President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that her office appeared to have mastered the “art of selective justice” in handling cases, particularly the complaints lodged against government officials accused in the pork barrel scam.
She explained during a press conference that under the Ombudsman Act of 1989, “we give priority to high-profile cases, high government officials who hold supervisory positions or cases that involve huge amounts of money or big property.”
Last Tuesday, the President said the Ombudsman’s office was being discriminatory in its investigation and prosecution of government officials accused of crimes because it was being “harsh on some, soft on others even if they all suffer from similar and analogous circumstances.”
Carpio-Morales on Thursday said that her office had prioritized filing cases against former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Jinggoy Estrada because she remembered that they were among the primary suspects linked in 2013 by alleged pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim-Napoles in the plunder and malversation of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
“I recall that when I was new there and the PDAF cases came out, Miss Napoles came out with an affidavit targeting three senators,” the Ombudsman said.
Of the P745.63 million worth of PDAF allegedly amassed by five lawmakers, who supposedly got the biggest kickbacks from their transactions with alleged co-conspirator Napoles, 78 percent or P581.14 million was said to have been accumulated by Revilla (P224.512 million), Estrada (183.793 million), and Enrile (172.834 million), according to the National Bureau of Investigation.
Other pork scam cases filed
In 2015, the Ombudsman’s office filed plunder and graft cases against five more former lawmakers being linked to the scam — former representatives Rizalina Seachon-Lanete (Masbate); Samuel Dangwa (Benguet); Rodolfo Plaza (Agusan del Sur); Edgar Valdez (APEC party-list); and Constantino Jaraula (Cagayan de Oro).
In the same year, the ombudsman also indicted for malversation and graft former Customs commissioner and Muntinlupa representative Ruffy Biazon for his alleged link to the pork barrel racket.
Also indicted were former representatives Rodolfo Valencia of Oriental Mindoro; Marc Douglas Cagas of Davao Del Sur; Arrel Olaño of Davao Del Norte; and Arthur Pingoy Jr. of South Cotabato.
In November 2016, the Ombudsman found Sen. Joel Vilanueva liable for misuse of his 2008 PDAF worth P10-million and ordered his dismissal from public service. But the Senate voted not to implement the order, saying the Ombudsman didn’t have the power to penalize a member of Congress.
This year, the Ombudsman’s office filed graft charges against Sen. Gregorio Honasan before the Sandiganbayan for his alleged misuse of his pork barrel funds.
Case overload, full-term
On Duterte’s claim that the wheels of justice at the Ombudsman’s office seemed to have turned slowly under her watch, Carpio Morales said she had inherited nearly 20,000 cases when she started her work in 2011.
“You know, I inherited more than 19,000 cases dating back as old as 1999. Would you believe? Maraming natulog [There were many aging cases], naturally we had to attend to them kasi aged na nga eh [because these had already aged],” she said.
“On top of the fact that in the interim, about 35,000 cases were filed. And I’m proud to say as I have said again, ang pending namin [our pending] as of December 2016 was more than 6,000 cases,” added Carpio-Morales.
On Duterte’s statement that she wasn’t entitled to a full seven-year-term as ombudsman, because she “is supposed to serve the remaining terms of the guy who resigned,” referring to Merceditas Gutierrez, who quit her post in April 2011, Carpio-Morales said that she was “just following the law.”
She said that Section 8, paragraph 3 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 states that, “When the ombudsman leaves the office by reason of death, removal, or permanent disability, the overall deputy ombudsman shall be acting ombudsman until a new ombudsman is appointed, who shall serve a full term.”
Duterte and Carpio-Morales, an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III, are related by affinity.
The Ombudsman’s nephew, Manases Carpio — son of Carpio-Morales’ brother, Lucas Carpio and Court of Appeals Justice Agnes Reyes Carpio — is the husband of Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Zimmerman Duterte.