MANILA, Philippines – Did the Ombudsman follow the proper process in investigating Chief Justice Renato Corona?
On Day 38 of the Corona impeachment trial, senators took turns in raising concerns over how Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales exercised her powers in probing the Chief Justice.
Why did the Ombudsman go straight to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to obtain Corona’s dollar accounts without a court order?
And would this set a precedent – that the Ombudsman can now poke into the bank accounts of any public official?
Sen Miriam Defensor-Santiago grilled Morales, saying the AMLC should have first conducted a fact-finding probe and waited for a court order before turning over Corona’s bank records to the Ombudsman.
Santiago asked: “Are you of opinion that if somebody files a complaint against senators, members of [the] House of Representatives, you just go straight to AMLC and ask for record without waiting for a court [order], and a probable cause found by the council itself?”
Morales answered: “That will depend on the complaint. It will depend on the nature of the complaint.” Santiago said: “You are fudging your answer!” The Ombudsman replied, “No, I’m not.”
This angered Santiago, “You are arguing with a senator-judge.” The Ombudsman apologized, “I’m sorry. Mea culpa.”
Santiago accepted the apology but Morales had the last word, saying, “Noted.”
Both officials are alumni of the UP College of Law, and sources say they even stayed in one dormitory at UP.
Morales insisted that the Constitution and the law that created the Office of the Ombudsman empower her to seek the assistance of any government agency in her investigation.
She also said she believes that the waiver signed by public officials in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) grants her “blanket authority” to probe them.
Mr Aquino appointed Morales as Ombudsman in July 2010. He took his oath of office before her, when she was still associate justice of the SC, breaking the tradition of presidents being sworn into office by the Chief Justice.
On Monday, May 14, Morales told the impeachment court that Corona kept 82 dollar accounts covering multiple transactions.
No personal knowledge
Under re-direct examination by lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas, Morales admitted that she had no personal knowledge of the AMLC audit. Yet the Ombudsman maintained that she presumed regularity in the agency’s report.
“If the contents of that report are accurate, correct, within the law, I would not know because that is furnished to me by AMLC …. I cannot go directly to the bank to verify if the data entered here are correct.”
Cuevas then pointed out that Morales is not a competent witness. She retorted, “It is beyond my competence, yes, but not beyond my comprehension.”
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ruled in favor of the Ombudsman.
Enrile told Cuevas, “She said already that she did not go to the bank. She did not go to the records. She relied on the report of AMLC and she presumed the veracity of the report of an agency authorized by law to handle this type of problem.”
Senator-judges asked Morales if this was the first time her agency asked the AMLC for data in the course of its investigation. Morales responded that what she is certain of is that this is the first time that she is asking the AMLC for help in cases against Corona.
Sen Alan Peter Cayetano asked the Ombudsman if she will go to the AMLC for help if the cases are against allies of the Aquino administration.
She replied, “For as long as there are leads that these charges are meritorious, we will do that.”
Morales also had a strong response to Sen Jinggoy Estrada’s question. Estrada asked her whether or not she can give assurances that she will not allow herself to be used by the administration to get back at its rivals.
“I would not jeopardize my 40 years of spotless government service just to be used by anyone. I assure you,” said Morales. – Rappler.com
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