Impeaching Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez
Speech – Focus on the Global South
Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, Akbayan Party-list
Delivered at Asian Studies Center, UP Diliman on September 28, 2010
Impeaching Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez
Exactly a year ago today, on September 29, 2009, the House Committee on Justice of the 14th Congress dismissed the impeachment complaint filed by Former Sen. Jovito Salonga et al against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for insufficiency in substance. The Salonga complaint whichs was endorsed by then-Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros was voted down by 37 of the 55 members of the House Committee on Justice.
Yesterday, the Committee on Justice of the 15th Congress, with a vote of 33 (for) -14 (against)-1 (abstain) adapted a motion signed by 17 members of the committee that urged the committee to pursue the impeachment proceedings against the Ombudsman and “not to abdicate its Constitutional duty to conduct the impeachment proceedings” despite the issuance of the status quo ante order by the Supreme Court. The status quo ante was issued by the Supreme Court in response to the petition filed by the Ombudsman after the Committee on Justice declared the two impeachment complaints filed against her as sufficient in both form and substance in earlier hearings.
The developments in the impeachment process demonstrate to what extent the political environment has changed, at least, in the House of Representatives and exposed the ugly heads of the layers of rear guard defenses that the Arroyo administration has erected in its wake to insulate her and her cohorts from prosecution after she stepped down from the presidency.
We, in Akbayan, are committed to the mission of making the GMA and her former administration accountable to their nine-year rule of impunity. We believe that the Ombudsman is the first line of rear guard defense of the Arroyo administration. The Constitution bequeathed the Office of the Ombudsman with the sole and exclusive jurisdiction the investigate and prosecute cases of graft and corruption against public officials. The Senate and the House of Representative and even the newly-established Truth Commission may conduct endless investigations and inquiries into allegations of corruption, the President may expose the scandalous deals of the previous administration in every SONA, but in the end the actual prosecution of cases of graft and corruption against the Arroyo administration will still be dependent on the Ombudsman. No corruption case will prosper if the Office of the Ombudsman will continue to be in the hands of Arroyo’s most loyal cohorts.
Policy implications of the impeachment complaint
- The fate of the impeachment complaint versus Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez would determine the fate of President Noynoy Aquino’s Daan na Matuwid. Is it going to fork and present to the nation two directions that our politics can take: one that represents more of the same kind of transactional politics, characterized by graft and corruption, of padrinos, mga kamag-anak at kaibigan, or one where public service is restored to its eminent function – an instrument of representation, a vehicle of inclusion for those who have less, and ultimately a tool to uphold human dignity. Is it going to deliver us straight to the path of good governance, or is it going to a short road, one that lasts as long as the euphoric campaign period?
- Ang Daan na Matuwid or Ang Landas ng Pagbabago cannot happen if the Ombudsman is not impeached. Merceditas Gutierrez remains to be biggest stumbling block to ensure accountability against a corrupt administration. She has and will protect the interest of Arroyos. Make no mistake – we will never be able to hold the Arroyos accountable for the degeneration of our institutions, for graft and corruption, and for fraud, if Merceditas Gutierrez remains at the helm of the office that’s supposed to protect us from official abuse.
- To move forward, we need closure to what happened in the last 9 years. That will not happen as long as the Ombudsman is an office promoting partisan interests. GMA evaded accountability by squeezing through the loopholes in our laws – she invoked executive privilege to silence her Cabinet, deployed her appointing powers to ensure her survival, and utilized her disbursing authority to use the budget as weapon to demand loyalty. These loopholes need to be plugged – but even that will be for naught if the Ombudsman is as bankrupt as it is now.
- At the core of anti-graft and corruption laws – and we have many – is a strong and supposedly politically insulated Office of the Ombudsman that has broad constitution powers to prevent the commission of official abuse and impose or recommend sanctions on erring public officials. If compromised, it cripples institutionalized mechanisms and remedies that address abuse and graft and corruption. And, as we have seen in the past few years, If made partisan, it becomes a very powerful tool to protect and advance the interests of the corrupt. No laws against abuse would be effective if the protector of the people against abuse becomes the perpetrator of abuse.
- While we are confident that we can muster enough support in the House of Representatives to impeach the Ombudsman, our job doesn’t end there. We need to fast-track anti-corruption reforms – the immediate passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, for instance – and ensure that they will be fully enforced. But it is equally important to ensure that corruption is prevented in our anti-corruption institutions. As we inch our way towards the elevation of the impeachment complaint to the Senate, we have seen gaps in our impeachment process that makes it almost impossible to hold high officials accountable for violating the law and the constitution. We need to reform our impeachment rules, for instance, such that a political process remains in the ambit of our political institutions, and that the co-equal status of our institutions is not manipulated to serve the interest of one branch.
- The impeachment should therefore be viewed a first step – a difficult first step – towards the Daan na Matuwid. The campaign promise can only become a reality thru the removal of corrupt officials AND the pursuit of radical institutional reforms. Our job has just begun.
*** A lawyer by profession, AKBAYAN Rep. Kaka Bag-ao was the Convenor of the Alternative Legal Group, a network of NGOs providing legal support to marginalized communities. She was the legal counsel of the Sumilao farmers.