Ombudsman Martires: I'm not out to please

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – In the morning of Friday, July 27, Justice Samuel Martires dropped by the Office of the Ombudsman, his new turf, and met Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang.

It would have been an ordinary meeting between an official welcoming the new head of office, except that Carandang is in such a precarious place. President Rodrigo Duterte wanted him suspended, but he’d been able to stay because his old boss, now retired Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, defied the order.

“I was furnished a copy of [Carandang’s] letter to Justice Martires congratulating him and telling him a turnover committee has been formed, and if they wish to, they could arrange a turnover,” Morales said Friday afternoon at the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) forum.

Carandang was suspended because Malacañang said he broke confidentiality with his handling of the investigation into President Duterte's bank accounts, which was later terminated because of the non-participation of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

Morales had on her side a Supreme Court ruling that authorizes only the Ombudsman to impose a disciplinary action on a deputy ombudsman.

"I'll look into that also but.. let's see," Martires said on Monday, July 30, when asked about it.

Whether Martires will protect his deputy or heed the orders of Malacañang will be the first test of his independence.

Criticism

Martires has had to fend off bad press since he applied for Ombudsman. A group of priests and the Coalition for Justice (CFJ) are opposing his appointment, citing his close ties with the First Family. 

“We are deeply concerned that the new Ombudsman will not seriously pursue the ill-gotten wealth cases against resigned Davao City vice mayor Paolo Duterte, having acquitted the father, then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, once before. The likelihood that he will investigate the Duterte family's bank accounts is extremely low,” said the CFJ.

Martires did acquit Duterte in 2011 over a canal project in Davao City.

Since being appointed to the Supreme Court by Duterte, he has voted in favor of the administration’s interests, like the hero's burial for dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the continued detention of Leila de Lima, martial law in Mindanao, and the ouster of former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Morales said Martires should be given “the benefit of the doubt.”

“If indeed, by your account, he is partial to some people, there is always such a thing as turning a new leaf. Eh kung ang tingin nila sa kanya ay (If people's perception of him is he is) very partial to the administration, he could turn a new leaf, he could be impartial this time,” Morales told a journalist who gave a rundown of Martires’ most recent votes in the Supreme Court.

Martires, speaking to reporters who welcomed him at the Ombudsman Friday morning, said he had thought about the cases against allies of the administration, even the cases against Paolo.

Nasa isip ko lahat 'yun (I've thought about all that). Right now I cannot talk about them. Just give me time first to relax, to compose myself because I was surprised yesterday," he said.

Martires swears he will not think twice of indicting Paolo if evidence merits it. 

“If the evidence will show that there is a probable cause for the filing of charges against any member of the family, why not? Eh kaya nga ako itinalaga rito eh. Pero kung wala naman, sana naman tanggapin (That's why I was appointed. But if there's no evidence, I hope people can accept that),” Martires said.

No 'persecution complex' 

Martires said he would not be a persecuting Ombudsman.

“May mga kaso kasi na minsan pina-file ng iba para i-harass lang 'yung kanilang mga political enemies (There are complaints that are filed just to harrass political enemies). And I will not allow myself to be used by politicians to prosecute their political enemies, I don't have that persecution complex,” said Martires.

This was Martires' tenor too in 2015 when he dissented in the decision of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan that found probable cause to pursue perjury charges against the late former chief justice Renato Corona.

Martires said Morales’ evidence against Corona were “fruits of the poisonous tree.”

“The bank documents never became public in nature, and were therefore protected by absolute confidentiality of bank deposits….Hence, whatever documents the Ombudsman has gathered from banks are considered ‘fruits of the poisonous tree’ and must therefore be disregarded by the Court,” Martires said in a lengthy dissenting opinion.

Morales says she is not worried, but some prosecutors and investigators may be.

Martires asks that the employees be up-front.

“I hate hypocrites. Gusto ko kung ngumingiti kayo sa akin, 'yung ngiti na galing sa puso. Ayoko 'yung ngingitian 'nyo 'ko, nang pagtalikod ko ay minumura 'nyo ko. Kilala nyo ako eh, wala akong pagkukunwari,” said Martires.

(I hate hypocrites. What I want is, when you smile at me, the smile comes from the heart. I don't like you smiling at me, and then cursing me when I turn my back. You know me, I don't have pretenses.)

Duterte had one message to Martires: "Do what is right."

"Siguradong-sigurado ako na 'yung mga nagpapanggap na matitino, mga nagpapanggap na matatalino, 'yung mga nagpapanggap na sila lang ang matuwid, ay, sigurado, hindi lahat ng desisyon sila ay mapapasaya ko," Martires' warned.

(I'm very sure that those pretending to be good, those pretending to be bright, those pretending that they are the only ones who are upright, I'm sure not all my decisions will please them.) 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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