MANILA, Philippines – The refusal of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to cooperate left the Office of the Ombudsman with no choice but to terminate the investigation into the plunder complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte.
"The Office of the Ombudsman confirms that the fact-finding or field investigation on the complaints filed against the President was closed and terminated on 29 November 2017 after the Anti-Money Laundering Council declined to provide a report or confirmation on the requested vital data," the Office of the Ombudsman said in a statement on Thursday, February 15.
Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang earlier said that they have Duterte's bank records that came from the AMLC, and that the records "more or less" look like the records submitted by the complainant, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. He said the records show a cash flow of almost P1 billion.
Carandang also said that the AMLC has to proceed with its own investigation and make a report of its findings.
Records and a report are different. Whether or not there was something irregular or anomalous in the bank records was not established.
But as the Office of the Ombudsman has said now, the AMLC "declined" to provide that report. This is consistent with a September 28, 2017 statement from the AMLC which said it has not provided any report to the Ombudsman.
As for the records, the Office of the Ombudsman has said now that the AMLC did not confirm the vital data.
Where did the records come from?
This is curious because Carandang had said his records came from the AMLC.
Backing Carandang then, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said, "As to the documents in our possession, we stand by our word."
When the news of the investigation had come out, Duterte said that the Ombudsman "illegally obtained" his bank records.
"Mag-resign muna si [Ombudsman] because she's corrupt at humahawak ng ebidensya na kinuha nila na walang permiso sa AMLC, illegally obtained," the President said last October 2.
(The Ombudsman should resign because she's corrupt and holding evidence that they got from the AMLC without permission, or illegally obtained.)
The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), which sued Carandang over the investigation, claimed the records are fake.
So which is it – fake or illegally obtained? The Office of the Ombudsman has so far declined requests for clarificatory questions, or a press conference.
Also curious is why the termination was signed by Deputy Ombudsman Cyril Ramos, when Carandang handled the probe and he has a higher position. Ramos is Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO).
"The fact-finding investigative report was referred to DO CER (Deputy Ombudsman Cyril E. Ramos) for his appropriate action," said a high-ranking source inside the Office of the Ombudsman.
Morales had inhibited herself from the investigation. When she inhibits herself, an investigation is assigned to the deputies – in this case, initially Carandang. The fact that it was assigned to Ramos means either Carandang was taken out, or he inhibited himself.
"The Ombudsman learned about such closure and termination only on 29 January 2018, upon an inquiry on the status thereof after learning that ODO Carandang was formally charged and placed under preventive suspension by the Office of the President," the statement reads.
There was also a change in leadership in the AMLC. In January 2017, Julia Bacay-Abad resigned as AMLC head, following Duterte's tirades against the agency's officials. In September, Mel Georgie Racela was appointed new executive director of the AMLC by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Monetary Board. Racela is an alumnus of the San Beda College of Law, like Duterte. (READ: FAST FACTS: The Anti-Money Laundering Council)
Can the Ombudsman do more?
The AMLC's cooperation has been proven vital in the country's biggest corruption case: the pork barrel scam.
The question now is whether the Office of the Ombudsman could have proceeded without the AMLC.
Morales said she "trusts that in the conduct of fact-finding investigations, efforts are exhausted to gather evidence and to comply with pertinent internal rules."
The Office of the Ombudsman said another complaint can be filed, if new evidence come to light.
"By rule, [a] closed and terminated field investigation is without prejudice to the refiling of a complaint with new or additional evidence," it said.
The investigation stemmed from the plunder complaint filed by Trillanes in May 2016, alleging that Duterte has P2.4 billion worth of bank deposits and that funds could have come from the alleged hiring of ghost employees in Davao City.
It was Solicitor General Jose Calida who announced to media that the probe had been terminated. He wrote a letter to Carandang for the status of the probe, to which Carandang replied.
Calida castigated Morales for not disclosing that to the public.
But according to the Office of the Ombudsman, the fact-finding level is confidential.
"The Office is not obliged to inform the subject of the fact-finding investigation about its outcome. The confidentiality of proceedings was, in fact, recognized by the Solicitor General when he cited the exception that the Ombudsman has the power to publicize certain matters (e.g., whether or not to act upon an inquiry 'out of curiosity' or media requests for case status out of journalistic duty). The Ombudsman could not have considered exercising such discretionary power relative to the complaints against the President due to her inhibition," it said.
The Office of the Ombudsman added that when Calida wrote a letter to Carandang, "he effectively recognized Carandang as the Overall Deputy Ombudsman" despite the latter's suspension.
"The Office sees this as a recognition of the unconstitutionality of the preventive suspension order," it said. – Rappler.com