MANILA, Philippines – "Ano ang pakialam niya (Why should he interfere)?"
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales made the remark on Friday, July 28, when asked about President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement that the Ombudsman cannot investigate soldiers and policemen without first clearing it with him.
"Under the law, we have subpoena powers. We have orders for officials including soldiers and police to file pleadings... There is no law that requires a solider or a policeman or any respondent for that matter to seek the clearance from anybody," Morales said in an interview after addressing a symposium in Cubao.
Duterte said in a news briefing after his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday, July 24, that he will scrutinize all moves to hold accountable soldiers and cops for alleged human rights violations. "Kapag sinabi ko na huwag kayo magpa-imbestiga, huwag kayo papa-imbestiga (If I say don't participate in a probe, don't)," Duterte had said.
Morales insisted that the Office of the Ombudsman can proceed with an investigation even without the participation of respondents, if there is probable cause based on evidence at hand.
Morales is currently handling murder complaints filed against policemen who allegedly committed the acts in pursuit of the Duterte administration's war on drugs. The President had repeatedly assured law enforcers that he would pardon them if they are convicted of crimes committed in the performance of duty.
Lawyers representing the victims have said that the police have not been cooperative in investigating their men.
"[We] cannot be starting from scratch. [We] must subpoena documents and all that, whether or not this subpoena had been heeded by the addressees, I don't know yet," Morales said.
In her speech at the symposium, Morales maintained her independence in investigating wrongdoing in government.
"The Ombudsman cannot be silenced. You can attempt to suppress the messenger, but you can never suppress the message," she said.
Morales said after that her message was addressed to all her critics.
"Marami diyan na bumabatikos sa 'kin eh akala mo kung sino sila. Sila ang maging Ombudsman. It's a thankless job," she said.
(There are many people who are criticizing me, acting like they know everything. They should try to be Ombudsman. It's a thankless job.)
Responding to questions during the interview, Morales said she will not inhibit from the case of former president Benigno Aquino III, who was indicted over his role in the botched Mamasapano operation in 2015.
The complainant, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), said she should inhibit from the case, citing her alleged lack of independence.
The VACC is also handling the case buildup for Morales' impeachment, which has yet to be formally filed before the House of Representatives.
"Bakit ako mag-i-inhibit (Why would I inhibit)? On what ground? No. I am not a coward," Morales said.
The Ombudsman also dismissed Duterte's comments that the accusations of graft and usurpation of authority against Aquino are nothing but "silly charges."
"I am not listening to anybody. I go by the evidence," she said.
This continues the series of exchanges between Duterte and Morales, which started when the Ombudsman told Japanese television network NHK that the President is "goading people to kill people."
Morales has yet to resolve the complaint filed by self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato accusing the President of murder, kidnapping, torture, and crimes against humanity over his role in the alleged Davao Death Squad (DDS).
The Ombudsman also confirmed she was not invited to Duterte's 2nd SONA. She said she was also not invited last year.
"I got a form from the House Secretary. He was asking me to fill out a questionnaire: will I attend or will I not attend? Why should I fill that up if I was not invited?" Morales said. – Rappler.com