Office of the Ombudsman

Another ex-Bong Go Palace aide vies for Ombudsman post

Pia Ranada
Palace Undersecretary Anderson Lo is shortlisted for the crucial post of Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao

Yet another Malacañang official close to President Rodrigo Duterte’s longtime aide Senator Bong Go is vying for a post in the Office of the Ombudsman.

Palace Undersecretary Anderson Ang Lo has been shortlisted for the position of Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao, a critical post in charge of corruption cases against Mindanao local government officials.

A letter to Duterte from the Judicial and Bar Council, dated May 17, lists Lo as among the three nominees for the post, aside from Beda Angeles Epres and Maria Iluminada Lapid-Viva.

Whoever is chosen among the three will replace Rodolfo Elman, whose term ended last March 20.

Who is Lo?

Lo is currently a Palace undersecretary under the Presidential Management Staff (PMS). He is one level below the PMS acting head Undersecretary Ferdinand Cui Jr.

When Duterte became President, the PMS was placed under the supervision of Go’s former office, Office of the Special Assistant to the President.

Like the President and Go, Lo comes from Davao City. His wife, Judge Jill Rose Jaugan-Lo, was Duterte’s first judicial appointee for the Davao region. In 2016, the Mindanaoan President appointed her judge of the Davao City Regional Trial Court Branch 14. So close are the Los to the Duterte camp that the judge had even administered Duterte’s oath as mayor in 2013.

In a previous interview, Judge Lo identified her husband Andy as a “friend of Bong Go.”

Lo took his oath as Palace undersecretary in August 2016, alongside another Palace undersecretary and lawyer close to Go, Lloyd Christopher Lao. Lao was more recently undersecretary at the Department of Budget and Management. Starting January 2020, he had headed the Procurement Service (PS), a critical attached agency of the department which handles all purchases by the national government.

DBM sources, however, have said Lao is no longer occupying the post. This is yet to be officially confirmed.

As it happens, Lao had sought an Ombudsman post, just like his colleague Lo. In 2020, Lao applied for the position of Overall Deputy Ombudsman, the second highest position which makes crucial calls in the anti-corruption agency Office of the Ombudsman.

But a few weeks after Lao was set to be interviewed for the post, he withdrew his application, supposedly to distance the Office of the Ombudsman from “ridiculous rumors,” he told GMA News.

The critical post would eventually go to yet another lawyer with close ties to the Dutertes and to Lao himself – Warren Liong. Liong used to be Duterte’s legal consultant back when he was Davao City vice mayor. During the Duterte presidency, Liong was Lao’s underling at the DBM-PS.

Liong also has ties to Go, graduating from the same school, De La Salle University, at around the same time.

Why does this matter?

Duterte appointees will soon occupy all the top posts at the Office of the Ombudsman, an office that is supposed to investigate and prosecute government officials accused of graft and corruption.

It’s crucial who the President decides to place in these powerful positions, especially if they enjoy close personal ties with him or those close to him.

The Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao, the post Lo is seeking, will typically have the last say on cases involving Mindanao public officials, including the President’s children who are top Davao City local executives.

Duterte’s eldest son Paolo, currently Davao congressman, faces an Ombudsman probe into his Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN). The status of this investigation is unclear.

The Office of the Ombudsman is supposed to be an independent body. The 1987 Constitution tries to insulate it from politics and pressures by making it fiscally autonomous and giving the Ombudsman a fixed term of seven years.

Under Duterte-appointed Ombudsman Samuel Martires, lifestyle checks have been stopped and a policy has been pushed to have a less criminal treatment of corruption cases.

Martires has also restricted public access to SALNs. Duterte’s last three SALNs have not been released to the public, a first among post-Marcos presidents.

Martires also implemented Duterte’s dismissal of former Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, despite a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting Malacañang from sanctioning Ombudsman officials. Carandang had been investigating the wealth of Duterte and the first family. – with reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.