Real option

March 4, 2011

Philippine Daily Inquirer
March 3, 2011

WE HAVE joined our voice to those of others calling for the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. But we see the point in Sen. Francis Pangilinan’s recent proposal, and agree that Gutierrez can spare all of us the trouble, by tendering her resignation.

Resignation is a real option. And it is based on the same principle that underpins the plea bargain agreements Gutierrez herself seems unusually fond of: It serves the greater public interest by allowing the government to save scarce resources, including time and legal capital. The difference, of course, between the plea bargain agreement that Gutierrez struck with suspected plunderer Carlos F. Garcia and the option of immediate resignation is that the first was done precisely to skirt justice, while the second is meant to satisfy it.

Gutierrez and her defenders, especially the spoiled brats of the new minority like the insufferable Rep. Mark Cagas, will argue that surely the controversial ombudsman has the right to be heard, and to defend herself in the proper forum. They would of course be right—except that Gutierrez has consistently followed a pattern of avoiding accountability for as long as politically possible, even at one point suggesting that she could not possibly deign to explain herself to lowly congressmen. Even today, Gutierrez enjoys the freedom to fully account for her alleged misdeeds or, to be more precise, for her non-deeds (a breathtaking failure to take appropriate action is the theme that binds the impeachment complaints against her). Instead, she has come to depend mainly on an excruciatingly partial understanding of the rules of court. She willingly, happily, accepts the protection offered her by the Supreme Court’s interlocutory (and therefore immediately executory) order to respect the status quo ante, but pretends to misunderstand the immediate impact of another interlocutory order lifting it.

Judging from her previous record, there is no guarantee that Gutierrez will use an impeachment trial in the Senate to finally hold herself accountable according to strict, not pliable, standards.

She can, of course, choose to fight it out in the Senate and defend her own record and reputation, in the event she becomes only the second public official to be impeached in the House of Representatives. That is her right.

But she has no right to drag the entire Office of the Ombudsman, or even the Supreme Court she self-evidently sees as an ally, into the muck with her.

Consider the cases included in the two impeachment complaints filed against her. All it would take for the House to impeach her, and the Senate to convict her, is to verify the already established case record. In other words, the record will speak for itself.

Since assuming office, the ombudsman has failed to file any case whatsoever against former Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo and Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante, implicated in the so-called fertilizer scam of 2004. Despite plunder cases filed years ago by former Solicitor-General Frank Chavez against military comptrollers Garcia and Jacinto Ligot (and budget-officer-turned-whistleblower George Rabusa), the ombudsman has failed to take any action. In the Mega Pacific contract found anomalous by both the Supreme Court and the Senate blue ribbon committee, the ombudsman not only disregarded the findings of her own field investigators; she created the perfect crime: an obvious anomaly without any perpetrators.

The list of deadening inaction goes on, and they can be verified using data from the Office of the Ombudsman itself. Even the seemingly positive, even assertive, statistics emanating from Gutierrez’s office turn out to be deceptive. Between her assumption of office and December 2009, the Office of the Ombudsman won a total of 223 convictions. On examination, however, the “record” turns out to consist of the following: 221 convictions of “usurpation” against one lone municipal mayor, plus two convictions against two other mayors.

This is the record Gutierrez wants to defend?

It is true that an impeachment trial in the Senate will help bring out the direst detail of Gutierrez’s record of inaction, tantamount to a shocking betrayal of public trust; exposure might then prevent similar non-deeds from being perpetrated again. But the trial will also delay the most important next step: Appointing a new ombudsman, who will focus on fighting corruption, not a rear-guard action to defend a sorry record and a sorrier reputation.

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