Champions | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Champions

/ 09:14 PM July 28, 2011

WE JOIN the many who welcome the appointment of retired Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as the country’s fifth ombudsman. President Aquino’s way of making the announcement, using Monday’s State of the Nation Address to break the news of the appointment both to the public and to the appointee herself, was out of character for someone who is said to abhor the dramatic gesture. But the President was right to sense that the country was primed to hear the good news, and would tolerate an uncharacteristic burst of fanfare. The anti-corruption campaign at the heart of the President’s election mandate requires a true anti-corruption champion.

But the manner of announcement was also noteworthy for a second reason. The combination of official occasion and public expectation drove home the point that the Office of the Ombudsman, one of the most powerful in all of government, cannot fight corruption by itself. It must make common cause with both public servant and private citizen.

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The campaign to impeach the previous ombudsman had galvanized public opinion; it reminded many Filipinos that the choice of ombudsman matters greatly, simply because the wrong appointee can block all graft cases, or ensure that they fail before the Sandiganbayan. The wrong but sufficiently thick-faced appointee can even invent the perfect crime, such as in the case of the MegaPacific automation project, where the Supreme Court itself had already determined that serious anomalies had been committed, but an ombudsman reluctant to investigate found that no one was responsible for the anomalies.

The appointment of Carpio-Morales will turn the office of the ombudsman around.

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She brings to the office her legal acumen (her Supreme Court decisions, with their rigorous logic and their vigorous language, were tonic reading, and will be missed by court watchers). She brings a dozen years’ experience with the Department of Justice, and almost three decades of work as a judge, at the trial court and appellate court levels. Above all, she brings an independence of mind that has been proven time and again.

It is no surprise that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, another independent-minded straight shooter, sings her praises.

But if the corruption that has haunted our democratic project from the start is systemic, the campaign to exorcise its deadly ghost cannot rest on the shoulders of one person alone, no matter how ready or qualified. The campaign must be system-wide too.

We have seen how dysfunctional the administration of justice can be when the justice secretary is blatantly partisan (see under Gonzalez, Raul) or when the ombudsman and the chief of the DOJ are at war with one another (see under second Aquino administration, first-year performance). With the appointment of Carpio-Morales, however, we can look forward to the DOJ and the ombudsman working closely together to root out corruption from government service. Indeed, we can look forward to other agencies of government collaborating with the new ombudsman to finally put the country’s many anti-graft laws and provisions into action. We hope that this new synergy in the campaign against corruption will not only mean solidly based cases, unlike many previous ones which were designed to lose, but also a more efficient resolution of the cases. Nothing inspires faith in the administration of justice, or strikes fear in the hearts of the corrupt, like a speedy trial.

With Carpio-Morales and De Lima at the forefront, we can also look forward to more citizens taking a greater role in preventing graft and in gathering evidence of corruption. Already we can see more whistleblowers coming out of hiding to make damning allegations against the previous administration. Many are doing so because they believe in the President’s sincerity. With the new ombudsman on board, we can expect more Filipinos to place their trust in the system. And with greater public participation, initiatives such as the report-an-anomaly website of the Department of Finance (at perangbayan.com) will become the new normal.

We can think of the Office of the Ombudsman as a spearhead to pierce the thickest layers of corruption. But the spear itself is held by all of us, public servant and private citizen alike.

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TAGS: Conchita Carpio-Morales, corruption, Editorial, ombudsman, opinion
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