Jojo A. Robles

A tale of two Ombudsmen

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I remember former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned shortly after being impeached by the House of Representatives rather than face trial in the Senate. Gutierrez had been told in no uncertain terms that she would be convicted and removed after a Senate trial because that was the instruction to the senators of then President Noynoy Aquino.

Gutierrez knew that the main reason Aquino was going after her was that he was convinced that she had been appointed by Noynoy’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in order to protect the latter from the cases that would be filed against her as soon as she stepped down from Malacañang in 2010. Rather than fight her removal on the grounds that she had a fixed term of office, Gutierrez resigned; if she was really made Ombudsman to protect Arroyo - who was subsequently jailed for five years by Noynoy on trumped-up charges - no one will never know.

What made me remember Gutierrez was a statement made yesterday by the current Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales, to the effect that she (Morales) would block any attempt to turn alleged pork-barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles into a state witness. Why Morales would make such a declaration is easy to see, for someone who recalls what went before as far as Napoles is concerned.

Morales joins jailed Senator Leila de Lima in dismissing the value of Napoles’ testimony, which Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II is currently considering as he ponders the reopening the case of one of the biggest scandals to rock the Aquino administration. And there is a very important reason why both Morales and De Lima would oppose any move for Napoles to testify: Both of them were in charge of the filing of cases that stemmed from “Ma’am Janet’s” earth-shaking revelations about the massive theft of an estimated P14 billion in congressional allocations using bogus nongovernment organizations.

De Lima worked closely with Morales in making sure that only those whom Aquino wanted charged for involvement in Napoles’ scam and other similar thriving “cottage industries” run by Napoles-like wheeler-dealers were haled to court. The vast majority, consisting mainly of political allies of Aquino in his once-powerful Liberal Party, went scot-free, thanks to the efforts of De Lima and Morales.

This is where the Gutierrez-Morales comparison breaks down: The key difference between the situations of the two Ombudsmen is that while Aquino made it perfectly clear that he was hell-bent on pursuing both his predecessor and the graft-buster she appointed, President Rodrigo Duterte hasn’t made political vendetta a state policy and will not go after Aquino, Morales and his political allies.

(I doubt very much that the reason Duterte has not gone after Morales is because his daughter, Davao City Mayor “Inday” Sara Duterte is married to the Ombudsman’s nephew. This revelation was conveniently made by Morales after Duterte won the presidency last year - apparently to serve notice to everyone that while she was perceived to be unflinchingly pro-Aquino, she was also “connected” to his successor-in-office.)

After yesterday, I have no doubt whatsoever that Morales is performing the job that Aquino believed Gutierrez had signed up to do: To protect the previous president from suit, now that he is no longer immune from legal action.

I am aware that there has also been an impeachment case filed against Morales. But because Congress is still populated by the same people who will not act without first checking the mood in Malacañang, this bid is going nowhere fast; besides, Congress is also still made up by the people who, to paraphrase Senator Panfilo Lacson, would be declaring attendance during sessions from a jail cell, if the pork-barrel case is given due course.

So there you have it: Both Gutierrez and Morales were apparently given very specific instructions on what to do when the people who appointed them gave them their jobs. The only real difference is, one of them never got to do as ordered, while the other would risk the wrath of an entire nation just to make sure she does.

* * *

I’ve always wondered why giant media network ABS-CBN never directly replied to repeated charges made by President Rodrigo Duterte that it took his money but never aired his ads during last year’s presidential campaign. I guess the Lopez-owned network intends to keep stonewalling (the traditional term for “dedma”) until Duterte tires of making the accusation.

Except that it doesn’t look like Duterte ever will. Yesterday, the President said that his reported net worth grew by P3 million in the past year, based on his official statement of assets and liabilities, because that was the amount he gave to ABS-CBN as payment for campaign ads that were never aired.

The owners of the Inquirer, Duterte’s other “favorite” media outfit, have at least said that they will not comment on the case of their alleged refusal to return government land leased to them at concessional rates because the matter is still being deliberated on by the courts. The Lopezes don’t even want to acknowledge Duterte’s charges against them in any official statement.

Which is sad, really, because ABS-CBN is supposed to be a reputable media organization that should be responsible and upfront with its viewers. If it won’t even react to charges of fraud leveled by the president himself, how is it supposed to convince the public of its credibility?

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