MANILA, Philippines – Big changes are coming to the Office of the Ombudsman.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ first major action will be to dismiss all cases that are still undergoing fact-finding investigation after more than a year.
During the Ombudsman’s budget hearing at the House of Representatives on Monday, August 6, Martires said, “probably tomorrow” he will be issuing an order to dismiss these cases “without prejudice” to possible refiling.
This move is intended to provide a clean slate for the Office of the Ombudsman, which has lost hundreds of cases due to inordinate delay.
Complainants can refile the same cases with a clean docket. Moving forward, Martires said he will strictly implement measures that would ensure speedy disposition.
“We will shorten the period of preliminary investigations. We will give investigators a period of 90 days….I promise you all motions for reconsideration must be resolved within a period of 60 days. Anything beyond 60 days, the investigation officers must explain why it took him more than 60 days to resolve the motion,” Martires said.
Martires added that no case will be spared, even if investigators justify why it’s taken so long, or prove that it’s near completion.
“I have to be firm in my decision to dismiss these cases,” Martires said.
The Office is currently investigating allegations that a parking fee is being paid by defendants to investigators – for them to sit on cases, with the end goal of getting them dismissed by the court due to inordinate delay.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate pointed out that if Martires dismisses the one-year-old cases, those who paid a parking fee would have succeeded.
Martires said that on the contrary, dismissing the cases would help smoke out the corrupt investigators.
“’Yung tumanggap magsimula nang maghandang magbalik ng pera, kasi unti-unti na naming makikita ito eh (Those who received money should start to prepare to return the money because we will discover this bit by bit),” Martires said.
Cases first go through the fact-finding phase, after which the fact-finding investigators file a criminal complaint for preliminary investigation. Only during preliminary investigation do the proceedings become criminal in nature.
When the Ombudsman approves the charges, that’s the only time when prosecutors come in to fight the cases and try to win them in court.
Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval earlier said there is a disconnect between investigators and prosecutors, such that prosecutors sometimes end up defending a case they do not believe in.
Martires has an answer to this: a major overhaul for the office.
“I also intend to centralize all preliminary investigations so that the investigating prosecutors will also be the trial prosecutors so that he would know how to build up his case,” Martires said.
Having different sets of investigators and prosecutors is, however, a check-and-balance mechanism. It’s also designed that way so defendants who look to bribe investigators cannot buy off just one set of people.
Martires said he will also restructure the Office of the Ombudsman in a way that will affect the deputies.
In the current setup, there is an Overall Deputy Ombudsman, Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and Military, and then there are Assistant Ombudsmen.
“I have to do some structural re-engineering of the Ombudsman because I see that it’s top-heavy. But that’s just me, I have got to consult my friends in government. So if it’s really top-heavy then you have to do some re-engineering,” Martires said.
Martires promised employees and officials that no one will be fired or demoted.
“They will just probably be transferred with the same salary, siguro different position. Kung medyo mataas position mo then lagay kita sa mas kailangan ka. Walang maaalis kasi kulang pa nga eh,” said Martires.
(They will just probably be transferred with the same salary, maybe to a different position. If you have a top position, I will put you somewhere where you’re more needed. No one will be fired, in fact we need more.)
The major reforms also include limiting media access to Ombudsman cases.
Martires also vowed not to engage in political persecution.
“Karamihan nga sa mga kawani na nadadamay sa isang mayor, ang tanging dignidad niyan ‘yung kanyang karangalan. So bakit natin sisirain just because they were dragged into the case? Hindi sa pinagtatakpan ‘yung kasalanan but let’s try to protect them,” he said.
(Many government workers are just dragged to the scandal of a mayor, and their sole dignity comes from their honor. So why will we ruin their honor if they are just dragged into the case? It’s not that we are trying to cover up their mistakes, but let’s try to protect them.) – Rappler.com