Dispatch from Crame No. 233: Sen. Leila M. de Lima’s statement on the suspension of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang

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In 2014, the Supreme Court reversed a 2012 ruling in the case of Gonzales v. Office of the President. The 2012 decision affirmed the President’s disciplinary powers over the Deputy Ombudsman. In reversing its 2012 decision, the Court said that Section 8 (2) of the Ombudsman Act granting the President disciplinary authority over the Deputy Ombudsman violates the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman, and is thus unconstitutional.

Malacañang knows this. Despite this proscription on its power over the Deputy Ombudsman, Malacañang nevertheless proceeded to ignore the Court’s decision when it exercised disciplinary authority over Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang and suspended him.

The rationale of the Court in the Gonzales case is precisely to protect the independence of the Deputy Ombudsman from the President’s control and influence in the event that the subject of the Ombudsman investigation is none other than the President himself. Precisely, the Court decision seeks to prevent the firing of the Deputy Ombudsman by the President when he is investigating the latter.

Malacañang’s action in suspending Carandang for investigating the President is the most illustrative lesson on why the 2014 Court decision is correct. Giving the President disciplinary authority over the person empowered to investigate him engenders conflict of interest scenarios, like the present one. In this case, in order to protect himself and his family from further investigation by the Deputy Ombudsman, Duterte orders his suspension.

This is of course convenient for Duterte who continues to hide his ill-gotten wealth and is preventing its exposure by the AMLC and the Ombudsman. Carandang’s suspension only shows that he is hot on the President’s money trail, and that Malacañang has to stop him before he uncovers the whole truth about the President’s ill-gotten wealth. This is all about protecting the President and hiding his corruption. And Malacañang has no qualms defying the Court’s 2014 ruling to do this.

Malacañang’s action is the best reason why the Court should maintain the independence of the Deputy Ombudsman from the President. If the Court allows Ombudsman deputies to be controlled by Malacañang, the Ombudsman will no longer be able to perform its constitutional mandate as the only public official empowered by law to investigate the President.

As if his government’s impunity in the exercise of power is not yet enough, Duterte still seeks to control the Office of the Ombudsman and make himself immune from investigation and accountability. The Supreme Court must not allow this. Otherwise, it might as well crown Duterte and declare him King of the Philippines.

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