Monday, March 2, 2009

Impeaching Mercy

Yesterday, the venerable elder statesman who despite great odds pushed for the removal of American military facilities in the land, as head of the Philippine Senate which rejected extension of the bases treaty, Jovito R. Salonga, along with others, filed an impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives against Merceditas Navarro Gutierrez, Ombudsman of the Republic.

Salonga et al charged Ombudsman Gutierrez for betrayal of public trust and commission of acts constituting culpable violation of the Constitution.

The first ground for impeachment was added by the Constitutional Commission “to cover all manner of offenses unbecoming of a public functionary which are not punishable by the criminal statutes”. As such, “inexcusable negligence of duty, tyrannical abuse of authority, breach of official duty by malfeasance or misfeasance, cronyism, favoritism, (and) obstruction of justice”, would constitute betrayal of the public trust.

The first instance of such betrayal of public trust, according to the complaint, is Gutierrez’s deliberate disregard of the Supreme Court’s findings and directive on the botched Comelec deal with a corporation called Mega-Pacific to computerize the 2004 elections. In the Supreme Court’s decision on said case, the 1.3 billion peso equipment purchase was declared null and void, and the Ombudsman was directed to file the appropriate charges against erring officials, headed by the disgraced (on another case, this time involving the 329 million dollar ZTE-NBN deal) Benjamin Abalos, and seek recovery from Mega-Pacific of the monies already paid by Abalos’ Comelec.

The other act cited as betrayal of public trust is Merceditas’ “inordinate inaction on the collusion scheme” entered into by the bidders, government officials and public figures on World-Bank funded road projects, recently the subject of investigation by the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs headed by Miriam Defensor-Santiago, since remanded by her peers to the Blue Ribbon Committee after Miriam unjustifiably refused to continue the investigation because she could not force World Bank officials to testify in her committee.

It has now been established that contrary to the testimony of Merceditas Gutierrez that she only received a nine-page referral report as early as May of 2007, or a year and a half before the issue broke to public attention, and that she was proscribed from action because of the confidentiality condition “imposed” by the World Bank, she simply sat on the report, petrified into inaction by we-know-what or we-know-who.

Gutierrez, the Salonga complaint states, is bound by her constitutional duty “to investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act of omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient”. And she failed to do so. Moreover, it would seem, based on the Santiago committee hearing where she testified, that she obfuscated the truth about the status of the WB report as forwarded to her (unread and un-opened, according to “Postmaster-General”, rather, DOF Secretary Gary Teves).

The impeachment complaint likewise damns the Ombudsman for a “deliberate intent to cause the dismissal” of the criminal cases filed against former Department of Justice Secretary Hernando B. Perez (Gutierrez was his undersecretary, and allegedly, a former student at the Ateneo Law School) for “extortion activities” as charged by former Representative Mark Jimenez. At the very least, “her act constitutes gross ignorance of the law and overly manifest incompetence as Ombudsman, any or all of which constitutes betrayal of public trust”.

Ang sakit! And Salonga pushes the dagger deeper into the heart of the overly though selectively merciful Ombudsman by recalling that she was appointed despite public avowal of favoritism, due to her being the classmate of First Gentleman Jose Miguel T. Arroyo at the same Ateneo Law School where Nani Perez taught. Worse, Salonga invited attention to the realization, also in their complaint, that both she and the fabulous esposo “failed the Bar” in their first attempt to become certified lawyers of the land.

The complaint also cites the “gross inexcusable inaction on the graft and corruption cases on the more than 1 billion peso fertilizer fund scam to perpetrate massive fraud in the 2004 presidential elections involving former undersecretary of agriculture Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante which was separately filed before her office by the Senate of the Philippines, Former Solicitor General Frank Chavez, and murdered journalist Marlene Esperat”.

It also cites her “complete failure to promptly resolve the graft and corruption case involving the Euro-Generals despite overwhelming evidence”. This, according to the complaint, constitutes “grave dereliction of her constitutional and statutory duties and /or unlawful and culpable neglect, both of which constitute betrayal of public trust”.

But while she has been extremely merciful to Jocjoc and Nani, and extremely protective of the First Gentleman’s reputation while glossing over the unexplained circumstances of the euro-generals’ massive funds, Gutierrez, according to Salonga et al, had been unjustly and arbitrarily merciless against local officials such as Governor Neil Tupas of Iloilo and Governor Enrique Garcia of her native Bataan, upon whom she has filed cases and ordered their suspension. While she has been negligent and inactive on previous charges, here she is now charged with “grave abuse of discretion in the exercise of her functions, amounting to betrayal of public trust”.

Because of her “inordinate delay in the disposition of the graft and corruption cases filed before her office, namely those of former DA Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante’s fertilizer fund scam, the euro-generals scam, and former DOJ Secretary Hernando B. Perez’ extortion case, Salonga et al also charged her before the House of Representatives for “culpable violation of the Constitution, which constitutes ground for her impeachment.

In their prayer, the complainants quoted one of the most important provisons of the Constitution, Section 1, Article XI, which reads: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives”.

The Salonga complaint avers that this is “not a mere routinary provision, but a necessity, to perpetuate the nature of the mandate reposed in ALL (emphasis mine) public officers who are expected to be first and foremost PROTECTOR OF THE PEOPLE (again I emphasize) against abusive and corrupt public officials”. (This “protector” description, nay, mandate, is likewise used by the Constitution in describing the duty and responsibility of the Armed Forces. Was this a conscious recognition of the primacy of people power, without which the 1987 Constitution could not have been written?)

“In sum”, it concludes, “all the facts and points raised under betrayal of public trust (as we enumerated)... establish clear violations of the Ombudsman’s constitutional mandate.”

Finally, the impeachment complaint stated that “the pattern of Ombudsman Gutierrez’s deplorable acts is highly dangerous. It all points to her lack of respect for the basic requirements of due process and utter disregard of her constitutional mandate which clearly constitute betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution”.

Aside from former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga, the complaint wase signed by (there may have been more at the time of this writing), Up law professor and former Dean Raul C. Pangalangan, Florin Hilbay and Emilio C. Capulong Jr., all of Bantay Katarungan; Former DILG and DOT Secretary Rafael M. Alunan III, former PCGG Commisssioner Quintin S. Doromal and Emigdio P. Dakanay, trustees of Kilosbayan; Bishop Antonio R. Tobias, DD of Novaliches, and other former senior government officials, civil society leaders and other citizens of the Republic, signing in their individual capacities, namely former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, former Civil Service Commissioner Karina Constantino-David former cabinet secretaries Teresita Quintos-Deles, Ernest Leung, and Corazon-Juliano Soliman, former presidential advisers Veronica Villavicencio and Jose Z. Molano Jr., former DOT Undersecretary Sostenes Campillo Jr., former DBP Chairman Vitaliano Nanagas, former NAIA general manager Guillermo G. Cunanan, UP sociology professor Randy David, former St. Scholastica College president Sister Mary John Mananzan, and civil society activists Leah Lopez Navarro, Crispino T. Aguelo, Milagros Regalado-Capistrano, Marry Anne Terrenal, Yasmin Busrah-Lao, Remy Rikken, Elizabeth Yang, Leon G. Flores III, Ramil V. Cinco, Marilou Borje, and Raul Socrates Banzuela.

While listening yesterday to the broadcast report that Salonga et al were in the House of Representatives filing their impeachment complaint, a listener texted in a reaction: “Wala rin namang mangyayari diyan (impeachment). Sa dami ng mga corrupt, palulusutin din iyan” (referring to the Ombudsman).

How sad. Immediately there is an air of resignation, a surrender to despair over the seemingly impossible dream of a nation where “right is kept right, and wrong is made right”. “Wala ring mangyayari diyan”.

Because there is no trust whatsoever in the representatives whose elections they bought from the people, and who constituting the Chamber of the Bought, merely ask for more and more from Malacanang and other officials, to make sure they stay bought, many think the impeachment complaint will go to naught. Clearly in the public mind, their representatives in Congress cannot be called upon to “protect the people”.

Maybe this constitutional edict, this constitutional duty as “protector of the people” is now reposed in the public mind only on the soldiers of the Filipino people. But are they listening?

Unhappy postscript: But what if Merceditas Navarro-Gutierrez resigns as a result of the pressure of civil society? Then Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will appoint another as Ombudsman, perhaps to reign and protect her beyond and beyond.

Woe unto the benighted land and its desperate people? Again I ask --- who will be the protectors of the people?