House works on bills to strengthen Office of the Ombudsman
MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives' committee on justice consolidated bills that would expand the powers of the Office of the Ombudsman and increase its funds.
During a hearing presided over by vice chairman Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Doy Leachon, the committee agreed to the consolidation of House Bill 6383 and 5134.
The first bill, authored by Zamboanga Sibugay 2nd District Representative Ann Hoffer, seeks to improve the Office of the Ombudsman by establishing its retirement benefit system. The second, authored by Cibac Party-List Representative Sherwin Tugna, would amend the Ombudsman Act of 1989 by likewise improving the compensation and benefits for employees and "enhance" its operation funds and fiscal autonomy.
According to a press release from the House of Representatives, the bills would:
- provide that all Ombudsman officials and employees performing legal and/or technical functions from Salary Grade 26 to 29, not otherwise covered under existing benefits and retirement laws, shall enjoy the same retirement and other benefits as those of judges of the Regional Trial Courts (RTC), Municipal and City Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts with the same salary grade
- provide for the automatic increase in the pension benefits of OMB retired officials or employees whenever there is an increase in the salary and allowance in the same position from which they retired
- provide that OMB officials and employees performing prosecution, investigation, and other technical functions shall be entitled to receive additional monthly hazard allowances not exceeding 50% of their basic monthly salary
- provide for an initial amount of P200 million ($3.92 million) to fund implementation of the Act, from the National Treasury not otherwise appropriated – as thereafter, such amount shall be included in the Annual General Appropriations Act
Tugna noted that the Ombudsman work force's salaries and benefits were not commensurate to the task at hand.
Probes in aid of legislation
Kabayan Representative Harry Roque, meanwhile, filed a bill that would allow the Ombudsman "to immediately cause the filing of an information against and prosecute officials over which it has disciplinary authority… without preliminary investigation, upon recommendation by the Senate or House of Representatives."
House Bill 5866 would allow the Ombudsman to file cases as long as Congress' recommendations are supported by the necessary evidence. Roque linked the bill to recent probes "in aid of legislation" by Congress. Congress – the House and the Senate – usually recommends the filing of cases against personalities in specific cases.
Roque said that with the bill, the Ombudsman can use the legislative inquiries themselves instead of having to hold a preliminary investigation.
The progress of the two bills and the filing of the 3rd one comes right as the Ombudsman begins its probe into allegations that President Rodrigo Duterte has billions that were undeclared in his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN).
Government officials – elected, appointed, and those in civil service – are required to be truthful in these disclosures.
Although the Palace had said that Duterte trusts in the Ombudsman's impartiality, the President himself reacted to the developments in the Ombudsman by saying he would create a commission to probe the office's "partiality."
The Ombudsman answered by saying it would not be intimidated.
The Office of the Ombudsman is tasked with handling complaints against all government officials. They prioritize cases than involve possible instances of corruption. Its current head is Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. – Rappler.com
$1 = P50.94
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