Cleared of corruption? Martires will no longer appeal to Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines – Another good news for charged public officials. If you're able to win before a lower court, the Office of the Ombudsman will no longer pursue your conviction at the Supreme Court.

This is contained in Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ newest office order signed on Monday, September 24.

This covers dismissal of cases and acquittals by both the trial courts and the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, as well as reversals secured at the Court of Appeals.

“I have to put an end to this practice of bringing up to the Supreme Court judgments of acquittal from the Sandiganbayan,” Martires told reporters on Monday.

Ombudsmen before Martires appealed their losses before the Supreme Court, a procedural practice to exhaust all remedies for appeals. “I have to put an end to this practice,” Martires said.

“Tama na. Ano pa bang interes namin, magpakulong ng isang tao na sabi ng husgado ay walang kasalanan? (Enough is enough. What is our interest, to jail people who have been judged by a court as innocent?) If I bring this to the Supreme Court, I'll just be clogging the dockets of the Supreme Court,” Martires said.

Under the law, the Ombudsman can also suspend or dismiss officials it will find guilty of administrative charges like gross neglect of duty. The Ombudsman can also order preventive suspensions, and these are usually elevated by officials to the Court of Appeals (CA).

Sometimes, officials secure reversals and reinstatement orders at the CA. Martires said that from now on, they will also no longer challenge the CA’s reinstatement orders at the Supreme Court. (READ: 'Parking' fee? Fault lies in Ombudsman setup)

“This is for the simple reason that it already violates the right of an accused against double jeopardy. This is a basic constitutional right of every accused, I don’t want to be impeached because I disregarded the constitutional right of an accused,” Martires said.

An exception to Martires’ new policy is if the Office of the Ombudsman “was clearly deprived of due process and if there was a mistrial.”

JUST IN: Another new policy of Ombudsman Martires. Acquittals by Sandiganbayan and trial courts, as well as reinstatement orders of the Court of Appeals will no longer be appealed at the Supreme Court @rapplerdotcom — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) September 24, 2018

Respondent friendly?

This is Martires’ latest policy deemed by critics as favoring respondents. But Martires just brushed it off, saying he’s not out to please his critics.

So far, Martires has:

“In my own imperfect and limited ways, I will do everything within my power to be fair to everyone,” said Martires.

He added: “Mahirap magkunwari at mahirap umusig sa isang taong walang kasalanan. Dahil pagdating ng gabi, konsensya mo rin ang inuusig kapag naghahabol ka o nagbibintang ka ng isang kasalanan sa isang tao.”

(It’s hard to pretend and it's hard to judge a person who’s really innocent. Because at night, your own conscience will disturb you if you keep on running after a person who committed no crime.)

Martires said that an official cleared by a court is already deemed innocent in the eyes of the law. 

“Para lang ipangalandakan sa inyo na kami ang anghel at ang mga akusadong ito ang demonyo? Hindi ba ang lumalabas kami 'yung demonyo kapag pinagpatuloy naming gawin ang kamaliang ito?” Martires said.

(Is this to show you that we’re angels and the accused are devils? Don't we appear like the evil ones if we continue doing this wrong thing?)

Martires said the problem will be solved by enhancing the capacity of Ombudsman investigators and prosecutors to actually win cases in court.

The latter years of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales were tainted by a deluge of lost cases, many of which were due to inordinate delay. The Supreme Court has since come up with a ruling excluding the period of fact-finding investigation from the determination of whether there was delay or not.

“Bakit natin ipipilit magsampa ng isang kaso na sa simula't simula ay alam natin ay wala, para lang ipaalam natin sa publiko, sa taumbayan na ginagawa natin ang ating trabaho at bahala na husgado kung sila'y magpapawalang-sala? Ayokong magkunwari. Gusto ko, yung totoo lang,” Martires said.

(Why would we force ourselves to file a case that we knew from the start lacks evidence? Just so we could inform the public that we are doing our jobs, and we’re passing on the burden to the justices and judges to acquit them? I don’t want to pretend. I just want to be real.) – 

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 or tweet @lianbuan.