Calida: Suspension not an attempt to control deputy ombudsman Carandang
MANILA, Philippines — It was never President Duterte’s intention to take control of the Office of the Ombudsman when he ordered the suspension of one of its officials, Solicitor General Jose Calida said yesterday.
But because of the inhibition of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales from a case involving the President, there was no one else who could discipline Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, Calida explained. This compelled Duterte to exercise his residual disciplinary authority over the deputy ombudsman.
In a statement, Calida explained that in suspending Carandang, Duterte was merely filling the vacuum in disciplinary authority created when Morales decided not to participate in the investigation on the reported bank accounts of Duterte and his family.
Calida said that when Morales “inhibited and left her ODO to decide in her stead, a procedural, legal and ethical vacuum was created.”
“But the ODO bungled his job exposing the President’s fake bank accounts. Guess who came to the rescue of ODO in January 2018? The ombudsman, of course. She sanctimoniously invoked a distorted interpretation of the ombudsman’s independence to shield her office from accountability. This is a travesty of justice,” Calida said.
He reminded Morales that the Office of the Ombudsman is not a fourth branch of government, or co-equal to the executive, legislative and judiciary.
“The Constitution states that ODO is not an impeachable officer. The ombudsman cannot also discipline the ODO for acts committed in a case where she inhibited herself as she will contradict herself. Neither can the ODO be disciplined by other deputy ombudsmen due to lack of legal basis,” he said, citing Article XI Section 2 of the Constitution.
“President Duterte, whose duty is to execute the laws, was forced to exercise his residual authority to discipline officials under the executive department,” he pointed out.
“Who will now discipline ODO Carandang who was acting under Ombudsman Morales’ fiat?”
He maintained that when the “ombudsman skewered then (Makati) Mayor (Jejomar Erwin) ‘Junjun’ Binay by finding him guilty of graft over the Makati parking building, did she respect the Aguinaldo doctrine, which was prevailing jurisprudence at that time? No. Now, she chides the Office of the President for ordering the preventive suspension of ODO Carandang, which she characterized as a ‘clear affront to the Supreme Court’. Look who’s talking.”
The pre-1987 Constitution doctrine absolved re-elected officials of transgressions in their previous term. The Supreme Court has abandoned the doctrine.
The solicitor general also stressed that the 90-day preventive suspension against Carandang was not a penalty.
“The President, in issuing the preventive suspension, merely filled the vacuum left by the ombudsman’s masquerade and enforced accountability in public service. Otherwise, we will just be paying lip service to the constitutional precept that public officers shall remain accountable at all times,” Calida added.
For Sen. Francis Escudero, Malacañang may opt to seek a reversal of a Supreme Court (SC) ruling in 2014 that bars the president from disciplining deputies of the ombudsman so that it would have legal justification for the suspension and the filing of charges against Carandang.
Escudero, however, said it would be much better if the SC immediately steps in to resolve the controversy and avert a potential constitutional crisis.
“The SC, as the final arbiter of all questions of law, has the power to decide between the competing interests or interpretations of the government and an independent constitutional body,” the senator said.
He said the ombudsman can take also the case to the high tribunal in order not to complicate the situation. – Paolo Romero