By: Nelson S. Badilla
THE Ombudsman Act of 1989 is obviously unfair law.
It does not completely order the Office of the Ombudsman to punish all the public officials who have the capacity and power to rob the public coffers like those in the legislative and judicial branches of government.
It is an open secret that there are legislators and officers of different units of the judiciary who have enriched themselves in various ways while performing their functions and duties in the government, but never suffered any form of punishment.
The Office of the Ombudsman, likewise, prevents the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct an investigation on top officials of the national government and recommend to the Congress that they should be removed through impeachment.
The move to impeach the president, vice-president, and other impeachable officials can only be done by the members of the House of Representatives.
If the House members approve the impeachment move, then it will be elevated to the Senate for the latter to go on with the trial as an impeachment court.
The Ombudsman Act has given the Office of the Ombudsman the power to investigate and file charges on government officials who were elected, or appointed, but ordered the office to spare senators and representatives from finding out if they are corrupt, or not, despite the fact that they are also elective officials.
Look at the case of Atty. Julito Vitriolo, a public official who was appointed to the position of the executive director of the Commission on Higher Education (Ched).
On January 5, the Office of the Ombudsman sacked Vitriolo after it found the Ched official “guilty” beyond reasonable doubt of grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, incompetence and inefficiency, and breach of conduct.
Because of these, the Office of the Ombudsman also found sufficient grounds to slap Vitriolo with graft charges at the Sandiganbayan.
Vitriolo told the reporters that he will appeal the decision.
While he is preparing his appeal, Vitriolo should follow the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman because the latter has a jurisdiction on him.
Vitriolo could not defy the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman, nor question it, since Vitriolo is not a member of any chamber of the Congress.
Vitriolo’s graft charges have nothing to do with public funds.
Vitriolo’s case is not about millions, or billions of money, that he supposedly rob from the Ched coffers.
The crime, according to the Office of the Ombudsman, that the Ched official has committed was that he failed to conduct an investigation about the complaint that an academic program at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) was offered for diploma purposes.
Vitriolo was also accused of allowing the PUP to release transcripts of records (TOR) and diplomas despite the program covered by the two documents have been suspended by two years already by the university president after he learned from the probe of the Commission on Audit (COA) that the content of the academic program it jointly offered with a tertiary college was not beneficial to the PUP.
Virtriolo gave green light to the PUP in 2010 to proceed with the release of the TOR and diplomas to the graduates of the academic program of the PUP and the National College of Physical Education (NCPE) “based on vested rights” of the students.
But Senator Emmanuel Joel Villanueva who was found guilty of corruption charges and other connected crimes by the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the P10 Million worth of Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) remains a senator.
As a neophyte senator, Villanueva has a ball to intentionally ignore and defy the Ombudsman’s order.
The commission of the crime of corruption over the P10 Million PDAF was done in 2008 where Villanueva was the Citizens’ Battle Against Crime (CBAC) party-list representative to the House of Representatives.
In 2010, Villanueva did not run for a House seat since he already served three consecutive terms at the House.
In 2010, although not a member of the Liberal Party (LP), Villanueva was appointed by then President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III as administrator of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) with Cabinet rank.
During Aquino’s term, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) discovered P10 Billion PDAF scam where the NBI pinned down the culprits as Janet Napoles, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile (senators who belong to the opposition), among others.
Further NBI investigation showed that Villanueva might have benefited in the PDAF scam since his P10 Million PDAF in 2008 appeared to be part of plunder scheme.
Signatures of Villanueva were seen on a number of documents about the P10 Million PDAF.
In a delayed action, then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered the filling of corruption charges and other connected crimes against Villanueva and his cohorts.
De Lima’s order was done months before the May 9 elections, prompting Villanueva to describe the act as politically motivated.
The Office of the Ombudsman proceeded with the deeper probe on the complaints against Villanueva since he was not a senator at that time.
Also, the Office of the Ombudsman has no exact idea that Villanueva would win the polls.
Villanueva top the senatorial elections.
Several months after, the Office of the Ombudsman finished its investigation where it found Villanueva and several others guilty beyond reasonable doubt of corruption charges and other crimes connected with graft and corruption.
Thus, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered Villanueva dismissed from the “government service.”
Villanueva questioned the decision asserting that the Office of the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction on him since he is a member of the Congress, he is in fact a senator.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III stood up and defended his fellow senator.
Then, Pimentel directed Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senate Ethics Committee chair, to study the case of Villanueva.
The Sotto Committee asserted the supposed correctness of Villanueva’s and Pimentel’s arguments citing the Section 21 of the Ombudsman Act, which explicitly states that the Office of the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over the members of the Congress.
Three elected officials in Mindanao were dismissed from the government service by the Office of the Ombudsman last year due to violation of the Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act.
Records from the Office of the Ombudsman even banned Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno; Matanao, Davao del Sur Mayor Vicente Fernandez; and Ditsa-an Ramain, Lanao del Sur Mayor Mamintal Adiong from running for public office because of the violation of the RA 3109.
Moreno, Fernandez, and Adiong were also elected officials like Villanueva and yet they could not deliberately ignore, nor intentionally defy, the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision, despite the fact that they were also elected by the people for government positions.
The reason is obviously clear, the three mayors were not members of the Congress, but officials of different organs of the local government units (LGUs).
Let me ask: What is so special with the members of the Congress why they were excluded from the Office of the Ombudsman’s legal power to investigate and sack them from government service?
If the LGUs of the three provinces can still function and serve their constituencies after the dismissal of Moreno, Fernandez, and Adiong from the government service, why not Villanueva?
The Senate can still function and serve the Filipino people even after the Senate abide with the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Senate can still approve and pass one, or two, proposed laws in six-month period, or one year, under the leadership of Pimentel without Villanueva.
I am not attacking Villanueva to defend Vitriolo, Moreno, Fernandez, and Adiong.
I am asserting that one of the anti-corruption laws of the Philippines is extremely defective.
If the members of the Congress fail to amend the Ombudsman Act with a purpose of getting rid of the protective provisions for the senators and representatives, members of the judiciary, and other impeachable government officials, the Philippine government battle against massive graft, corruption, and plunder in the entire bureaucracy will remain futile.