The Office of the Ombudsman as Political Tool

The 1935 Constitution has nothing on the Office of the Ombudsman as it was of Swedish provenance created in 1809-10 and has been copied in various forms in Scandinavia, New Zealand,, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Israel and in certain sates in the United States and Australia and in provinces in Canada as an affirmation of the culture in those parts.

The idea was picked up by Quezon lawyer Rodolfo Robles who in 1969 was an elected constitutional delegate and introduced it in the deliberations in the 1971 Constitutional Convention. It gained headway and thereafter became a part of the vocabulary of the Filipinos. It was soon translated into its literal meaning: Tanod Bayan.

Under the 1986 Constitution, the Office of the Ombudsman became a constitutional agency whose head has a fixed tenure, appointed by the President, and possessed with fiscal autonomy.

The first Ombudsman was appointed by then President Aquino, the venerable former Supreme Court Justice Conrado Vasquez whose seven-year term extended up to the administration of then President Ramos. The latter, after the expiry of Justice Vasquez term, appointed the much maligned former Judge Advocate Aniano Desierto who some quarters say has prostituted the Office of the Ombudsman. One notes that unlike the Vasquez tenure which saw two congressmen indicted for graft (ex-congressmen Paredes and de Guzman) no member of Congress was ever charged during the term of Desierto. It is to the eternal credit of President Aquino of setting the outstanding standard of appointment of an Ombudsman, only to be bulldozed after her watch.

Again, Desierto’s term of office expired last year despite an impeachment case filed against him in Congress that was already mooted, and the sitting President has made a new appointment, Sonny Marcelo, counsel for Gov. Chavit Singson, former Solicitor General and senior partner from the law firm Carpio Villaraza, the Tuazon-Arroyo family retained lawyers.

Atty. Nonong Cruz, the current Malacanang Chief Legal Counsel also originated from Carpio Villaraza. His technical, highly-confidential, and coterminous position necessarily calls the protective embrace around the Arroyo Presidency, and the periodic legal dilemmas it faces are just one of those. But that is taken care of with the appointment of Justice Carpio in the Supreme Court and the Firm’s innumerable protégés in the judicial and administrative here and there. The Firm’s unbelievable clout has a battery life of twenty years, unmatched in Philippine history. Quantified in future legal revenue left Mike Arroyo simply clueless.

Atty. Cruz undeniably dabbles in the political housekeeping for his superior. As an elective office, the Presidency needs more than ever the fortification of the ranks. After all a political office must stand on firm political foundation, and that footing consists of thousands of elected local officials who belong to the administration party. These party members as part of the national political machinery ensure that the President’s votes are counted or counted in her favour. Most of these local chiefs however were caught or reported dipping their fingers in the public coffers or have treated their pork barrel, local development funds, and local taxes as their personal monies, or were involved in some acts of oppression or graft as they are confused of where the thin line is between public office and feudal estate. What these local shysters worry about is their re-election or how they can perpetuate themselves in power. A case before the Ombudsman is political capital of their opponent comes election time. There is no better reward from the party’s bigwigs for the local party mates than the handing of the dismissal of their cases from the Ombudsman. “Kahiyaan, ika. Kailangan madismis ang kaso para maipamukha ko na sira-ulo lang ang nagdemanda sa akin.” Tuloy ang ligaya. On the other hand, how does one make the Ombudsman handsome and true to its mission? File a case or two against hard-line allies of the political opposition. “Sampulan ang kabila, ika, para walang masabi.”

How does one make these leg workers in the field toe the line? Before, there was the unabashed jueteng money collected by a moneybag. This amounts to billions of pesos. In any sortie, the high public official enjoys the comfort from the illegal gambling fund, as how does one explain the heretofore lavish presidential visitations? Not only has it made by-elections exciting by any standard, it ensures overwhelming victory of the party.

Word has it however that President Arroyo is a cheapskate. One mayor from Quezon was berated by the President for having the gall of asking additional transportation money explaining that he and his group come from an island town and the dole out was inadequate. The President cut the mayor off by saying, “mabuti mayroon nga kayo niyan, eh!” That was the last time the mayor went to Malacanang.

That is the predicament of President Arroyo. She simply could not give herself in to the SOPs of her predecessors. Jueteng money feeds the system. The local executives are the macrocosm of their constituencies. If one wants to have a glimpse of what’s going on in Quezon for example, call its officials to Malacanang and you’ll see some of them in a huddle on how to go about reimbursing their expenses. Multiply this by the number of towns, provinces, cities and congressional districts, and you’ll see the big picture. The speeches and the policy announcements were lost in the midst of going home. That is one of the sins of local government. Coming to Malacanang is one big junket.

Where does the Office of the Ombudsman fit in?

By the cases filed against these local officials. Instead of really scrutinizing the charges of corruption as an honest to goodness complaints coming from concerned citizens (who are called “mga sira ulo o walang magawa” or “kalaban sa pulitika” by the respondent local kingpins) using their own time and personal funds, they are lumped together under the classification “harassment suits” against the of the local officials who are members of the administration party. Where the respondent local official does not belong to the President’s alliance, the suit before the Ombudsman is the convenient leverage for him to join her group. “Ikaw rin, baka masuspende ka (o madismis.” The Ombudsman power is simply mind-boggling as it has administrative and criminal jurisdiction. It has the prerogative of suspension and to fire government officials.

By arbitrary labelling the charges as politically motivated, one is not conscience-stricken. “Demolition job lang naman yan, ika, eh! Pagpi-kakamps ayusin natin ang kaso sa Ombudsman, matipid na, makakatulong pa kay Presidente.”

That’s where the irony is. The Ombudsman instead of watching the watchers is in the thick of political hustling, an input in political strategy, a financial variable. The concerned citizens, instead of being praised for their efforts of reporting corruption, are simply called fault-finders. These citizens could never fathom the contorted shot-in-the-dark legalese in the dismissal of their complaint.

Nonetheless, Ombudsman Marcelo has not yet shown his true spots. Some intimates say he’s become inaccessible after his office assumption. It’s still too early to tell. Some Lakas local officials with pending cases in the Ombudsman have been heard crowing about their indirect pipeline from the Palace.

Some who are in the know say we are in for a huge surprise.

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