For some time now we’ve been hearing grumbling from the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB). Object, it seems, is the supposed freeze-hiring policy that has resulted in a slew of resignations and the appointment of lawyer Rex Raynaldo Sandoval as Assistant Ombudsman under the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO).
If you recall, his father Edilberto Sandoval was appointed by former president Rodrigo Duterte as Special Prosecutor under the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) in 2017. Prior to that appointment, the elder Sandoval served as presiding justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, where incumbent Ombudsman Samuel Martires was also among the justices back then.
The Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) under the OMB is a powerful one because the sitting Special Prosecutor (Edilberto Sandoval) can conduct preliminary investigations and prosecute criminal cases covered by the anti-graft court, as well as offer plea bargaining agreements. It is the OSP that handles cases approved by the Ombudsman for trial.
Insiders are asking why his son Rex Raynaldo was appointed Assistant Ombudsman when the organization under Ombudsman Martires is supposedly undergoing what has been termed as “retrofitting.” It was a policy initiated by Martires when he assumed the post in 2018.
Before becoming Assistant Ombudsman, the younger Sandoval was hired as Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer 4 (GIPO). But as GIPO, he would report to his father’s office instead, insiders said. Due to his health condition and age, the elder Sandoval could not report to the OMB for an extended period of time. It was his son Rex who allegedly called meetings and sat in place of his father, effectively substituting for him as Special Prosecutor.
“This [appointment happened] – notwithstanding the policy on non-hiring and non-promotion because of [the] so-called ‘retrofitting’ of the office. A lot of lawyers have left for the judiciary and there are no replacements. Nalalagas na ang opisina (We’re slowly losing our staff),” one insider lamented.
“But despite the fact that HR (human resource) does not accept applications for many vacant positions and there are no promotions happening in the office, Rex Sandoval was appointed as Assistant Ombudsman of MOLEO, Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices – a permanent position.”
As of Wednesday, March 22, Rex Raynaldo Sandoval’s name is on the list of the OMB-MOLEO’s key officials. It is this office that handles cases against erring soldiers and cops.
Asked about the appointment, the Ombudsman said in a response to Rappler dated March 6 that Assistant Ombudsman Rex Raynaldo Sandoval was appointed on November 11, 2022 and assumed the position three days later, on November 14.
The office also explained that its non-hiring policy is based on the “ongoing restructuring of the OMB and the retrofitting of positions and qualifications” for better delivery of its service. The Ombudsman added that there “are exemptions” to this “freeze on hiring.” These include the following:
- Positions which will not be directly affected by the restructuring
- Positions which have been occupied on a designation basis for more than 3 years
- Positions which, on the basis of the number of incumbents, need to be immediately filled up in order not to jeopardize the operations of the office
The Ombudsman disputed claims that its freeze hiring rule caused resignations in the office. “Almost all of the vacancies during the period 2019 to present were a result of death, retirement and transfer to other government agencies (particularly the Judiciary),” the Ombudsman said.
From 2019 to present, there were 30 resignations tendered based on the following reasons, according to the Ombudsman:
- Family concerns
- Health issues
- Migration to other countries
- Pursuit of higher education in other countries
- Transfer to private sector or family business
- End of term of principal official
Position by other person for years
The position of Assistant Ombudsman was previously held by lawyer Dennis Garcia for years – but in an acting capacity. He also concurrently held the position of acting director for the Preliminary Investigation, Administrative Adjudication and Prosecution Bureau-A (PIAAPB-A).
Rappler learned that Rex Raynaldo Sandoval was eventually promoted – and Garcia removed from his Assistant Ombudsman position and retained as acting director of PIAAPB-A.
“A position should first be opened, and it should be advertised, and applications should be accepted and screened. It cannot just be given to a favored individual,” an insider said.
Who is the younger Sandoval?
Rex Raynaldo is the special prosecutor’s only son by his wife Pelagia, a retired public school principal. He was admitted to the Bar in 1995 and has two other siblings.
In November 2010, the younger Sandoval joined the OMB’s Office of the Special Prosecutor as an Assistant Special Prosecutor, while his father was still a Sandiganbayan justice.
At the Sandiganbayan then, the elder Sandoval handled the plunder case against retired major general Carlos Garcia, the former military officer accused of converting millions of military funds into cash.
At the height of General Garcia’s trial in 2011, the Office of the Solicitor General moved to disqualify and/or wanted the elder Sandoval to inhibit from the case because his son Rex was working at the OSP at the time. The then-Sandiganbayan judge, however, said his son joined the Ombudsman long after the case was raffled to his division. The anti-graft court’s second division started to handle Garcia’s case in 2005.
Since the appointment of Martires by Duterte in July 2018, the OMB has steered clear of controversy and has remained low-key in the investigation and prosecution of cases or complaints involving public officials. Succeeding former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Martires edged out Special Prosecutor Sandoval then for the top post.
Given recent resignations, will Martires revisit his freeze-hire policy and its exemptions before more staff head for the exit doors? – Rappler.com
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