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The President is not above the law

Sorry, Reader. I had intended to further discuss the performance of President Duterte as monitored by the Philippine Statistics Authority, based on his Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022. But the President’s firing of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang has gotten in the way, and I must express outrage at this latest abuse of presidential power.

Mr. Duterte must be reminded again (as former senator Rene Saguisag reminded him earlier) that he is not a king or an absolute monarch, but a “mere” president. Furthermore, government officials in all branches and positions must be reminded of this as well, since many seem to take the President’s pronouncements as law. For good measure, let’s include the general citizenry in this. We, too, are prone to quake in our boots at the thought of displeasing him. Remind, remind: He is the servant of the People. He is NOT above the law.

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Why do we all need reminding? Take the case of Carandang who (if the news reports are right) was not only dismissed from office, but whose retirement benefits were forfeited. Why? Because his “transgressions… constitute graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust, which gravely affects his fitness to remain in public office.”

Let’s take that one by one. First, Carandang’s dismissal. You will remember that the President suspended Carandang for 90 days earlier this year. But  Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales refused to implement his order, citing a Supreme Court decision declaring unconstitutional the provision in the Ombudsman Act that gave the president disciplinary powers over the Ombudsman’s deputies.

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Clearly, our dear Conchita Carpio Morales, may her tribe increase, does not need any reminders. The President offered no demur. Instead, Reader, he waited until she retired last July 26, and then he dismissed Carandang outright, citing contrary jurisprudence to justify his action. This contrary jurisprudence was not presented to Morales when she refused to implement his order.

Next, let’s talk about the charge: graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust. The following is an eyewitness account of the media interview which led to his dismissal:  “On September 25, 2017, Overall Deputy Ombudsman Carandang informed me he has received a phone call from PDI reporter Ms. Nikko Dizon telling him that she has a copy of the alleged bank transaction history of the Dutertes and is requesting him to confirm if it is the same as the one in the possession of the Office…

“September 26, Nikko Dizon arrived and met ABS-CBN reporter Henry Omaga Diaz outside the building. Nikko Dizon was carrying several rolls of manila paper on which were pasted dozens of printed sheets of paper…

“Carandang had earlier agreed to meet in his office but was pressed for time, so he offered to step out of the elevator on the ground floor where they were waiting before proceeding to the basement parking.

“Nikko Dizon asked if she can show him her copy of Duterte’s bank transaction history—the sheets of paper pasted on the rolls of manila paper. I thought that they would need some privacy—and a table!—so I suggested an unused room from the corridor where they were all standing.

“Nikko unrolled the manila paper bundles on a table. Carandang, standing over the table (and probably not looking closely at the actual figures on the printouts), scanned several of the sheets and said they ‘more or less look similar…’ At that point, he cannot make the comparison Nikko wanted… he had nothing with him except his phone and a ball point pen.

“Henry pointed out that there were reports that those accounts totaled to billions. Carandang said the Office ‘does not do that.’ He gave a short explanation that the bank transaction history shows amounts ‘going in and out,’ so no total could be made.

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“After a few pleasantries—it looked like the first time all three met—Carandang left for the basement parking.

“The entire episode could not have been more than ten minutes.”

So where’s the graft and corruption?  Where’s the betrayal of public trust? For this, Carandang gets fired and loses his retirement benefits? What is happening to us?

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TAGS: Carandang, Duterte, ombudsman
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