Ombudsman begins probe on Robredo plane crash

Posted at 11/15/2012 7:14 AM | Updated as of 11/15/2012 1:15 PM

CEBU, Philippines - The Office of the Ombudsman has begun its own investigation on the complaint filed by a special investigator of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) against top officials of the agency for their alleged attempt to cover up irregular processing of pilot licenses and aircraft operation permits.

Assistant Ombudsman Leilanie Bernadette Cabras informed Transportation Secretary Emilio Abaya on Oct. 23 that a complaint was filed by CAAP special investigator Cesar Lucero, accusing agency officials of alleged gross incompetence and obstruction of justice.

Among those charged were CAAP director general William Hotchkiss III and his deputy, Capt John Cu Unjieng.

Lucero also filed charges of grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, grave abuse of authority and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service against Ramon Gutierrez, Captain Elmer Pena, Aries Concepcion, Fernando Abalos, Capt. Armando Ricohermoso, Capt. Nomer Lazaro, Judy Artemio and Capt. Romualdo Bachini.

The Ombudsman has given Abaya 15 days to act on the complaint.

Lucero accused the officials of trying to cover up the irregularities in the processing of pilot licenses and aircraft operations permits that contributed to several plane crashes in Baguio, Camiguin and the fatal Piper Seneca plane crash that killed former interior secretary Jesse Robredo and two pilots in Masbate last Aug. 18.

Lucero filed the complaint as CAAP special investigator whose duties and responsibilities include the investigations of irregularities, violation of laws rules and regulations of the agency.

The complaint was filed after Hotchkiss imposed a 90-day suspension on Lucero for conducting a separate probe on the Robredo plane crash and making statements on his initial findings before the media.

Hotchkiss also accused Lucero of violating a memorandum regarding media relations and press releases.

Lucero said he was just doing his job as special investigator.

Lucero said he is competent in his job since he has undergone training in the US Federal Administration, aircraft accident conducted by the International Civil Aviation Administration in Thailand, including anti-terrorism and biological hazard courses.

Lucero submitted documents to the Ombudsman regarding the ill-fated plane that ferried Robredo, which was reportedly being used for training and commercial flights.

As this developed, the relatives of 11 Boy Scouts who perished in a plane crash in Cagayan River on Nov. 29, 2010 are asking President Aquino to order an investigation of the accident. – Jack Castaño