Benigno Aquino III

Anti-corruption execs laud Aquino’s bravery, which he practiced ‘even to his discredit’

Lian Buan

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Anti-corruption execs laud Aquino’s bravery, which he practiced ‘even to his discredit’

President Aquino speaks during the necrological services for the fallen SAF-44 in Taguig City on January 30, 2015

Gil Nartea/Presidential photo

'He was brave. He went after powerful people who did wrong,' says Aquino's former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales

Former president Noynoy Aquino was brave in his anti-corruption drive “even to his discredit,” said former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.

“He was brave. He went after powerful people who did wrong. But he was fair and allowed justice to prevail even to his discredit,” said Morales, whose last major action as ombudsman before retiring in 2018 was indicting Aquino over the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP.

Aquino, who died Thursday morning, June 24 at age 61 after battling several illnesses, had DAP hanging over his head in recent years.

Morales had earlier cleared Aquino, but on appeal by the complainants – the progressive bloc led by Bayan Muna – the former president was indicted for usurpation of legislative powers. However, he has not been formally charged at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan as the Office of the Ombudsman had transitioned to Samuel Martires, President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointee.

Over the last few years, there have been numerous rumors of this case finally reaching court, but Aquino died with the case still pending.

It was the 2015 Mamasapano bloodbath that gave Aquino his first warrant of arrest post-presidency, also courtesy of an indictment from Morales. Morales found probable cause to charge Aquino of usurpation of official functions for allowing dismissed police chief Alan Purisima to participate in Oplan Exodus despite the latter’s suspension at the time.

The usurpation indictment did not satisfy critics, as they would have wanted reckless imprudence resulting in homicide charges against Aquino.

When Martires took over, the new Ombudsman withdrew the case, saying presidents could never be accused of usurpation. The withdrawal said, however, that it was without prejudice to filing appropriate charges, which gave a tiny window to complainants to maybe pursue the homicide aspect again.

For the Dengvaxia vaccine issue, Aquino got as far as being summoned to the Department of Justice, but a case against him has not progressed as yet. During that time, Aquino said it had crossed his mind that he would maybe share the same fate as his former justice secretary, Leila de Lima, who has been in jail for four years.

“It was a great honor to have served as Ombudsman when he was our President and honesty, integrity, and the rule of law guided our government,” said Morales.

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The collapse of the big fish cases

It was under Morales that the government prosecuted many corruption scandals like the pork barrel scam, fertilizer fund scam, and the P360-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence fund scam that sent former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to jail.

Arroyo was later freed by the Supreme Court under Duterte in July 2016. This acquittal had a domino effect, in that all charges related to the PCSO scam have since been dismissed – a case of stolen money with no thief.

It was also under Aquino and Morales that the government went all out in prosecuting widespread corruption within the military, a key figure of which was former comptroller Major General Carlos Garcia.

Garcia has been detained at the New Bilibid Prison since 2011, but he may be freed soon as the result of a recent Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the plea bargain deal Garcia struck with Morales’ predecessor, former ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Mendoza and Leonen pay tribute

An instrumental official in the Garcia investigation was former Commission on Audit (COA) commissioner Heidi Mendoza, who remembered Aquino as someone who fervently dreamt of clean governance.

Mendoza said she was thankful that Aquino always respected COA’s independence.

“Salamat sa pagkilala sa kasarinlan at kapangyarihan ng Komisyon sa Awdit at sa iyong kahandaang sa tuwina ay magpasakop sa mandato, batas, at alituntunin ng COA bagamat sa kadalasan ay hindi ito naging madali at kung minsan ay nagiging sagabal sa dagliang pagtugon sa pangangailangan ng bayan,” Mendoza said.

(Thank you for respecting COA’s independence and separate powers, and for always recognizing that you are also subject to the COA’s mandate and rules even though that sometimes meant delays in government projects.)

Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen said he knew Aquino “to be a kind man, driven by his passion to serve our people, diligent in his duties, and with an avid and consuming curiosity about new knowledge and the world in general.”

Leonen was the Aquino government’s chief peace negotiator in the historic pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to give autonomy to the Bangsamoro region. 

“I have learned a lot from him. I saw him carry his title with dignity and integrity. It was an honor to have served with him. He will be missed,” said Leonen, one of the three remaining Aquino appointees in the Supreme Court. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.