Friday, February 11, 2011

What's the Ombudsman doing?

Like a tele-novela unfolding its plot everyday - the suicide of former AFP chief Angelo Reyes being the latest twist - former AFP budget officer George Rabusa's exposé of huge and illegal pay-offs to retiring generals is yet another revelation of what the public already know, but could not only prove, as the culture of corruption pervading the government. Now that a whistleblower like Rabusa, who has intimate knowledge of these illegal transactions and even claims possession of damning documentary evidence, has come out in the open, one wonders why the Ombudsman, personified by GMA ally Merceditas Gutierrez, has not yet taken actions to prosecute those involved.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent constitutional body tasked to investigate and prosecute corrupt practices in the government. In contrast, Congress does not have prosecutory powers that would put behind bars those guilty of official wrongdoing, and yet thus far it is the only government institution seemingly interested in going after corrupt government officials. It is true that our distinguished senators and congressmen see opportunities to grandstand in these congressional hearings and that so far no one has really been put to jail (whatever happened to the anomalous NBN-ZTE deal?), but given the feckless Ombudsman, grandstanding aside, these legislative inquiries have made the public aware of murky transactions in the government.

That the malefactors are not being made to answer for their wrongdoing is not so much the futility of these legislative inquiries as it is the ineptness of the Ombudsman in not taking an aggressive stance in prosecuting those involved. In the ongoing congressional investigations on the AFP slush fund, for example, despite the glaring revelations of massive pocketing of mind-numbing sums of money by retired armed forces chiefs, why haven't the Ombudsman initiated any investigation of its own yet? As an independent body, let alone the chief graft buster, the Ombudsman should've already summoned Rabusa, Mendoza, Villanueva, Cimatu, Ligot and all others involved in the payoffs to shed light on these serious allegations.

It is important that the evidentiary value of the testimonies of Rabusa and Mendoza be extracted as soon as possible by having them elicited in the proper forum, which is the anti-graft court or the Sandiganbayan, lest they be lost by, God forbid, some unseen forces silencing them, especially so that those they implicate are very powerful personalities. I remember then Congressman Joker Arroyo when, at the height of the impeachment trial against former President Erap Estrada, he beseeched then Chief Justice Hilario Davide to immediately take the testimony of witness Clarissa Ocampo of Equitable PCI who knew the owner of the infamous Jose Velarde account, if only to protect her from harm and extract the vital information she had. Only by testifying at the proper venue can Rabusa and Mendoza protect themselves from harm, as those who would want to silence them have the most incentive to do so before their testimony is heard in court.

Although these vital witnesses have already testified in Congress, criminal due process requires that for their testimonies to have evidentiary value, they must be given under circumstances affording the accused the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses pursuant to the right of confrontation under the Constitution. Of course, neither the accused nor their lawyers are given such right in congressional inquiries. On the contrary, it is the legislators who act like frustrated trial lawyers who do the cross-examining instead of asking policy questions that might help them craft laws to prevent the occurrence of the misdeeds they are investigating; after all, these inquiries are properly called investigations in aid of legislations.

Perhaps P-Noy should also take a proactive stance by directing Justice Secretary De Lima order the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), through its anti-graft task force, do an independent investigation and gather evidence for the Ombudsman. Although independent and beyond his executive control and supervision, P-Noy should make an urgent request to the Ombudsman to launch her investigation already. Only by taking such aggressive stance will the people see P-Noy's seriousness in ridding the government of corruption.

To be sure, higher personalities in the halls of power get more out of these payoffs. Whoever these people are will supply the answers to the most damning questions, but then again, if and only when the Ombudsman takes the cudgels will a true closure be made on these investigations, which have only so far satisfied the public's appetite to know rather than of justice.

The true problem, however, is how far can the Ombudsman go? Or will she ever go forward at all?

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