DESPITE jurisprudence that interfering with the Office of the Ombudsman is unconstitutional, the Palace said it went ahead and suspended Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang anyway, hoping to get a reversal from the Supreme Court.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque denied accusations that penalizing Carandang was a “bully tactic,” as Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said, and urged the President’s critics to file an impeachment case against him.
“Go ahead. File impeachment. Do it ASAP,” Roque told Trillanes, who said the move against the deputy ombudsman was aimed at bullying democratic institutions into submission.
Roque said Carandang is free to seek legal remedies before a competent court, but insisted that the President had broad powers to discipline all non-impeachable presidential appointees.
Carandang had been ordered suspended for 90 days and charged with grave misconduct and grave dishonesty for misuse of confidential information and disclosing false information in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Carandang was also charged “for divulging valuable information of a confidential character acquired by his office or by him on account of his official position to unauthorized persons or releasing such information in advance of its authorized release date.”
The Palace has repeatedly said the bank records produced against the President were all fake.
On Sept. 27, 2017, Carandang announced that the Office of the Ombudsman has started a probe on the wealth of Duterte and other members of his family based on the complaint of Trillanes. The Palace repeatedly dismissed the claims as untrue. With Vito Barcelo, Rey E. Requejo and Maricel V. Cruz
In response, lawyers Manuelito Luna and Eligio Mallari and former lawmakers Glenn Chiong and Jacinto Paras filed a complaint questioning Carandang’s move before the Office of the Executive Secretary in October last year. Paras was later appointed as Labor undersecretary by Duterte.
Under the Ombudsman Act of 1989, “a deputy or the special prosecutor may be removed from office by the President for any of the grounds provided for the removal of the Ombudsman, and after due process.”
But in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the provision in the Omdusman Act was unconstitutional, and that a President’s act of disciplining a deputy ombudsman would be “in violation of the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman.”
Duterte earlier threatened to open a can of worms at the Office of the Ombudsman, a threat directed towards Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.
But under the Constitution, the executive branch of government does not have the authority to investigate an independent, constitutional body like the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Office of the Solicitor General on Tuesday backed the legality of the suspension order issued against Carandang.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said the President has the power to discipline a deputy ombudsman, despite existing jurisprudence saying otherwise.
“The Constitution is clear that only the Ombudsman is subject to impeachment proceedings. While silent as to the disciplinary authority over a deputy ombudsman, the subsequent enactment of the Ombudsman Act filled this gap and expressly granted the authority to the President,” Calida said, in a statement.
According to the chief state lawyer, the President has the inherent power to discipline a deputy ombudsman being the appointing authority of such a position.
“The Supreme Court has held that the power to discipline is lodged in the same authority in whom the power to appoint is vested,” Calida pointed out.
Citing the opinion of Senior Associate Justice Carpio in the similar case of former deputy ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices Emilio Gonzales III, Calida said the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman is not the same as the independence provided to other governmental bodies such as the Judiciary.
However, Carpio dissented in the SC ruling on Gonzales’ case in 2014, which had taken away the disciplinary power of the President over the deputy ombudsman post.
Voting 8-7, the high court ruled that the administrative authority being exercised by the Office of the President over the position of deputy ombudsman is unconstitutional.
Opposition lawmakers on Tuesday urged the Office of the Ombudsman to speak up on the suspension order.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said the Ombudsman should “vigorously defend itself from yet another attempt by the Duterte administration to weaken institutional checks on graft, corruption, and abuse of power in government.”
Tinio also accused Malacañang of “deliberately violating existing jurisprudence.”
Akbayan Rep. Tomasito Villarin said Carandang’s suspension showed “the hypocrisy of Malacañang in fighting corruption when its occupant becomes the subject of an investigation.”
“By suspending an ‘activist watchman’ doing his job, what anti-corruption campaign is Malacañang talking about?” he said. With Vito Barcelo, Rey E. Requejo and Maricel V. Cruz