The man who dared
What does the dismissal of the official who looked into the bank deposits of President Duterte and members of his family in 2017 indicate but that, despite protestations of transparency from the big man himself, one embarks on such an investigative project at one’s own peril?
Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang was dismissed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on June 17, according to unimpeachable sources. His name has been removed from the website of the Office of the Ombudsman, and Special Prosecutor Edilberto G. Sandoval is now listed as “acting overall deputy ombudsman.”
Carandang’s dismissal is in contravention of a Supreme Court ruling issued in January 2014 that a president has no administrative or disciplinary jurisdiction over a deputy ombudsman.
It raises eyebrows because it swiftly calls to mind the President’s numerous challenges to the public, hurled in the course of speechifying at various occasions, to look into his bank holdings and other assets and thereby upend any impertinent claim that he and his family have amassed more wealth than could be legally explained.
In August 2018 in Malaybalay City, for example, he was quoted as saying that he would resign if it were found that he had more than P40 million in his bank accounts.
In September 2017 at the 120th founding anniversary of the Department of Justice, for another example, he was reported as declaring that he was loaded even as a young fellow: “I authorize everybody — everybody as in everybody — to look, to dig into the Insular Bank of Asia and America, which is the Union Bank now, you’d find there that noong fourth year pa kami, I had a million already.”
It was a reference to a supposed point in his youth when he received a “substantial share” of the proceeds of the sale of his father’s properties, including a presumed lumber yard—an offered explanation for why he appeared to be wealthier than imagined. (He had, after all, been projecting the image of a poor man.) And that, he pronounced, was the truth: “’Yan ang totoo.”
In 2017, Carandang embarked on an inquiry into the alleged hidden wealth of Mr. Duterte and members of his family on the basis of a complaint filed by then Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. Carandang had publicly cited bank transaction details in the documents that Trillanes presented during the 2016 campaign for the presidential election, saying these were practically the same as what were in the records that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) had provided the Office of the Ombudsman for intelligence-sharing purposes.
According to the documents that Trillanes presented to reporters, Mr. Duterte and his daughter Sara had joint accounts in banks in Pasig City (seven), in Edsa Greenhills (nine) and in Davao City (one) during the period 2006-2015. They had as much as P1.74 billion in deposits and transfers in the bank in Pasig alone, per the documents.
Trillanes pointed out that this was not reflected in Mr. Duterte’s 2014 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, in which he reported a net worth of only P21.97 million, and cash assets of P13.84 million.
Carandang terminated his investigation in November 2017, saying the AMLC had refused to provide the data he needed.
But administrative cases were shortly filed by a group of lawyers against Carandang for claiming that the AMLC was investigating Mr. Duterte and his family. Mr. Duterte eventually ordered Carandang’s suspension for 90 days, but then Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales refused to enforce it, citing the Supreme Court ruling on jurisdiction.
The Office of the President ordered Carandang’s dismissal on July 30, 2018, having found him supposedly guilty of graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust in the conduct of his inquiry. His retirement benefits were forfeited; he is now barred from taking civil service examinations, and perpetually disqualified from public office.
Carandang filed a motion for reconsideration, but Malacañang threw it out and affirmed his dismissal with finality early last month.
And that was how it all came down for the man who dared. How he will proceed remains to be seen, but what was said during the election campaign in regard to the purported bank accounts bursting at the seams was truly memorable.
In reports, Mr. Duterte initially denied the existence of the accounts in the Pasig City bank. Then he admitted it, but said the deposits amounted to less than P200 million. But why did he not declare such a huge amount in his 2014 SALN? Because, he said, he had already spent it.
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