Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte gives Ombudsman Mindanao post to Palace aide from Davao

Lian Buan, Pia Ranada
Duterte gives Ombudsman Mindanao post to Palace aide from Davao

Office of the Ombudsman June 30, 2018 Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

(2nd UPDATE) Top positions at the Office of the Ombudsman are now held by Duterte appointees. Rowena Guanzon loses the Deputy for Visayas post to lawyer Dante Vargas.

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed his Palace aide from Davao City, Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Undersecretary Anderson Lo, as Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea confirmed the appointment to Rappler on Wednesday, March 9.

Lo is the second close Duterte associate to get a high-ranking position at the Office of the Ombudsman. Duterte earlier appointed his former legal consultant, who eventually became procurement service director Warren Liong, to be Overall Deputy Ombudsman (ODO).

As Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao, Lo will resolve complaints against local officials in Mindanao, which include previous complaints against presidential son Paolo Duterte, or even potentially Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and Vice Mayor Sebastian Duterte.

Lo’s first stint in government was as PMS undersecretary.

Lo defended his lack of government experience to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the screening and shortlisting committee, by saying, “My advantage would be, I’m the youngest in terms of service in the government, I could be hungrier, more excited to join and prove my worth.”

Lo had edged out career Ombudsman officials, including investigation bureau director Beda Epres and Assistant Ombudsman for Mindanao Maria Iluminada Lapid-Viva.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires had earlier said that he vetted Lo, Epres, and Viva and that “nothing turned up derogatory in my vetting, no one has a record of graft and corruption in their present and previous positions or employments.”

Lo’s wife, Judge Jill Rose Jaugan-Lo, was Duterte’s first judicial appointee in the Davao region. In a previous interview, Judge Lo identified her husband as a “friend of Bong Go.”

Lo, Liong, and another Davao boy – the controversial Lloyd Christopher Lao – wanted to get top Ombudsman spots. Of the three, only Lao failed. Lao applied for ODO alongside Liong but withdrew when news of his application was published.

Soon after, Lao figured in the Pharmally scandal where the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), which he headed, gave hundreds of millions worth of pandemic contracts to an inexperienced and undercapitalized company that had ties to Michael Yang, Duterte’s former economic adviser. Liong was PMS director during the time, and he had said he would inhibit when the case reached the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Senate blue ribbon committee has released a report recommending graft complaints against Lao, and even Duterte.

Office of the Ombudsman now packed with Duterte appointees

Duterte also made a key appointment to the Ombudsman – career official Jose Balmeo is now Deputy Ombudsman for Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO). Balmeo was Assistant Ombudsman prior to this appointment.

As Deputy Ombudsman for MOLEO, Balmeo will handle, among others, drug war killings and other state abuses. Balmeo replaced the retired Cyril Ramos, who cleared Manila cops of any wrongdoing in maintaining and detaining people without warrant in a secret jail cell at their police station.

With these appointments, all Ombudsman leadership posts are now held by Duterte appointees: Martires, Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval, Deputy Ombudsman Cornelio Somido, Liong, Balmeo, and now, Lo.

Duterte has also appointed lawyer Dante Vargas as Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas, according to an appoinment paper dated April 2021, but was transmitted to the Supreme Court only on wednesday

Vargas beat to the post both Epres and former elections commissioner Rowena Guanzon for the position.

The Office of the Ombudsman and its top leaders are being closely watched because they can withdraw charges, enter into plea bargains, choose state witnesses – highly-political issues that put the office under scrutiny across presidents. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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.