Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales will “not enforce” what she calls Malacañang’s “patently unconstitutional” suspension of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, denouncing the Palace move as a “clear affront” to her office and the Supreme Court.
Breaking her silence two days after the Office of the President’s order was announced on Monday, Morales said “the recent spate of events poses a great cause for concern.”
She said the Palace action “was not an inadvertent error but a clear affront to the Supreme Court and an impairment of the constitutionally enshrined independence of the Office of the Ombudsman.”
She also called out the Office of the President (OP) for its “arbitrary disregard of a clearly worded jurisprudence coupled with a confident stance that it will be changed.”
The OP suspended Carandang for 90 days after charging him with three administrative offenses for allegedly disclosing President Duterte’s alleged bank records.
Supreme Court ruling
The move is controversial because the Supreme Court in a Jan. 28, 2014, ruling declared unconstitutional the Ombudsman Act’s provision that gave the OP disciplinary powers over the government watchdog’s deputies.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday that the OP was “confident” that the Supreme Court would “reverse” its pronouncement in Carandang’s case.
Still, Morales said “the Ombudsman will … not allow herself to betray her sworn duty to uphold the Constitution by recognizing what is patently unconstitutional as ordained by the Supreme Court …”
“The Ombudsman cannot … seriously place at risk the independence of the very office [that] she has pledged to protect on the strength of the constitutional guarantees which the high court has upheld,” she said.
This was the first time Morales issued a substantive press statement in four months, as she had lain low after Mr. Duterte threatened to have her impeached.
The President made the threat in the wake of Morales’ refusal to back down on her agency’s probe of Mr. Duterte and his family’s bank transactions before he won the presidency.
Malacañang earlier accused the Ombudsman of being part of a plot to oust the President.
Mr. Duterte’s attacks on Morales last year came after Carandang disclosed to a media group that he had in his custody “more or less” the same bank documents that Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV had used to support his plunder allegations against the President.
Carandang is spearheading the investigation into Mr. Duterte’s alleged unexplained wealth, as Morales has inhibited herself from proceedings against him since she is the aunt of his son-in-law, lawyer Manases Carpio.
The furious President said on Oct. 2 that the Office of the Ombudsman’s bank documents were “illegally obtained” and said it “held evidence that they took without the permission” of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
Mr. Duterte said the Ombudsman should have secured first a court order to make its possession of his bank transaction documents legal.
Then, on Oct. 4, Mr. Duterte claimed that his alleged bank records came from “a certain Abad who is [the] mistress” of Trillanes. The President reportedly referred to former AMLC Executive Director Julia Baccay-Abad.
A month before the presidential election in 2016, the senator furnished the documents showing Mr. Duterte had transactions amounting to at least P2 billion in several bank accounts in the country.
From 2006 to 2015, Mr. Duterte held seven joint accounts with his daughter Sara at Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) branch on Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig City, nine joint accounts at BPI Edsa Greenhills branch, and one joint account at Banco de Oro branch in Davao City.
Mr. Duterte, according to Trillanes, did not declare at least P227 million at BPI Julia Vargas in his 2014 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
In his 2014 SALN, Mr. Duterte reported a net worth of P21.97 million. He also reported cash assets worth P13.84 million, but he did not disclose how and when he acquired these.
Mr. Duterte initially denied the existence of the bank account at BPI branch on Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig but later admitted that it had less than P200 million.
He said he did not declare the big amount in his SALN in 2014 because he had already spent it. He said the money came from friends as a birthday gift.
Sought for comment, lawyer Manuelito Luna, who initiated the complaint against Carandang in October last year, claimed Carandang “can now be bodily thrown out of his office” by the police “and Morales cannot do anything about it.”
Luna said the 2014 Supreme Court ruling should be disregarded, claiming it was “not ironclad and doctrinal” because it was reached through a split vote of 8-7.
This prompted ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio to call on the Ombudsman to “vigorously defend itself from yet another attempt by the Duterte administration to weaken institutional checks on graft, corruption and abuse of power in government.” —With a report from Inquirer Research