Just give it to the Ombudsman

My unsolicited advice to a couple of friends – one who works in the Palace and another who writes a popular column – was for them to recommend to the President to turn over the whole Puno event to the Ombudsman. That way the President will not be accused of a whitewash if an internal investigation finds groundless the allegations against former DILG undersecretary Rico Puno. Anyway, they think I’m nuts to begin with so they dismissed my suggestion outright. Hopefully, you won’t.

In the US, a Special Prosecutor is named whenever there is an issue that requires independent investigation. That was done in Nixon’s Watergate and several other gates. Neat, right? Except that in the US, the appointment of a special prosecutor is a highly politicized weapon used by both political parties against each other. Normally, it is the party out of the White House that calls for special prosecutors to investigate allegations against members of the Executive. It is rare when there is a bi-partisan call for one.

We don’t have that problem in this country. The framers of our constitution were wise enough to create an independent constitutional office, the Office of the Ombudsman, with the following powers, functions, and duties:

Article XI Sec. 13 of the Constitution:

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.
If we have a credible Ombudsman, like the one we have now, then the sort of congressional probe that Sen. Miriam Santiago held last Friday will be seen for what it is: nothing more than epal, the slang for self-promotion by politicians at taxpayer’s expense.

Here’s Miriam doing some self-promotion in a Tweet several days before her hearing:

“There will be a lot of sound and fury. There will be a lot of sound from Mr. Puno and maybe a lot of fury from me.” (http://t.co/HDgSSQFe) Was she promoting the Bourne Legacy? Dispensing viagra to our sensationalist media?

Here is more of her teasing in a press interview: “Maybe the president is not defending Mr. Puno, but is just trying to assuage or protect the backers of Usec. Puno.” Asked to name the backers, she replied, “Now, I can’t because I may be accused of unfair allegations without any evidence.” More viagra for reporters and politicians who are always looking for someone to screw.

Previous presidents, Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo, appointed controversial ombudsmen. Their appointees were seen as their personal bodyguards against prosecution. Consequently, the public did not give any credibility to their work.

But that’s not the case with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. She proved her independence as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Her legal acumen plus her independence are beyond reproach. She is nobody’s protector. She ain’t nobody’s fool. That’s why on July 11, 2011 the Daan Matuwid president appointed her to serve as Ombudsman. She will serve until 2018, two years after he steps down from office, enough time for her to go after him if he commits any crime during his incumbency. That proves the president had no self-interest in mind when he appointed her.

Consequently, Ombudsman Carpio-Morales is the right person to look into the allegations against Puno, any member of the Cabinet, and anyone else perceived to have close personal ties to the president, not only because that’s her constitutional mandate but more importantly because she has the credibility to do it.

The President could have saved himself a lot of flak from politicians and media if he had simply announced, “I’ve turned the papers over to the Ombudsman. I await her findings and will respect whatever action she may decide to take. If you have any questions, go see her. Now let me get back to work.”

Trust me on this one, Mr. President.

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Uniffors.com. Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

  • baycas

    Motu proprio or on its own. The OMB must investigate already.

    • UPnnGrd

      she may need to receive consent since resources to go into Puno investigation are resources to pull away from existing initiatives.

  • Yes, turning it over to the Ombudsman is a good idea. It gets rid of the perception of favoritism and cover-up, and it gives everyone a reason to shut up and get back to work. “I can’t comment because it is best left to the Ombudsman.” He can also tell his whole administration to shut up (to the press) and get back to work.

    • Senator Miriam will never shut up, so it is best to humor her, like you would a child or a lunatic.

  • GabbyD

    I’ve been out of the loop with this, so i must ask: what did puno do exactly? was there a crime here?

    nothing was covered up right?

    • If you believe the newspapers, Puno is a lying thief trying to get rich by cutting himself into shady arms deals, and working scurrilously to cover it up by stealing files from the revered Robredo’s condominium.

      If you believe the President, Puno screwed up by authorizing a bad arms deal, but otherwise has done nothing wrong.

      If you believe Puno, he did nothing wrong at all. He was vacationing in Israel at the same time an arms deal was going down there; he was traveling with his trusty aide Lopez and his family. He claims the news reports are all fiction.

      If you believe Senator Miriam, you don’t know what’s happening, but a few general questions asked in a silly committee meeting with 2 of 12 senators present, will solve everything.

      If you believe Joe Am, you’ll ignore the newspapers, the President, Puno and Miriam because none knows the whole story. And you’ll also ignore JoeAm.

    • baycas
      • manuel buencamino

        I read that document and it raises a few questions. However, I think Puno was able to offer a plausible explanation for all the questions. And so Miriam’s circus was a flop.

        • baycas

          who leaked it? who signed it? no one knows…

          • baycas

            Atty. Reynato R. Alberto, ESQ, OIC, Office of the Staff Service Chief

            could it be him who signed the leaked document?

          • baycas

            Atty. Reynato R. Alberto, ESQ, OIC, Office of the Staff Service Chief

            could it be him who signed the leaked document?

          • baycas

            Oops, the document has DILG letterhead…not NAPOLCOM.

        • UPnnGrd

          Besides, as President Noynoy himself was quoted by Inquirer to have said, the amount of money from any “representation allowances” or gratis-gifts will only amount to a few million pesos (not dollars — Pesos!) so ;ano nga naman ba ang problema.

    • manuel buencamino

      We don’t know what he did exactly. The press says one thing, Puno says another. So one takes sides without knowing the complete picture. That’s why we need an independent body to investigate

  • UPnnGrd

    It has been and I suppose it will always be denied by whoever sits in Malakanyang, but Problem with Ombudsman — toothless against KKK’s of sitting President. One would think Pilipinas structure of Ombudsman an equal to Persi-dente would have resulted in kopong-kopong investigatons, arrests and convictions, but history says “Nope! Did not Happen!” Maybe there is a structural flaw, like maybe the President can lean super-heavy on the Ombudsman — via where PIlipinas Constitution allows sitting president to fire any Deputy Ombudsman (or managers or clerks inside the Ombudsman office).