Ombudsman Martires: Cupidity? Stupidity?
Yesterday’s editorial in this newspaper, “Who is he protecting?” referring to Ombudsman Samuel Martires, described his recent actions as “seemingly intent on defanging a law intended to pinpoint graft in governance and on providing a convenient shield for those who have something to hide.” Thus, it assumes there is some degree of cupidity on his part.
Well, Reader, it does have a point. After all, Martires is clearly a Duterte boy. While in the Sandiganbayan, he dismissed a case of graft and corruption brought against Mr. Duterte while he was mayor of Davao. Plus, he is a graduate of the San Beda College of Law, which in some cases has been the main quality that seals the deal on presidential appointments.
In any case, Martires was Mr. Duterte’s first appointee to the Supreme Court. And he had barely warmed his seat (but had already voted for that infamous quo warranto case and the extensions of martial law in Mindanao) — he served as associate justice of the Supreme Court for only 16 months — when the President appointed him Ombudsman. He took office in August 2018.
Reader, you will recall that President Duterte at the time had dismissed Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Carandang, a 20-year career veteran in the Office of the Ombudsman, on some trumped-up charge involving the bank accounts that then Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV claimed was Mr. Duterte’s. But then Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said that President Duterte had no authority to do so, and kept Carandang. Gunfight at the OK Corral. Well, when Martires got in, he fired Carandang in early 2019. Mr. Duterte’s boy.
BTW, let me also point out, Reader, that Ombudsman Martires’ 2018 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), as reported by Rappler, showed that his wealth grew by P15.186 million in 2018, the jump occurring in the period from August to December, even as he incurred zero debt for the whole year. Rappler also pointed out that the specific cause of the increase could not be determined “without the full SALN” because “Martires released only a summary of his 2018 SALN, and not the full copy, contrary to the practice of the Office of the Ombudsman.” Tsk.
So, in all, a case could be made for cupidity on the part of the Ombudsman. But stupidity may have something to do with it, too.
Look at what Republic Act No. 6713, Section 8, provides: SALNs must be available for inspection at reasonable hours; they must be available for copying by 10 days after they were filed; any person requesting a copy shall be required to pay a reasonable fee; any statement filed under this Act shall be available to the public for a period of 10 years after receipt of the statement. Prohibited acts under this section are to use the SALN for any purpose contrary to morals or public policy or “any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.”
That’s clear, isn’t it? SALNs should be readily accessible, and news and communications media are allowed to disseminate them to the general public. But Ombudsman Martires limits access only to representatives of the filer of the SALN or his representative, upon request of a lawful order of a court with regard to a pending case, or to the field and other offices of the Ombudsman conducting an investigation.
Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was very kind. She said that her successor “misread.” A rose by any other name.
If that is the case, then Ombudsman Martires also “misread” the Constitution, and the Ombudsman Act of 1989. The Ombudsman is supposed to be the champion of the people, the “sumbungan ng bayan,” not the defender of the government official or the politician. Presumably the latter can take care of themselves.
He also obviously “misread” the Constitution, because he recommended that the Office of the Ombudsman, and even the Sandiganbayan, be abolished! No law can abolish those institutions.
And then he complains that nobody wants to testify against the corrupt government officials. Is testimonial evidence the only way? Isn’t that what the SALNs are for, isn’t that what forensic accountants are for, isn’t that what anti-fraud audits are for? Documentary evidence.
But then, if the Ombudsman habitually misreads, shouldn’t he give way to someone who can do a better job? Cupidity? Stupidity? The people deserve better.