Visayas Ombud to wrap up cases before 2016 election
People have to know whether an elective official is fit for public service,” said newly installed Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Paul Elmer Clemente.
He announced yesterday that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has set a new target for the anti-graft office to resolve all pending administrative cases of public officials before the election period of the 2016 polls.
This is an important step to prevent a scenario where an official who is accused of wrongdoing gets elected, then automatically has his offense wiped out under the Aguinaldo Doctrine.
The Ombudsman will wind up cases and decide them before February 2016, or issue an order to have the official placed on preventive suspension “so they can’t perpetuate the culture of impunity,” said Clemente.
Clemente, who was the guest of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council in its fourth quarter meeting, said he welcomed the effort of the community press to counter the impression that offenders can escape punishment.
It was the first time Clemente, who assumed office last month, faced the Cebu media community, after declining requests for interviews.
He explained that he spent his first few weeks meeting his staff and “putting my house in order’. He designated a press liaison officer, Maria Corazon Vergara-Najara, who accompanied him to the CCPC.
“I have always shunned the limelight. I’m more of a low-key person,” said the 46-year-old native of Butuan.
He said he would rather spend time resolving cases than holding press conferences.
Clemente, who was formerly assigned in the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman in Luzon, graduated with a degree in economics and then law from the University of the Philippines.
A lively discussion arose over what access Clemente would allow for media coverage of his office.
He said he was bound by “confidentiality rules” of the Ombudsman to comment only on cases involving officials below the rank of mayor since he can decide with finality these cases in the Visayas office.
This refers to low-ranking officials which include rank and file employees of government, barangay officials, city and town counilors, and assistant mayors.
However, cases involving “high ranking officials from mayor up” such as governors and congressmen are decided by the Ombudsman in Manila, so any announcement would come from the central office.
“My role is only recommendatory,” he explained.
“I know that press freedom is of paramount importance. But the anti-graft office also has to protect the rights of individuals who se care are still pending investigation,” he said.
Clemente assured that by January or February next year, he would present to the Cebu media the programs and goals of his office “so you can monitor whether we are accomplishing our work.”
He was reminded yesterday by CCPC members, who include editors, businessmen, a law school dean, and media educators, that “transparency and accountability” is required of the Ombudsman’s Office as well as the public officials they are scrutinizing.
Clemente said Ombudsman Morales’s new order setting a deadline to dispose of administrative cases arrived yesterday. He said she wanted to make sure that elected officials who are liable for an administrative offense shall face the corresponding penalties before the start of another term.
Several elected officials have been spared from administrative liabilities by virtue of reelection.
“Those vying for an elective post should really come clean. If they are guilty of an administrative offense, then that has to be implemented before they can file their Certificate of Candidacy (COC),” he said.
The Ombudsman can order the Commission on Elections to disqualify a candidate from seeking a post in government. An administrative liability includes dismissal from public service and perpetual disqualification from holding any post in government.
The Aguinaldo Doctrine, upheld in several cases of the Supreme Court, wipes out all administrative cases filed against a public official during his previous term once the official is reelected.
The rationale is that that an erring public official has been forgiven by those who voted him into office again.
One of those who benefited from the Aguinaldo Doctrine was former Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, who along with five other Capitol officials, was found guilty of grave misconduct in February 2013 for misusing P98.9 million in public funds to buy private property in the Balili Estate in Naga, Cebu that turned out to be mostly submerged.
With her reelection in 2010, Garcia was freed of administrative liability. However she is still facing three criminal cases for the 2008 Balili lot purchase before the Sandiganbayan.
The same Aguinaldo Doctrine was cited by the anti-graft office in absolving administrative charges against Arturo Radaza, former mayor of Lapu-Lapu City, and former Mandaue City Mayor Thadeo Ouano over the 2007 overpriced ASEAN lamppost controversy.
Clemente said that at his level he can resolve cases involving low-ranking officials such as rank and file employees of government, barangay officials, city and town counilors, and assistant mayors.
Cases involving mayors and governors are forwarded to their central office in Manila for preliminary investigation and administrative adjudication.
One of the big unresolved cases with the Ombudsman is the alleged overpricing of the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) built in 2006. Former Cebu governor Garcia,the main respondent, is now a 3rd district congresswoman./ With Eileen G. Mangubat
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