OMBUDSMAN Conchita Carpio Morales complained in her testimony before Congress Wednesday that President Benigno Aquino III was usurping her constitutionally guaranteed fiscal autonomy by making her seek his permission before spending more than P2 million from her agency’s income from clearance collections and savings.
At Tuesday’s budget hearing, Morales said they could not use their own income from the collection of clearance fees to augment the agency’s operations.
“How sad because we are supposed to be fiscally independent and yet we cannot come up with the use of the P4 million generated from the issuance of clearances,” Morales told the House committee on appropriations chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab.
Morales made known her complaint on the same day that she announced that President Aquino and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad were already being investigated over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), parts of which the Supreme Court had struck down as illegal.
But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Wednesday the Office of the Ombudsman cannot conduct a preliminary investigation against President Aquino over the DAP, saying that his constitutionally guaranteed immunity from suit includes preliminary investigations.
This meant the Ombudsman may only conduct a fact-finding investigation of the charges against the President.
“A complaint is filed so the Ombudsman has no option under the law but to conduct the fact-finding investigation. This is just the same with a complaint filed with the DoJ. It has no option but to conduct an investigation,” she said.
“The President can be subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman. However, this only goes so far as the fact-finding stage because he cannot be subject to preliminary investigation without violating his immunity,” De Lima said.
A fact-finding investigation involves data gathering, and a case build-up to determine if there is a need to subject a person to a preliminary investigation.
The preliminary investigation refers to an inquiry to determine if there are sufficient grounds to file a case in court.
Morales said Tuesday that her office has created a fact-finding team to investigate the DAP cases.
In the budget hearing, Morales also said the P4 million from fees was the only income her agency received, but she could not use it.
For additional intelligence funds to finance confidential activities of the Office of the Ombudsman, she said the agency has to use money from its savings that also come from the collection fees.
Morales said at present, the ceiling for the use of savings is P2 million; beyond that, they must secure the approval of the President.
She sought congressional help to raise the ceiling to P5 million, so that the agency would only need presidential approval beyond that amount.
Morales was in the House to defend her office’s P1.77-billion budget proposed for 2016.
Director Soledad Doloiras, a Budget Department representative, said as in years previous, the Ombudsman augmented its existing appropriation for the conduct of confidential activities out of their savings in the current year.
“Because of the available savings from personnel services of the Ombudsman, they can always realign it to cover deficiencies in the conduct of confidential activities,” Doloiras said during the appropriations committee hearing presided over by Quirino Rep. Dakila Carlo Cua, panel vice chairman.
Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal asked Doloiras if the DBM could recommend an increase in the intelligence fund of the Ombudsman, instead of making it rely on savings.
Pangasinan Rep. Rosemarie Arenas urged her colleagues to pass the proposal seeking to provide more fiscal autonomy to the Office of the Ombudsman.
“If we have to stay true to our commitment to good governance, then let’s act on the bill in favor of the Ombudsman,” Arenas said.
In his budget message to Congress, President Aquino said the Office of the Ombudsman will receive P1.78 billion next year, a cumulative 68-percent increase from its P1.06-billion budget in 2010, enabling it to more vigorously prosecute corruption cases.
Of the P1.78 billion of the Office of the Ombudsman next year, P1.5 billion has been allotted to personnel services, P253.18 million to maintenance and other operating expenses, and P21.4 million to capital outlay.
For 2014, the Ombudsman resolved 6,236 criminal and administrative cases from the combined workforce of 14, 951, leaving a balance of 8,715 cases as of January 2015, Ombudsman records show.
A total of 632 criminal complaints resulted in the filing of criminal cases in various courts, of which 135 charges were filed before the Sandiganbayan.
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