By Julius Leonen
and Alvin Murcia
Former Manila City councilor and former senatorial candidate Greco Belgica yesterday filed a disbarment case before the Supreme Court (SC) against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales for clearing former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino in graft and technical malversation charges over the unlawful implementation of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Belgica, however, bared that the disbarment case was just the beginning, saying that he, together with other groups, was also preparing an impeachment case against Morales, an Aquino appointee.
“We are preparing an impeachment complaint, and I know that some other groups are preparing an impeachment complaint too,” Belgica told reporters in an ambush interview at the SC yesterday.
“If government officials go unpunished, they become the biggest crooks. (They become) the very reason why we are poor, the very reason criminality is so flagrant in this country,” he added.It will be recalled that the Ombudsman had only indicted former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad for violation of Article 239–or Usurpation of Legislative Powers–of the Revised Penal Code over the implementation of the controversial DAP where P72 Billion of public funding was involved.
However, as Morales is an impeachable officer, no case, including a disbarment case can be filed against her.
The Ombdsman’s law also states that a sitting Ombudsman cannot be disbarred.
Disbarment will have after she retires. The only way to remove the Ombudsman is through impeachment, which is also being mulled.
Noynoy absolved again
The Ombudsman merely gave Abad a slap in the wrist.
Aquino, who was among the respondents in the complaint filed by several lawmakers, was absolved by Morales from any liability over the unlawful implementation of the controversial program of his administration.
Morales absolved Aquino despite the fact that he, through Abad, bribed the members of Congress with billions for them to impeach then sitting SC chief justice, the late Renato Corona, using the DAP funds. No such case of plunder was Aquino indicted and charged by Morales, who is an appointee of Aquino.
Aquino appointed Morales as the Ombudsman following her retirement as Associate Justice of the High Court in 2011. Morales is set to retire in July next year.
However, an earlier ruling from the SC states that any official appointed to the post vacated by another resigned appointed or confirmed official can only serve the remaining term of the retired official.
Going by this SC ruling, Morales has been overstaying as she should have merely served as Ombudsman for 11 months, which were the remaining months left of the former Ombudsman’s term who was forced to resign early under the threat of impeachment by Aquino.
She continues to sit as Ombudsman and is due to retire by July next year.
In his 12-page complaint filed before the SC, Belgica has asked the High Tribunal to revoke Morales’ license to practice law, insisting that she has violated the Lawyer’s Oath and the Canon of Professional Responsibility for clearing Aquino from graft charges.
Morales ‘unjust, biased’
in clearing Noy
Belgica said that Morales was“unjust, partial and biased” in clearing Aquino, noting that the SC has unanimously ruled that the DAP is unconstitutional and held the authors and implementors of the program liable for its unlawful implementation.
Aquino approved the DAP funds which were used to bribe the members of Congress to convict a sitting SC chief Justice.
The High Court ruled last 2014 that a Budget Department document creating the DAP is illegal and unconstitutional. The SC added that authors, proponents and implementors of the controversial DAP may be held liable for its implementation.
“( DAP is ) the most corrupt system that any president, any government, has used in a budget. You know, pooling all the budget, declaring it as savings in the beginning, and at the end of the year, spending it discretionally on their own, usurping the powers of Congress,” Belgica said.
“The Court already held unanimously that the DAP is unconstitutional and illegal, and people should be held liable. What she did was she dismissed and absolved people who have to be held accountable,” Belgica said.
Belgica’s complaint noted that in June 2012, Abad submitted a memorandum to Aquino seeking the approval of an omnibus authority to consolidate savings or unutilized balances and their realignment, which Aquino approved.
“Thus, National Budget Circular No. 541 dated July 18, 2012 was with prior approval of then President Aquino. The fact that there was prior approval from the President is evident from paragraph 5.5 (of the circular),” the complaint read.
But the Ombudsman only found probable cause against Abad for the crime of usurpation of legislative powers based on the issuance of the DBM circular. Belgica said that Morales did not discuss why Aquino was absolved from liability.
“The dismissal of a criminal complaint against the former president is subject to the scrutiny of the people. The action of the Ombudsman will have bearing on the people’s trust on the legal profession and on the judicial system,” the complaint read.
Belgica said in his complaint that the people perceive Morales as biased for being appointed by Aquino and actively prosecuting Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The complaint added that Morales’ dismissal of the complaint against Aquino is a “concrete proof of her bias. She failed to uphold the integrity of the legal profession by not doing what justice demands.”
“By absolving the former president of the crime of usurpation of legislative powers without stating the reason, the Ombudsman only gave more weight to the people’s suspicion that she is biased. Worse, she violated her lawyer’s oath when she failed to support the Constitution by depriving the right of the people to due process of law,” it said.
Belgica: If not disbarment, censure her
While Belgica acknowledges that a disbarment case can only be filed after Morales’ term as the Ombudsman, an impeachable officer, he said that the High Tribunal may allow it because of the “peculiarity” of the case.
The former city councilor said in his complaint that he does not seek to disbar or suspend the Ombudsman during her incumbency, neither does the complaint seek to disqualify her from her office during her term.
“This is a very special case that she dismissed. If the Court would find merit in the complaint’s prayer that if the court finds merit in (the complaint’s) prayer that if the case wouldn’t be resolved before her term ends, then disbar her after the term,” Belgica told reporters.
Belgica said that if his complaint is resolved before Morales’ term as Ombudsman ends on July 26, 2018, the SC should impose a penalty of public censure or “to defer the imposition of the penalty disbarment after the expiration of her term.”
The former city councilor, however, said that if the High Court resolves the complaint after Morales’ term, he seeks the imposition of the penalty of disbarment against her.
“By absolving the former president who appointed her as Ombudsman without stating the reason, she violated her oath as a lawyer by not supporting the Constitution and depriving the people of their right to procedural due process,” Belgica’s complaint read.
“In doing so, she did not perform her task as a government lawyer when she did see to it that justice is done in violation of Rule 6.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility,” the complaint read.
“She also failed to uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession by showing obvious partiality and her conduct adversely reflects on her fitness to practice law as provided by Canon 7 and Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility,” it added.
Impeach raps vs Morales mulled
Aside from filing a disbarment case against Morales, Belgica said he will be supporting the move to file impeachment raps against the Ombudsman, saying that groups are already considering to file such case before the High Court.
“We are not going to file impeachment raps against Morales just because of DAP. She is sitting on so many cases, including SAF 44, investigation into Yolanda funds, election fraud. She is sitting on these cases because they were filed against her appointing officer,” Belgica said.
“As a lawyer, especially as an Ombudsman, it is in the lawyer’s oath that you will apply justice. You will not be partial, you will not be biased, and by dismissing the cases against Noy and Abad, she refused the Filipinos of justice,” Belgica said.
But the former city councilor announced on his Twitter account that the next move they will be making is to file an impeachment complaint against the Aquino appointee.
“At the Supreme Court, filing the disbarment complaint against Ombudsman Conchita Morales. Next, impeachment,” Belgica posted on the social networking site.
Belgica, however, said they are not rushing the case against Morales, stressing that they are only asking the High Court to find merit in their case that proponents of DAP should be held liable.
“We are not rushing the case, but she rushed the case (on the DAP). What we are seeking from the SC is that it would find merit on the unanimous decision that they decided that someone has to be held accountable,” Belgica said.
“If the decision would come after her retirement as Ombudsman, then that would be the time to disbar her. If the resolution would come before her disbarment, then they should censure her, if the Court would allow it,” Belgica said.
Morales to wait for disbarment, impeach raps
Ombudsman Morales will wait for the disbarment complaint filed by former Manila City Council Belgica before she will act on it.
Morales was unfazed by the complaint filed by Belgica before the Supreme Court although she said she has yet to know the grounds of rhe complaint but is ready to face it anytime, anywhere.
“I have yet to know the grounds of the complaint. Anyway, everyone is at liberty to file a complaint,” the Ombudsman said.
She said that being charged is part of the territory but she is ready to meet head-on any complaint. “Anytime, anywhere. Wish them luck,” she added.
Saturday, 25 March 2017 00:00 Published in Headlines
Tension is again mounting between Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and members of the minority in the lower chamber over the plan to suspend elections for tens of thousands of posts in the barangay level, instead of having them elected in polls that were scheduled for October.
The House leader yesterday expressed full support for the position of President Rodrigo Duterte on the need to postpone the elections as part of his controversial campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in the country.
“Well, I don’t have any problem with that and I support our President on that matter because the reason is valid. In fact, majority of the barangay officials are involved in illegal drugs,” Alvarez told a radio interview.
He also said Mr. Duterte’s plan to appoint leaders of over 42,000 barangays is possible through a legislative measure amending the Local Government Code without violating the Constitution.
“It needs legislation to empower the Commission on Elections(Comelec) to postpone the polls,” Alvarez stressed.
According to the Speaker, the necessary amendment can be proposed and tackled when Congress resumes session this coming May 2.
“We need to discuss that already,” he said.
Mr. Duterte the other day admitted that his plan to appoint barangay officials to fill the vacant posts would be “quite messy” because incumbent officials would likely oppose the move.
According to the President, the first requirement for a barangay officer-in-charge nominee is that they should not have any connections at all with rebels. Second, is that they are not into drugs, and lastly, they are not really leaders of politicians.
“We are looking for a way to just appoint the barangay captains,” Mr. Duterte said, adding this was necessary because 40 percent of them were involved in drug trafficking.
“Narco-politics has entered the mainstream of Philippine politics.”
The President said he would accept nominations from the Catholic Church, from Islam leaders, religious denominations and other organizations.
But members of the so-called Genuine Minority in the House of Representatives, for their part, underscored the need to oppose the administration’s plan.
According to Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, the move is dangerous as there is legal process in replacing barangay officials.
“It’s dangerous to give the president the power to appoint officials that’s supposed to be non-political,” he noted.
He added it is unconstitutional to just take away the elections and have the president appoint officials.
“As far as I know, when a vacancy occurs in the Sanggunian Barangay, it’s the mayor who designates replacements after the rule of succession is followed based on the Local Government Code,” Baguilat stressed.
He explained that a barangay chairman is replaced by the first barangay councilor and the mayor designates the replacement for the seventh or last member of the council.
Baguilat said mass appointments of barangay officials require a law.
Deputy Speaker and vice chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments Fredenil Castro, for his part, said the law postponing the election should include provisions that would allow the president to appoint barangay officials.
“The law postponing the elections should incorporate the authority (to appoint),” he added.
Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of the partylist Citizens Battle Against Corruption said the Local Government Code should be amended to allow the president to appoint barangay officials.
“The current law states that occupancy to a position in the barangay is through election. For appointment to be allowed, the Local Government Code should be amended,” he stressed.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said it has been consistently provided under the various barangay election laws, including the law which postponed the barangay elections to October 2017, that all barangay elected officials shall serve until their successors are duly elected and qualified, unless meanwhile they have been dismissed for cause.
“Existing laws, which must be maintained, do not provide for appointment of OICs for elective barangay positions,” he stressed.
“Any further postponement of the village polls must not allow the appointment of OICs either by the president or the secretary of the DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government),” Lagman added.
In a statement, Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano said he does not agree with the intention to appoint barangay officials.
“I dont agree with President Duterte with his intention to postpone barangays elections and just appoint barangay captains,” Alejano said.
“If indeed 40 percent of the barangay captains are involved in illicit drugs then he should have filed administrative cases against them if he could not come up with criminal cases, and then remove them. In that way those suspected barangay captains will have the opportunity to defend themselves and at the same time those who are considered clean will not be dragged unnecessarily and their names destroyed before the public,” he explained.
Alejano said the drug list that the President keeps on waving before the public still remained a list.
“That was last year. Proper cases would have been filed against the suspects. He better stop using it to justify short-circuiting the system and justify his desire to control politics in the grassroots,” the Magdalo lawmaker said.
Alejano noted that postponing the polls would undermine the rights of the people to choose their leaders.
He added if Mr. Duterte claims that drug lords will finance the elections, then “what has he done to them in the last nine months that he is in the office?”
“Does he mean that he cannot go after them and that he will resort to defeating them by postponing the elections and appointing barangay captains?” he asked.
Voter registration to continue
The Comelec, for its part, said the nationwide voter registration will continue until next month despite the move to suspend the village polls.
According to Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, they will also start preparing for the manual election system unless a law has been passed postponing the October 23 village and youth polls.
“We are actually working doubly to make sure that qualified individuals will really be registered as voters,” he said.
The voter registration is set to end on April 29.
The poll body chief also stressed they are just following the law in holding the country’s electoral exercises.
“The Comelec’s mandate is to implement laws related to holding elections. So whatever is provided for by law, we will just follow,” he explained.
Erap backs Duterte
Former President and incumbent Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, meanwhile, said he agrees with Mr. Duterte’s plan to suspend the polls.
In an interview, he noted that around 30 barangay officials in his jurisdiction had been under police surveillance either for engaging in selling, distributing or being protectors of illegal drugs.
Estrada also expressed support to appoint barangay officials “as long as they pass or have no record at all in the Peoples Law Enforcement Board.”
Manila has the most number of barangay officials of any city or municipality in the country – 896 chairmen and 6,272 councilmen.
Charlie V. Manalo, Gerry Baldo and Pat C. Santos
Saturday, 25 March 2017 00:00 Published in Headlines
By Angie M. Rosales and Ted Tuvera
Despite the absence of any intelligence information being revealed, there is basis in President Duterte’s claim on those trying to cut short his stay in the presidency, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel said.
The Senate chief said he can only surmise the possibility of Duterte making assertions based on information reaching him concerning his suspicions on Vice President Leni Robredo, Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes IV being out to oust him from office.
“Me personally, I can also feel that there is a sustained attack against the President,” he said.
Mr. Duterte, before members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Thursday night, identified in his speech the opposition triumvirate he said is plotting to oust him.
“Look, let’s be frank about it. They want me ousted? Who’s behind it? They are Trillanes, soldier, who should be better at being a security guard and his help,” Mr. Duterte said.
“The other one? De Lima. She wants me removed. I am not even into making an exhibition (of them),” he added.
The Chief Executive, moreover, accused Robredo of being an opportunist. He even said in jest that she might even have him assassinated.
“Son of a bitch. The third is Leni, that is natural since why does she need to wait if there is an opportunity? She might say: ‘Just shoot that guy’,” Mr. Duterte said.
An impeachment complaint was filed against the President by Trillanes’ co-mutineer Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano before the House of Representatives, while de Lima and Robredo have recently capitalized on international attention that they get from foreign media outfits which are critical of the administration.
Pimentel said recentevents and statements from the three personalities point to a move to oust Mr. Duterte.
“It seems he has not done anything right so there could be (a plot). One way to explain this (is) there really is an effort or a plan to terminate his presidency at the soonest time possible time so what is that? Destabilization, that’s how can I call it. But this is not from intel (intelligence) reports. This is gut feeling. I do not have any information but since it has been only eight months, who can sustain such an attack? So there is always that suspicion that it is coordinated,” Pimentel said.
De Lima retaliated at the latest charges against her by the President saying that this is just an effort of the Chief Executive to divert public attention on more serious issues such as his seeming questionable dealings with China that could affect the country’s sovereign clams on some of the disputed territories.
“Whatever is thrown at me are all lies and can’t be equalled by being a traitor and in selling the country to China,” the detained senator said in a handwritten note.
“They are using me to cover up the traitorous acts of this administration,” she said.
“Out territory and assets in the seas were defended by our ancestors and was recognized by the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague but which are being sold out by those in the current leadership,” de Lima added.
The detained senator seconded the move of Trillanes in having the Senate investigate the alleged suspicious maritime activities of China over at Benham Rise area and the apparent failure of Duterte to notify Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in allowing Chinese surveillance ships to ply the underwater landmass northeast of Luzon.
There is a need to investigate the national security lapse committed by the President in not informing the secretary of defense of prior communications by China with regard to their activities in Benham Rise, she said.
The issue on alleged incursion of China in the Benham Rise area will be made part of the impeachment complaint filed against Duterte by Alejano.
Leni should rectify UN statement
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, meanwhile, strongly urged Robredo to correct what he said are inaccurate claims she made in her video message to a United Nations body if the Vice President would want to dispel the suspicion aired by Mr. Duterte on her supposed role in trying to oust him from Malacañang.
Pimentel gave this unsolicited advice to Robredo in the wake of the President’s statements naming her and two other staunchest critics – Senators de Lima and Antonio Trillanes - to boot him out of office.
Robredo’s video message sent to a UN forum became controversial as she severely criticized the government’s war on drugs and is being used as a possible basis in the filing of an impeachment complaint against her.
She was quoted telling the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs played during the March 16 meeting said Filipinos are now feeling hopeless and helpless given the spate of killings, estimated to be around 7,000 now or since the start of the administration’s war on drugs, in communities suspected of harboring drug dealers and users.
Pimentel said he had already watched the said video on her six-minute speech and saw the need for Robredo to make appropriate corrections.
“I think she made three inaccurate statements or claims, misleading claims which she should correct so she can safely say that she’s not part of any destabilization,” he said.
Pimentel initially cited the issue on 7,000 supposed victims of summary executions considering the fact that the Philippine National Police (PNP) had already said that at least 2,000 to 3,000 were supposedly legitimate police operations.
“There was an explanation about the police encounters. Do you put that in the box of summary execution? Number 2, she said Filipinos nowadays are helpless and hopeless. Was that true? I mean, do we feel the general helplessness and hopelessness of the people” he asked.
Pimentel also noted the need to clarify the issue on supposed “palit-ulo” scheme mentioned by Robredo, which he said is unheard of.
“I’m also in politics and I’m also exposed to people complaining to me and I have not receive such complaints,” he said.
“They could run to the Senate if there are such abuses, you will be detained in exchange for somebody they’re looking for? That’s too much. There’s none, no one has approached me, no complaint,” Pimentel added.
Asked if such pronouncements could be used as a ground in the filing of an impeachment complaint against the Vice President, Pimentel refused to give any comments citing the reason that he could be a potential judge in the case.
“What she should do is clarify what she means. So she would be like the President clarifying her statements. She has to clarify claims such as 7,000 victims of summary executions, which seems to be erroneous,” he said.
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