The Office of the Ombudsman absolutely did the right thing by ordering the preventive suspension of Raul Desembrana, the Quezon City assistant prosecutor who was arrested by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation last Nov. 14 in a sting operation that saw him accept an P80,000 bribe from a litigant.
The extortion attempt came to light when a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), Ephraim Cortez, approached the NBI to report that Desembrana had demanded the money as “SOP” (standard operating procedure) in exchange for dismissing the complaints against Cortez’s clients, Dr. Alexis Montes and son Connor, who have been charged with unjust vexation by retired military chaplain Reuben Espartinez. The NBI set up the sting operation at around noon of Nov. 14 in a restaurant in the Quezon Memorial Circle.
A video uploaded by the independent media outfit Kodao Productions shows that as soon as Desembrana received the marked money from Cortez, NBI agents appeared at the scene, arrested the bewildered-looking fiscal, and led him in handcuffs out of the restaurant. But after spending a night in detention Desembrana was out of jail, after posting bail of P60,000. The Office of the Ombudsman took swift cognizance of the case and filed criminal charges against him for direct bribery and violation of the code of conduct for public officials.
But apparently, those grave charges left Desembrana unfazed. As the NUPL decried in a subsequent complaint filed at the Office of the Ombudsman, he simply went back to work on Nov. 17, as if his public arrest for corruption were par for the course and no occasion for his humiliation. His gall seemed to know no bounds: Not only did he demand money from Montes in exchange for dropping charges, he also instructed Montes’ lawyers to do the job of drafting the resolution dismissing the case against the doctor. “He (Desembrana) will just sign the resolution then receive the money. He is corrupt and lazy,” said Edre Olalia, one of Montes’ lawyers.
The NUPL was quick to denounce the “business as usual” stance of Desembrana, whose nonchalant return to prosecutorial work seemed to declare that he was untouchable at his post. The group filed a motion on Nov. 21 seeking Desembrana’s suspension from office, but it turned out that someone had beaten it to the draw. A day before the group filed its motion, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales issued an order placing Desembrana under preventive suspension “without pay for a period which shall continue until the case is terminated but shall not however exceed six months.”
That should keep Desembrana from his desk, at least temporarily, and prevent him from inflicting further damage on a justice system that has seen way too many of his ilk get away with brazenly corrupt practices in the performance of their duties. Now that it has filed charges against him at the Sandiganbayan, the Office of the Ombudsman cannot stop there and let the case languish or atrophy; it must bring the task of punishing and making an example of him to its just conclusion, with appropriate jail time and damages for his criminal act secured at the end of the process.
Any other way, and this case would become, like so many others before it, another missed opportunity to finally begin the serious business of cleansing the government ranks of miscreants and malefactors—especially in the prosecutor’s office where ordinary citizens seeking redress for injuries against their persons or properties see their pursuit of justice getting perverted by the grubby hands of corrupt officials.
Montes and his lawyers deserve commendation for refusing to bow to Desembrana’s demands, even if it potentially meant a drawn-out, financially draining suit. “These unscrupulous public officials should realize that not all lawyers are reptiles or some lower form of life—with apologies to reptiles,” said Olalia. “His breed picked the wrong guys this time.”
There are many more reptiles out there slinking along the government hallways and offices. Desembrana’s arrest through the urging of outraged citizen-complainants should serve as a warning that, sooner or later, the law—and the cameras that will inevitably broadcast their disgrace to their families and the rest of the nation—will catch up with their dishonorable deeds.
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