Duterte appoints Samuel Martires as Ombudsman

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Samuel Martires as the next Ombudsman.

Duterte announced in a speech in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay on Thursday, July 26, that Martires will replace Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who is retiring the same day.

He beat Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval and private lawyer Felito Ramirez to the highly-coveted post.

"We have a new Ombudsman. I signed the appointment of Justice Martires.... He was strict in the Sandiganbayan, but he is bright and he is a fair man," Duterte said.

The President's only marching orders for Martires?

"Ang sabihin ko lang sa iyo (All I will tell you), and this is my statement, do what is right," said Duterte.

He also recalled a conversation he had with Martires whom he had first appointed to the SC in March 2017.

"I appointed him as justice. He asked, 'Is there any order?' I told him, 'I do not have the power to order you. You belong to a different department. Independent ho tayo (We are independent),'" said Duterte.

Aligned with admin interests

Martires is not due to retire as an associate justice until January 2019.

But legal sources said he can opt for early retirement, which would create one more vacancy at the SC.

Before getting appointed to the country's top court, Martires served as an associate justice of anti-graft court Sandiganbayan for 12 years.

At the SC, Martires' votes aligned with the interests of the administration. He voted in favor of martial law in Mindanao, the continued detention of staunch Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima, and the ouster of former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

He also voted to uphold the plunder acquittal of former president and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

At the Sandiganbayan, Martires became controversial for being part of the court division that upheld the plea bargain agreement of former military comptroller Major General Carlos Garcia.

He also penned the anti-graft court's verdict clearing the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the late Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Fabian Ver, and businessman Roberto Ongpin over the alleged Binondo Central Bank scam.

During his interview before the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), Martires said he would intensify monitoring of cases being handled by Ombudsman investigators. He sees this as one of the ways to avoid inordinate delay at their level, which has caused nearly a hundred cases to be dismissed.

Martires claims he does not have close ties to Duterte. Martires had penned the 2011 Sandiganbayan decision clearing then-mayor Duterte in a corruption charge involving a Davao City project.

As the new Ombudsman, Martires will have to decide on ill-gotten wealth cases against Duterte's son, resigned Davao City vice mayor Paolo Duterte. It will also be up to him whether the investigation into the Duterte family's bank accounts would be reopened or not. – with reports from Pia Ranada/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.

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