Senators to Ombudsman: Respect Aquino’s firing of deputy ombudsman

April 2, 2011

TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
April 3, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – Senators cautioned the Office of the Ombudsman, on Sunday, against defying President Aquino’s dismissal of a Deputy Ombudsman for inaction on a case, saying the Chief Executive just exercised his power to “hire and fire.”

And in view of her impending impeachment trial in the Senate, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile advised Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to stay away from the matter and let the “law take its course.”

“The Ombudsman is defying the Office of the President,” he said in a radio interview.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said the executive department should enforce the order even if it meant “physically” removing Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez III from his office.

He said there should be a “presumption of regularity” in the order, and unless constrained by the courts, this must be respected and enforced.

“Absent any legal order preventing its enforcement, if he has to be bodily carried out by our law enforcement authorities, so be it. Unless they have forgotten, we are now under a new administration,” he said in a text message.

The Office of the President found Gonzalez administratively liable for neglect and misconduct amounting to betrayal of public trust for his delayed resolution on a case of dismissal against former Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza.

The delayed resolution pushed Mendoza to take a busload of tourists in Manila, as hostages, in August 2010 that ended in the deaths of eight Chinese nationals and Mendoza.

Deputy Ombudsman Jose de Jesus balked at the order, asserting that only the Ombudsman has the authority to discipline its officials and that it had already cleared Gonzalez of culpability.

Malacañang, however, said that the order could still be appealed before the Office of the President or in court, otherwise, it would be deemed final and executory.

Enrile reminded the Office of the Ombudsman that Mr. Aquino’s dismissal of Gonzalez was executory unless a court stopped this.

While the Ombudsman is a constitutional body independent of the executive department, Mr. Aquino exercises supervision and control over this office and its employees, according to Enrile.

“They have to study their position… He has the power to hire and fire; the power to appoint and remove except when the Constitution establishes a different norm of removal, in which case the manner of removal must be followed,’’ he said. Under the Constitution, the Ombudsman herself can only be removed through the process of impeachment. (An impeachment trial against Gutierrez for betrayal of public trust will start in the Senate on May 9.)

Enrile, however, acknowledged that the Office of the Ombudsman could ask for a temporary restraining order or injunction to stop the dismissal.

“But unless there is an injunction or a TRO, the order of the President is executory,’’ he said.

Enrile advised Gutierrez to submit to the President’s order dismissing Gonzalez.

“Let the processes of the law take their course,’’ he said, later adding: “If I were her, I won’t join the fray because she’s facing a case.’’

The Senate is convening as an impeachment court in May to try Gutierrez who was impeached for allegedly betraying pubic trust by failing to act on major anomalous deals forged by the past Arroyo administration.

As for Gonzalez, Enrile said: “He’s a lawyer. He should know how to protect himself.’’

Pangilinan agreed and said it was time that the government put an end to the “wanton disregard of the rule of law so characteristic of the previous administration.’’

“We need to exorcise the nation from the ghosts of the past regime wherein the Constitution and the rule of law were upheld only when it served the purpose of the incumbent. Enough is enough,’’ he said.

Enrile said the President was justified in ordering the dismissal of Gonzalez, who reportedly took nine months before acting on Mendoza’s case.

“That’s too long. Why did he let the case sleep that long? What did he do in nine months? Study every word of Mendoza’s case? That’s suspicious. If I were in the President’s shoes, I would also be suspicious. One month, two months, that’s reasonable. But nine months? My God, what’s that?” he said.

Months before the hostage-taking, Gonzalez had already acted on Mendoza’s motion appealing his dismissal from the police force on extortion charges.

Gonzalez’s ruling endorsing Mendoza’s dismissal was not released before Mendoza took the tourists hostage on Aug. 23, 2010.

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