The Ombudsman wants to be a pastor
What in blazes is Ombudsman Samuel Martires thinking? At a recent multisectoral meeting attended by members of the judiciary, the academe, the media, and business and religious groups, the Ombudsman announced his intent to make “religious education” and “values formation” the essential focus of his office, instead of its mandated duty to investigate and prosecute government officials accused of crimes, especially graft and corruption.
It appears that this curious idea was a response to President Duterte’s expressed annoyance, during his State of the Nation Address last month, at the continuing vigor of the beast of government corruption despite supposedly unrelenting efforts to snuff it out. “Let me ask you,” the President told his audience. “When will corruption end? Kailan ba talaga ‘to? Hanggang kailan? Well, I don’t know, I’ve been in, with, government for almost 35 years now. I am not singling myself. It’s the entire gamut of our system. Corruption exasperates. It frustrates.”
Martires said he was “seated directly in front of the President” when those words were uttered, “and I said never, never shall we stop corruption.” He said that he would “shift from prosecution and investigation to values formation and religious education as the main entry points in preventing corruption,” and that he planned to work with the Department of Education and teaching institutions to push his moral recovery program forward.
The man was associate justice of the Supreme Court when he was named by Mr. Duterte in July 2018 to replace the esteemed Conchita Carpio Morales at the Office of the Ombudsman, and, before then, associate justice at the Sandiganbayan. Being a longtime officer of the court, he has conceivably been steeped in the nitty-gritty of the law and is daily witness not only to its harshness but also to its majesty.
Why then is he mouthing such profound but misplaced abstractions? Making like a man of the cloth seeking lost sheep in a milieu presumably buttressed by strong fences precisely to prevent the flock from straying? When his mandate is to comport himself as a man of the law trained to confront the complexities of crime and punishment and to engage in scientific inquiry and evidence-based prosecution?
The way Martires is behaving, one would think the Office of the Ombudsman is so devoid of work that its head is now reduced to twiddling his thumbs and, rather like the wife of acquitted plunder prisoner Sen. Bong Revilla, preaching of the need for good manners and right conduct among netizens. Martires’ work is cut out for him, worthy of his undiluted attention: for only three prime examples, the rot at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, which led to Mr. Duterte’s sudden directive to shutter all lotto stations nationwide, resulting in an estimated P250 million in losses; the rot at the Bureau of Customs, which has been festering like forever, resulting in continuing lost revenues for the government in the billions of pesos; and the rot at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., which had been spreading untrammeled under the very noses of health authorities. We’re not even beginning to talk about the crimes of plunder that seem to have been left to die.
He should focus on these truly revolting cases, and others besides, and leave the potential miracles of religious instruction to parties whose life work it is. (At any rate, the DepEd under Leonor Briones cannot even ensure the continued existence of schools for indigenous children.)
A glance at Martires’ record at the bench provides an idea of his thinking. Among other cases at the Supreme Court, he voted in favor of the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, the amazing acquittal of plunder of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (for which, incidentally and amazingly, she thanked Mr. Duterte), the ouster of then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and the continuing detention of that fierce administration critic, Sen. Leila de Lima, who was incarcerated on the basis of testimony from convicted drug lords.
At the Sandiganbayan, Martires’ record includes voting in favor of a plea bargain between the Office of the Ombudsman and former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia. The plea bargain involved the dropping of the plunder charge covering P300 million in cash and assets against Garcia in exchange for his pleading to the lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering, as well as surrendering cash and motor vehicles to the government.
For his record, a group of 18 Catholic priests, evangelical pastors and theological teachers formally expressed outrage at his being named replacement of Ombudsman Morales.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.