Merci quits, maintains innocence

April 28, 2011

Jun Pasaylo
The Philippine Star
April 29, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – Beleaguered Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez submitted her resignation letter to President Benigno Aquino III today, less than two weeks before the scheduled impeachment hearing against her at the Senate.

Gutierrez’s lawyer, Tomas Syquia, quoted the Ombudsman as saying in her letter: “I am resigning my office effective May 6. Even as a private citizen, I will still support the efforts of government in stamping out corruption.”

In a press conference hours after she submitted her resignation, Gutierrez said she personally handed her resignation to President Aquino around 10:30 a.m.

She said President Aquino, who had thrown strong words against her, was “graciously accommodating” and gave her kind words during their meeting.

The Ombudsman’s resignation came 10 days before her impeachment trial at the Senate.

The impeachment trial against Gutierrez was set after a majority of House lawmakers pushed for her ouster based on six allegations, which include inaction in the P728 million fertilizer fund scam, the Euro general case, the 2004 Mega Pacific deal, the NBN-ZTE deal, the Philip Pestano case, the low conviction rate during her term in office.

Gutierrez had insisted on her innocence, saying “My conscience is clear. I have done nothing wrong. I have done my job as the country’s Ombudsman to the best of my knowledge and capability.”

She also denied protecting former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, head of the House justice committee, said the Gutierrez’s resignation cancels the Senate impeachment trial on May 9.

Tupas said that the resignation made the impeachment complaints against Gutierrez “moot and academic.”

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said in a television interview that there is no use pushing through with the impeachment trial since its primary purpose is to remove Gutierrez from office.

Militant leader Renato Reyes, one of the impeachment complainants, said their group is “happy that she has finally stepped down.”

“That is the right move. We would have wanted to present evidence in the Senate, but her resignation is good enough,” Reyes said in a statement sent to Philstar.com.

He said their group is hoping that Gutierrez’s resignation would pave the way for the filing of “necessary plunder raps vs GMA in the near future” before the Office of the Ombudsman.

He added that they are hoping that Malacañang’s selection process for the new Ombudsman would be transparent.

Bohol 2nd District Rep. Erico Aumentado said that Gutierrez’s decision to step down saves the “Senate from the protracted trial.”

“It should have been done by the Ombudsman a long time ago,” Aumentado added.

 

 

 

 

‘Unblemished record’

While many have tainted impression in her handling of her office, Gutierrez said she is confident that she will be leaving the government with unblemished records after four decades in service.

“This is the long lasting legacy that I will leave to my family, my children, and my children’s children,” she said during a press conference at the Office of Ombudsman this afternoon.

Even as she dodged the trial by resigning, Gutierrez maintained that the allegations against her were false.

She added that she could have squarely faced the trial, but she felt that it was better to resign to spare the Senate and the country from “the long and costly impeachment trial.”

Senator Vicente Sotto III said the resignation “saved us a lot of headache and a lot of money, and time which is more precious because of the legislation which we need to do before the break in June.”

Senator Jinggoy Estrada also said that resigning was the best move because it saved the Ombudsman from humiliation.

‘Not off the hook’

Senator Francis Escudero said the resignation did not give the Ombudsman immunity from cases that may be filed against her in the future.

For his part, Senator Francis Pangilinan, said: “Thank you, Merci, for sparing us the long and arduous impeachment process.”

Pangilinan said with Gutierrez out of the Office of the Ombudsman, former president and now Pampanga representative Arroyo’s “armor of invincibility” is “surely chipping away.”

“Now that Merci is out of the way, GMA’s fortress will come tumbling down, and we should use this as an opportunity to make the Arroyo administration pay for its corrupt, twisted ways,” he added.

Meantime, Aquino confirmed this afternoon that Gutierrez visited her early today to personally hand her resignation letter.

He said Gutierrez’s departure spared Congress from the long and winding road of impeachment trials.

“Her action has spared the country from a long and divisive impeachment process that would have distracted our lawmakers from dealing with the many problems we face today,” he said.

The President called on the Judicial Bar Council to start the search for a new Ombudsman that will immediately replace Gutierrez when she leaves the post on May 6.

“With the support of the public, we can now proceed more decisively in making government officials more accountable to their bosses, the Filipino people,” the President said. With Dennis Carcamo

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