A former prosecutor of the Office of the Ombudsman, lawyer Edna Batacan in her private practice has had the privilege of working for high-profile clients facing serious corruption charges.
The list includes the former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, and even President Duterte, back when he was mayor.
Batacan says she no longer represents Arroyo, but she embraces her friendship with Napoles (“in fact she does not pay me, she does not pay me dahil kaibigan ko siya”) and is not shy at all about her “close relationship” with the President.
She acknowledged this relationship in her public interview with the Judicial and Bar Council, “because he has been not only my client but also the godfather of my eldest daughter.”
Batacan is applying for the position of Ombudsman, which will become vacant when the formidable Conchita Carpio Morales leaves office before the end of the month.
Is closeness to the powers that be a recommendation for one of the most powerful positions in the entire government?
Batacan must be betting that the answer is not necessarily No.
But she has, she thinks, one ace up her sleeve. She says she has proof that the Office of the Ombudsman, the principal graft-busting government agency, is corrupt.
That is music to the ears of those administration officials who have long thought that the incorruptible Morales was a living, breathing, fact-finding, resolution-issuing affront to them.
Batacan said for all the world to hear: “That office has become a graft office. I’m a victim also. I know for a fact how it operates. Inordinate delay is contrary to the speedy disposition of cases, they have such a thing as parking fee in that office, when the case is filed and it’s just under preliminary [investigation], they will say okay, I will just keep it on hold, for resolution, keep it on hold then you pay me a parking fee.”
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, himself a lawyer, said he believed that Batacan was one of three front-runners for the position, together with an incumbent justice of the Supreme Court and a veteran member of the Cabinet.
Why this is so, when Batacan has not nearly the same kind of experience or prestige in the legal profession as other candidates, is a mystery. Perhaps Roque, not unusually, was just making a guess.
But Morales did not take Batacan’s accusations sitting down.
“One applicant for this position said there’s a lot of corruption. Excuse me. When I asked a director if it’s true that there’s a lot of corruption, [the official said] yes, maybe, that’s true — but during that applicant’s time.”
She added: “Why don’t we look at each other’s records? Come on.”
There may be no need. Batacan damned herself with her own words. Her remarks about alleged parking fees reveal much more than she thinks she let on.
She even admitted that she was once party to a payoff involving P50,000 because “you have to please your client.”
If this is not disqualifying, then what is? (Indeed, this disclosure should be cause for disbarment.)
But another lawyer who is allied with the same powers that be called on the JBC not to include Batacan in the short list of nominees it will recommend to the President.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said Batacan was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to bribe Ombudsman prosecutors.
“Said client lamented to me that Attorney Batacan asked from him, and was given, the amount of P8 million because the said person was inveigled by Attorney Batacan to the effect that the amount was being requested by certain persons in the Ombudsman.”
But the case was filed anyway; Batacan, however, failed to return the money.
This is revealing, not only of the depth of alarm and concern Batacan’s candidacy is causing within the legal profession, but also of the legal tactics Topacio and his ilk think is par for the course. (His real problem was with the failure to return the money.)
Topacio also accused Batacan of charging a cool million pesos for photocopying fees, without receipts.
When asked about this, the front-runner gave this incoherent response: “Attorney Topacio was saying I asked, according to his client, I asked how much for a Xerox fee of documents. The documents were so high. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I-I-I, probably. But, I don’t, I don’t remember. It was too long already.”
She cannot remember whether she charged a client P1 million in photocopying expenses, because it doesn’t make her look good, but can remember a P50,000 payoff, because it makes the Ombudsman look bad.
Forget the Ombudsman; this is not the kind of lawyer the country needs.