Ombudsman to use full powers in pork probe

Angela Casauay

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Charges will be filed with or without lawmakers' cooperation, Ombudsman Morales says

PROBE. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, left, and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. Photo by Rappler/Raffy Taboy

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman will play a key role in filing cases against people behind pork barrel scams. Along with the National Bureau of Investigation in the Inter-Agency Coordinating Council (IAGCC), it will not only run after Janet Lim-Napoles and the lawmakers allegedly involved in her alleged scam but other groups that may have misused the funds. 

“The Ombudsman has the power to direct any agency to cooperate….  Charges will be filed with or without their cooperation,” Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said in a press conference on Tuesday, August 27.

The IAGCC is composed of Commission on Audit (COA) chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

In preparing its report on the pork barrel, COA asked various lawmakers to explain the questionable use of their pork barrel.

READ: Napoles NGOs got billions in pork

But De Lima noted that unlike the Ombudsman, COA has no prosecutorial powers that would force them to respond. Many of the lawmakers did not. 

“The COA does not have prosecutorial povers, maybe that’s why those subpoenaed by them were lukewarm to their request,” De Lima said.

The Ombudsman has great powers as shown in the impeachment trial of removed Chief Justice Renato Corona. It can direct all government agencies to cooperate in its investigation. 

READ: How Ombudsman got access to Corona’s dollars

The Ombudsman was key in exposing Corona’s dollar accounts, which eventually prompted the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, to convict him for his failure to disclose his net worth. The Ombudsman was able to go around the bank secrecy law by tapping the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to provide Corona’s bank transaction records.

Awaiting documents

Morales said they have asked for documents from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the AMLC in relation to the pork barrel scam. But DBM and AMLC have yet to respond to their request. 

Morales added they will also ask the Securities and Exchance Commission for documents on nongovernment organizations that may have received the funds. 

Morales scoffed at suggestions she is conducting the investigation in response to the #MillionPeopleMarch held nationwide on Monday, August 26. She maintained they formed an investigating body much earlier. 

Morales, an appointee of President Benigno Aquino III, also gave assurances that she will not favor administration allies.“We don’t have any record of being tools of anybody. There are no such things as allies of the administration. That is not at all a consideration. We will go where the evidence takes us,” she said.

READ: Record number of graft cases filed in 15 years

The number of cases filed as of middle of this year is already almost twice as many as a full year’s count (395) in 2012.  According to figures released recently by the Sandiganbayan Judicial Records Division, the Ombudsman filed 121 cases in January and 172 cases in February this year. 

But the Ombudsman’s conviction rate still needs improvement. It only managed 21 convictions out of 163 public officials and private defendants charged with various criminal offenses, or just 12.9% of the cases filed.

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