OMBUDSMAN MERCEDITAS Gutierrez has done the right thing. We may never know the reason she decided to resign, after weeks of declaring that she would never voluntarily step down from office and that she was confident that she would survive the impeachment trial in the Senate.
For now, all we have are speculations, and neither she nor P-Noy, with whom she had a virtual love-fest as she handed in her resignation, are talking about what truly impelled her to leave her powerful office. The reasons put forward may all be true—and they certainly make a lot of sense—but they may all be wrong, too.
For now, though I for one am simply glad she took the right step. And in a political culture where officials would send in their wives to come crying to Malacañang to beg to keep their jobs, her willingness to spare the country a bruising trial is remarkable, especially since it was so unexpected.
When I urged her in an earlier column to simply resign even before she was impeached by the House, it was with a prayer that she spare herself the needless heartache and the public humiliation should Malacañang be able to marshal the necessary political support to drum her out of the Office of the Ombudsman. But even then I suspected that she would hang tough. She never did strike me as a pushover. And she may have been counting on the still-substantial support her patron Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo commanded in both the House and the Senate. Her decision to step down, then, says as much about her person as it does about the influence GMA still wields. Perhaps OMG, calculating the political odds, concluded they were not in her favor and that no matter how her patron huffed and puffed, she could not bring down P-Noy’s anti-corruption drive. To which I can only say: OMG, OMG!
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CERTAINLY this is a victory for the President. He had, after all, virtually declared war on the ombudsman, declaring in public that he and Gutierrez were engaged in a “bakbakan” or squabble.
In so many words, P-Noy had deemed Gutierrez the biggest stumbling block to his anti-corruption drive. It was the ombudsman, after all, who had ignored or moved with glacial speed on many cases of corruption lodged against Arroyo officials, if not the former president herself. No matter how hard the opposition worked to prepare cases against erring officials, no matter even if a Senate committee (as in the fertilizer fund mess and the NBN-ZTE deal among others) and the Supreme Court (as in the Comelec computer scandal) recommended the filing of cases against perpetrators, the ombudsman took her own sweet time “studying” the charges. In the Comelec case, her office declared it found wrongdoing, but refused to indict anybody. And when one case, that against former AFP comptroller Carlos Garcia, reached as far as the Sandiganbayan, Gutierrez proved all-too-willing to compromise with the accused, an action meriting another investigation.
It must be a relief to Malacañang, then, to see the back of Gutierrez, leaving it free to appoint a new ombudsman who will act with more dispatch and determination against grafters, and put its anti-corruption express back on track.
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BUT Gutierrez’s departure also poses a challenge to P-Noy. He no longer has any excuses. There is no longer an ombudsman to blame should corruption continue to plague the administration and wrongdoers thrive despite the President’s rhetoric.
The new ombudsman, for one, should not only be above reproach, but also be energized and raring to go against malefactors. I feel almost sorry for the person who will be named OMG’s successor, given the outsize expectations and the watchful eyes of critics who will surely look for the slightest weakness or merest mistake before pouncing.
Even now, despite the President’s pronouncements, we see reports of various anomalies taking place. True, it’s mostly low-ranking subalterns involved, such as police literally pocketing millions while transporting a captured kidnap suspect and the supposed ransom money. There are also those members of the Highway Patrol Group (since suspended) accused by a comedian of extorting millions from him in the guise of a carnapping charge.
Honestly, I am astonished at the brazen manner corruption at this low level continues to thrive. And if mere policemen think they can get away with it, how sure are we that higher-ranking officials aren’t even now stealing whatever they can from the treasury?
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CLEARLY, administration officials at all levels of government from the Cabinet down to even the humblest bureaucrat must get moving on the straight and narrow road.
OMG may have given us a breather from a rancor-filled and contentious Senate trial, but her departure doesn’t mean there will no longer be any corruption in government, or that all the cases brought before the ombudsman will be settled with dispatch. All we can wish for is that the new ombudsman will prove to be of stronger mettle than OMG, and that he or she will do the job with clean hands and political will, even if that means banging heads with powerful and dangerous interests.
Commentators, in speculating on OMG’s motives for leaving office just a few days before the start of the trial, seem intent on finding pragmatic reasons for her departure. But for all we know, she may have been prodded by patriotic reasons as well, not wanting to put the country through such a blistering battle while we are engulfed by so many problems, many but not all of them caused by factors beyond the government’s control. Let us give thanks, then, for decency and honor and for answered prayers. Though as they say: Be careful what you wish for, for you may get answers you aren’t ready for.
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