Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima appealed the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing her complaint against Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra for violation of the law on the use of criminal convicts as state witnesses.
De Lima filed the administrative complaint against Guevarra with the Office of the Ombudsman on October 29, 2018. In the complaint, De Lima also charged Guevarra with gross neglect of duty for failing to prosecute the Bilibid drug lords who admitted being involved in the drug trade, instead using them as state witnesses against her, even when the convicts appeared to be the most guilty, aside from being disqualified to stand as state witnesses under Sec. 10(f) of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefits Program (WPSBP) Law.
The WPSBP Law prohibits those convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude from becoming state witnesses. The Bilibid convicts turned state witnesses against De Lima by the Department of Justice (DOJ) under former Secretary Aguirre, and continued by Guevarra were convicted of heinous crimes, including kidnapping, murder, drug trading, among others.
In dismissing De Lima’s complaint, the Office of the Ombudsman said that Sec. 10 (f) does not apply if the crime was committed in prison and the only witnesses are convicted criminals.
In her appeal to the Court of Appeals, De Lima countered that there is no such exception or proviso in the WPSBP Law, and that said exception is an invention of the Ombudsman.
De Lima also said that the Office of the Ombudsman, instead of investigating what itself admitted is Guevarra’s act of turning convicts as state witnesses, acted like a pro bono counsel of Guevarra, when it raised defenses for Guevarra on its own and without asking Guevarra to reply to De Lima’s complaint.
It also appeared that the Office of the Ombudsman asked Guevarra to submit a certification on the status of the convicted criminal witnesses under the WPSBP of the DOJ. Guevarra told the Ombudsman that said status is confidential. The Ombudsman then relayed to De Lima in its notice to her that in light of Guevarra’s failure to issue a certification to the Ombudsman, it cannot continue the investigation.
In her appeal to the CA, De Lima said that this is “absurd and ridiculous” because an Ombudsman investigation cannot be defeated just because the subject of the complaint refuses to cooperate.
According to De Lima, “[i]f this kind of culture and thinking in the Ombudsman are allowed to fester, the constitutional office might as well be abolished for having been neutered by its very own officials”.
De Lima then proceeded to enumerate the powers of the Ombudsman which include the power to issue subpoenas, access government records, and punish for contempt.
In refusing to exercise these powers on Guevarra, De Lima said the Ombudsman seems to project itself as an “inutile, useless, powerless, if not lazy and indolent agency of the government, for it to be defeated in its mandate by a mere refusal of Respondent to furnish it with a requested certification”.
Instead, De Lima continued, “what the Ombudsman is saying is that it is the responsibility of the citizens to investigate and furnish it with evidence via spoon-feeding before it can act on any complaint filed against a public official. This is almost hilarious if it were not so tragic”.
The Bilibid criminal convicts continue to be utilized as witnesses in the trial of the drug cases filed against De Lima by the Duterte administration. Among them is Vicente Sy, who recently declared, on cross examination in open court, that he never gave money to De Lima and that he doesn’t even know her.
Previously, witnesses from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) also testified that nothing in their respective investigations has shown that De Lima was involved in the Bilibid drug trade. (30)