As President Rodrigo Duterte is set to pack the leadership posts of the Office of the Ombudsman with his appointees, three officials with close ties to him have attempted to get a coveted spot – in fact, one already succeeded.
These posts are crucial because it’s the Office the Ombudsman that investigates government officials for possible graft and corruption, including the President.
Malacañang Undersecretary Anderson Lo, currently with the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), has been shortlisted to become the Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao.
If appointed, he will be the one to resolve complaints against Mindanao officials, including potentially President Duterte’s children.
The shortlist was transmitted to the President on May 18.
On the same short list by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) are current Ombudsman officials: investigation bureau director Beda Epres and Assistant Ombudsman for Mindanao Maria Iluminada Lapid-Viva.
In a statement on August 21, Martires said all the shortlisted applicants for Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao have his “full trust and confidence.”
“Nothing turned up derogatory in my vetting, no one has a record of graft and corruption in their present and previous positions or employments,” said Martires.
During Lo’s JBC interview in April, retired judge Franklin Demonteverde asked Lo what his edge was over other applicants, given that, among the them, he had the least government experience – his PMS post was his only government gig so far.
“My advantage would be, I’m the youngest in terms of service in the government, I could be hungrier, more excited to join and prove my worth,” said Lo.
Lo said one of his tasks in the PMS was screening presidential appointments – like what he is vying for.
Asked by retired justice Noel Tijam how he would prove his independence, given his ties to Duterte, Lo said: “I have shown, I have remained to be, to have integrity, to have honor, all these years, my performance and work ethic that I put in my work.”
Lo pointed out that two other applicants had Davao City ties, having been raised in the President’s hometown too. They were Davao City judges Rowena Apao-Adlawan and Mario Duaves, who were not shortlisted.
Lo’s wife, Judge Jill Rose Jaugan-Lo, was Duterte’s first judicial appointee for the Davao region. In a previous interview, Judge Lo identified her husband as a “friend of Bong Go.”
Duterte appointed his former legal consultant, Warren Liong, as Overall Deputy Ombudsman (ODO) in November 2020.
Liong replaced Melchor Arthur Carandang as ODO. Carandang was fired by Malacañang over his statements on the investigation into Duterte and the first family’s wealth. That investigation was terminated because of a lack of cooperation by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), but can be revived anytime if the Ombudsman wants to.
Before being appointed as ODO, Liong was a director at the now-controversial Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
PS-DBM is the subject of Senate investigations into pandemic funds. It turned out PS-DBM awarded in 2020 at least P8.7 billion worth of deals to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation when the company only incorporated in September 2019, with just P625,000 in paid-up capital.
A Rappler investigation has found that Pharmally Pharmaceutical is connected to Duterte’s former economic adviser Michael Yang, through a series of networks.
Liong did not sign the publicly-available notices of awards for Pharmally, but he was among the recommending approvals for the annual procurement plan (APP) that paved the way for those transactions.
ODO is a critical post because, in many instances, resolutions go through the ODO for approval before these are raised to Ombudsman Samuel Martires for a final check. In some resolutions involving low-ranking officials, the ODO can be the final check.
If the Office of the Ombudsman does investigate the PS-DBM, will Liong inhibit?
Before Duterte, Liong served as legal head of Philhealth Davao Regional office.
Lloyd Christopher Lao
The embattled Lloyd Christopher Lao also applied for the ODO post alongside Liong.
Lao withdrew his application, saying he would want to distance the Office of the Ombudsman from “ridiculous rumors.” During this time, senators were already questioning PS-DBM’s award of what they said were overpriced items like test kits.
Lao used to work in Malacañang, in the office created by President Duterte specially for now-Senator Bong Go – the Office of the Special Assistant to the President. Go once again insisted on Tuesday, August 31, that he was not close to Lao.
After Malacañang, Lao moved to the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) as its chief executive officer (CEO). There, he was accused of an extortion racket – a complaint he said he didn’t know about. By January 2020, he was head of the PS-DBM.
In a taped speech aired Tuesday, Duterte said he appointed Lao to critical posts because the President owed him. Lao was on Duterte’s 2016 presidential campaign team.
“Ano’ng masama kung magbayad ako ng utang?” said Duterte. (What’s wrong if I pay them back?)
The Office of the Ombudsman is yet to make a definitive move to investigate the several issues hounding the handling of pandemic funds, as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says any probe they will do will have to take the cue from the Ombudsman.
Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon said they may end up investigating Duterte and Go, too. – Rappler.com