House seeks to review Ombudsman’s powers

But the impeachment trial is not the proper venue to resolve the issue, says Speaker Belmonte

NERVOUS? House seeks to review Ombudsman's powers, too

MANILA, Philippines – House leaders want to review the powers of the Ombudsman to acquire bank records from the secretive Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) without a court order.

House Speaker Sonny Belmonte Jr maintained that the Ombudsman did not abuse her authority but he concedes there may be a need to revisit laws involving the AMLC.

Earlier, senator-judges raised concerns over Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’s vast powers that the Ombudsman law (RA 6770) and the Constitution provide.

“I believe there was none (abuse of authority). But I’m also thinking, should we allow it? Let’s revisit it (the law), if necessary. As of now, the laws are clear. She has those powers,” said Belmonte in a May 16 pre-trial press conference.

“If we are nervous because of those powers, then let’s amend the law. Let’s clarify and limit the law,” Belmonte said.

On Day 39 of the impeachment trial, Corona’s defense lawyers and senators raised legal questions over the Ombudsman’s interpretations of her powers. (Read: How Ombudsman got access to CJ’s dollars)

Sen Alan Cayetano, for example, recalled previous congressional hearings where the AMLC refused to share information without a court order. Morales argued that a court order is needed for the purposes of freezing accounts or getting the banks to cooperate with probes.

Proper venue

But Belmonte maintained that the impeachment court is not the proper venue to discuss the Ombudsman’s powers. He said the Senate and the House of Representatives may resolve the issue when the trial is over.

House majority floor leader Neptali Gonzales II agrees. “If you say that it’s very dangerous to give the Ombudsman unbridled and unlimited powers, I myself may agree. But this is not the proper forum to address that,” Gonzales said.

Prosecution spokesperson Sonny Angara said the proper venue is the AMLC oversight committee.

“There is an oversight committee for AMLC composed of members of the Senate and the House. That would be the more appropriate forum,” he said.

Angara likened the issue to the signature specimen cards that an anonymous source — known as the “little lady” — gave the prosecution panel. The Senate commitee on banks launched a separate hearing — outside the impeachment trial — to determine if laws were violated in the manner with which the prosecution acquired Corona’s bank documents.

Gonzales said Congress cannot rush to resolve the issue immediately. The Chief Justice has to explain his bank deposits before the impeachment court, he said.

Belmonte said this is just one of the lessons that lawmakers — senators and congressmen — have to learn from the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice.

“We are all experiencing new things in our jurisprudence. We are all going to learn from it. Perhaps both Senate and House, separately, will want to deal with this either in terms of new laws or amendment of laws — or changes in their rules of the Senate or the House — in order to encompass things we had not anticipated in this trial,” Belmonte said.

Doubting that CJ will testify

The defense panel has set a date — May 22, Tuesday — for the testimony of the Chief Justice. But the congressmen remain suspicious.

“We hope there is no other reason [for their request to present the Chief Justice on Tuesday]. It’s not intended to seek legal remedy elsewhere,” said prosecution spokesperson Miro Quimbo.

Gonzales said the defense lawyers of the Chief Justice should stop skirting the issue and let him explain his dollar accounts.

“If we let the defense make it a legal issue — that a court order is required before the AMLC can share information with the Ombudsman — we will be giving Chief Justice Renato Corona the home court advantage. We cannot bring this issue to the Supreme Court because, obviously, there is suspicion that it will be biased in favor of the Chief Justice,” added Gonzales.

Defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador dismissed the congressmen’s suspicions.

“We have already accepted the fact that the prosecution will not believe whatever we say. They always have a spin or a story to tell about any honest commitment that we do,” he said.  –


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