Philippine Daily InquirerFirst Posted 19:53:00 03/03/2009Filed Under:
That, according to the citizens who filed an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, is what she is. And arbitrary, tyrannical, partisan, and possibly downright incompetent, too. The complaint lays down a powerful indictment of an ombudsman who, according to the complainants, either deliberately bungled or simply sat on some of the most shocking cases of official malfeasance in living memory.
Here are Gutierrez’s credentials to the hall of shame:
• The extortion case against former Justice Secretary Hernando Perez, in which she stands accused of either being so incompetent as to deserve removal from office, or of deliberately bungling the filing of extortion charges so that the courts were left with no choice but to throw out the cases.
• The Mega Pacific case against Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Jr., in which the Supreme Court found the contract for election voting machines tainted with corruption and void, firmly establishing a case for prosecution. Instead, Gutierrez absolved Abalos and company.
• The fertilizer fund scandal involving former undersecretary of agriculture Jocelyn Bolante, in which charges separately filed by the Senate, former solicitor general Frank Chavez and the late journalist Marlene Esperat ended up gathering cobwebs on her desk. She created task force “Abono” and announced in December 2008 that she would resolve the case by the end of January 2009 — a deadline that came and went without any resolution or concrete action.
• The curious case of the police generals and their confiscated euros, and the evidence gathered, including an admission from Police Director Eliseo de la Paz that he broke regulations, that resulting in no concrete action by Gutierrez.
• The World Bank findings of collusion among contractors and government officials. Gutierrez got an oral briefing on the matter in 2006 and documents were sent to her as far back as 2007. She had a firm basis for launching an investigation, but didn’t do so.
There is also the matter of using her powers to suspend politicians with whom Malacañang has not been too friendly, like Gov. Neil Tupaz of Iloilo province, or out of a personal vendetta, such as Gov. Enrique Garcia of Bataan, the political rival of her brother.
All of these, according to the charges against Gutierrez, constitute betrayal of public trust and culpable violations of the Constitution. The ombudsman is supposed to be the protector of the people, but instead she has become a bodyguard of crooks. This is obviously a shameful thing to have to endure, but instead of hanging her head in shame, the ombudsman has taken to handling the damning charges against her by means of the well-honed mantras, “Where is your evidence? Bring it to the proper forum!” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” — mantras that are, incidentally, beloved of the very administration with whom she is alleged by the complainants to be in collusion.
In responding to the charges, the ombudsman alternated between shrieking calumny on her accusers and dropping the names of legal luminaries who are prepared to represent her, not to mention threatening to file libel charges against her accusers. In no way, beyond a general and predictable denial of guilt, has she actually addressed the charges. But that is probably because addressing the charges would be difficult since she has very little to show for her almost four years in office.
What Gutierrez has demonstrated, however, is a determination to fight, and her determination to stay in office sends a clear signal to members of the House of Representatives that they have to tread carefully around her case. Even if she has done little by way of prosecuting crimes, she can undoubtedly claim to possess mountains of evidence against everyone, on both sides of the aisle, and she retains vast powers to use — and inflict — on anyone who crosses her the wrong way.
The members of the ruling coalition are thus confronted with the problem of having in their hands a strong case against a powerful official who will cling to power at all costs but who also happens to have the goods on a great number of them or their patrons and allies up and down the official hierarchy. And can the representatives afford to embarrass the Philippine National Police by poking into the euro scam once again? Can they afford to antagonize Bolante and his patrons? Perez and his pals? Abalos and his henchmen?