The past week we’ve seen the Ombudsman in action. Perhaps, this is the first time since its inception that the awesome powers of the Ombudsman was shown to the public. And taken for a spin.
Muscles flexed. Achievement unlocked.
You could almost see the Senators quiver in their seats after they digested the testimony of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on her analysis of Chief Justice Corona’s Dollar Accounts. You could almost see people go bug-eyed as the Ombudsman talked about directing the Anti-Money Laundering Council to release its records to her. It has given the Opposition pause. And it has given the Senator-Judges pause. What’s to stop the Ombudsman from going after them?
Did Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales over-reach her power?
The 1987 Constitution is clear. Article XI, section 13 reads:
The Office of the Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions, and duties:
(1) Investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient.
(2) Direct, upon complaint or at its own instance, any public official or employee of the Government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, as well as of any government-owned or controlled corporation with original charter, to perform and expedite any act or duty required by law, or to stop, prevent, and correct any abuse or impropriety in the performance of duties.
(3) Direct the officer concerned to take appropriate action against a public official or employee at fault, and recommend his removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution, and ensure compliance therewith.
(4) Direct the officer concerned, in any appropriate case, and subject to such limitations as may be provided by law, to furnish it with copies of documents relating to contracts or transactions entered into by his office involving the disbursement or use of public funds or properties, and report any irregularity to the Commission on Audit for appropriate action.
(5) Request any government agency for assistance and information necessary in the discharge of its responsibilities, and to examine, if necessary, pertinent records and documents.
(6) Publicize matters covered by its investigation when circumstances so warrant and with due prudence.
(7) Determine the causes of inefficiency, red tape, mismanagement, fraud, and corruption in the Government and make recommendations for their elimination and the observance of high standards of ethics and efficiency.
(8) Promulgate its rules of procedure and exercise such other powers or perform such functions or duties as may be provided by law.
So clearly, as empowered by the Constitution, the Ombudsman can investigate on its own. It can direct officers of the government to furnish it with documents, and it can request any agency for assistance.
It is like having your own real-life superhero with all the deputized power of the people to go with it. It has the real rank of a Constitutional Commission precisely for it to be taken seriously. It does not prosecute cases. It merely investigates and becomes the “lawyer of the people”.
So what’s to stop the Ombudsman from abusing these awesome powers? What’s to stop the President from using the office the ombudsman? Or future presidents? As Juvenal asked, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies,” Who will guard the guardian themselves?
That’s why the Ombudsman is one of the impeachable officers. Congress can prosecute, and put the ombudsman on trial.
According to a transcript of the Record of the Constitutional Commission dated July 26, 1986, Commissioner Nolledo remarked, “Let our Ombudsman, called the eyes and ears of the people, the super lawyer-for-free of the oppressed and the downtrodden, raise a new hope in our people who must be given the reassurance that the government really cares for them.”
If this week is of any indication then it is appropriate to say, “Achievement unlocked.“ What to do with all the other cases pending with the Ombudsman? Make it happen.