Aquino chides Ombudsman for 'sins of omission'

Posted at 07/14/10 2:03 PM

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III said he will talk to embattled Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez whom he described as being guilty of "sins of omission" in her work as the country's top anti-graft investigator.

Speaking to Malacañang reporters at a special press dinner Tuesday night, Aquino said he had received reports that Gutierrez is requesting a meeting with him to discuss her office's accomplishments amid news that she will face an impeachment complaint.

Gutierrez, a law school classmate of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, is facing heavy criticism for allegedly sitting on cases involving the Arroyos.

“We will talk. I don't know when exactly...I am not picking a fight just to look for someone to fight. This is the problem, now what's the solution and how do we best solve this? If there's a problem, we need to fix it so we could move on to another problem," he said.

The President said that while he has questions about the actual expiration of Gutierrez's term, he still wants to work with the Ombudsman in pursuing corruption cases against government officials.

He noted, however, that he was surprised by the Ombudsman's lack of interest in pursuing cases against government officials linked to the P728 million fertilizer fund scandal and the botched national broadband deal with China's ZTE Corp.

Aquino said the Ombudsman only filed an administrative complaint against former agriculture secretary Cito Lorenzo after he returned to the country. Lorenzo earlier said he is willing to cooperate in a government investigation on the alleged misappropriation of millions of pesos in fertilizer funds to the campaign kitty of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004.

"Why the sudden interest? Where was the interest before? Those involved in the case never left and the allegations are severe. They should have finished with the people who are already here," he said.

The President said there are pros and cons about the proposed impeachment complaint against Gutierrez in the 15th Congress. He said one goal he wants to pursue is shorten the adjudication process of the Ombudsman from 6 years to 1-2 years.

"Her sins now, according to the reports I've received, are more omission rather than commission. While she's there, how will the cases against government officials push through? It may be that if we push through with impeachment and she fights it, her term would already be over before we're done... If we focus on retaining or impeaching her, it could add to the burden of adjudication of cases," he said.

"At the same time, we also need to look at who has she punished, who has she put in jail? If no one is being punished and being put in jail, then tuloy ang ligaya. The pursuer has nothing to show for it," he said.

Gutierrez earlier said a new impeachment complaint to be filed against her has no basis since her detractors failed to take note of her credentials.

She said her alleged closeness to her former boss, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is not reason enough to be impeached.

She also rejected calls for her to resign from her position, saying that she has a fixed term.

A spokesman for President Aquino, meanwhile, said the administration is not out to persecute Gutierrez amid calls that she exhibit fairness in assessing cases against former president Arroyo.

"The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent body. There’s no persecution insofar as the government is concerned. Some other civil society groups or sectoral groups like Akbayan would want to file a case of impeachment against the Ombudsman precisely because of her past decisions which tend to favor the former First Family. So as far as we’re concerned the government has no position in the Ombudsman," Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

He added that a proposed Truth Commission will actually help the Ombudsman by gathering solid evidence in corruption cases that will stand in court.