Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Ombudsman hits back at critics

Michael Punongbayan
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez turned the tables on her detractors yesterday as she accused those behind the impeachment complaint against her of using politics to get back at her.

She said she is prepared to face the allegations being hurled against her by former Senate president Jovito Salonga, former Bukidnon Rep. Nereus Acosta, former social welfare secretary Ma. Corazon “Dinky” Soliman and Professor Randy David, among others.

Gutierrez said she is also planning to file perjury and falsification charges against those who signed the impeachment complaint under oath.

“I’ve read it and it contains false, untrue allegations that I can answer,” she said at a press conference, noting that Acosta appeared to be attacking her because of the graft charges filed by the Office of the Ombudsman against him last week.

“If you think you can fight the evidence we have gathered that was the basis for the filing of a case before the Sandiganbayan, file a motion for reconsideration,” she said in a message to the former lawmaker.

Gutierrez also hit Soliman, who she said should focus on just coloring her hair instead of putting political color to the decisions of the Office of the Ombudsman.

She challenged Salonga to account for the loss of vital documents against former President Ferdinand Marcos and the latter’s cronies in Washington when he was chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) during the Aquino administration.

She said she does not know why the former Senate president is getting involved in the issue, believing that the latter is probably being dragged into the picture to add color to the impeachment complaint.

“But this is what I can say to Senate president Salonga: since I was a child, people had been talking about the documents that were lost in Washington DC. Until now, mayroon bang nagtanong (did anybody ask), where are the documents, Mr. Senate president, former head of the PCGG?” a visibly angry Gutierrez asked.

According to her, the loss of these documents resulted in the dismissal of 90 percent of the cases filed against the late strongman and his cronies because the only evidence that can be presented were certified true copies of photocopies.

Gutierrez also lashed out at Rep. Riza Hontiveros-Baraquel who is allegedly using her to gain popularity because she is running for senator, and David, who once filed a case at the Office of the Ombudsman that was dismissed.

She said she will not be “distracted or bothered” by the impeachment complaint because she never betrayed public trust.

She even denied allegations that she is protecting Malacañang in relation to how she is allegedly sitting on big cases like the fertilizer fund scam and the World Bank report.

“I have my mandate. I have my term,” Gutierrez said, reiterating that she has no reason to resign just because there are people who are using politics to unseat her.

She said there are still people who believe in her, like former justice Harriet Demetriou, who is willing to defend her as her lawyer along with other legal personalities.

Employees, prosecutors, and investigators of the Office of the Ombudsman also declared their “undivided support to the leadership and stewardship” of Gutierrez in a manifesto.

“As her fellow public officers, we are witnesses to the Ombudsman’s adherence to the principle that a public office is a public trust. She may not have pleased everyone by some of her decisions, but we are certain that in all her actions, she has remained faithful to the law in her three years as the Ombudsman,” they said.

Employees, prosecutors, and investigators of the Office of the Ombudsman said they are denouncing and rebuking all malicious denigration against Gutierrez which are all false and are actually opposite of “what a true and dedicated public officer and leader she is.”

Hands off

Malacañang, meanwhile, distanced itself from the moves to impeach Gutierrez but urged parties to the case and political leaders not to grandstand and politicize the issue.

Officials said the Palace will respect the impeachment process and will not lift a finger to help the embattled Ombudsman.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the impeachment complaint was a challenge for the Ombudsman to prove herself and “we trust that she can defend herself.”

“We respect the seriousness of the (impeachment) process because this is part of our democratic processes and this would be a good opportunity for the Ombudsman to answer the allegations,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo told a news briefing.

When asked whether Gutierrez was already becoming a liability, she said: “As we have said, let’s just allow due process.”

The Ombudsman has been criticized by some officials in the Palace for inviting attacks against the Arroyo administration for allegedly failing to act on charges against some officials.

Fajardo said she has not yet seen a copy of the complaint.

“President Arroyo has nothing to do with the (impeachment) process. Those who filed the complaint must still present strong evidence against the Ombudsman,” Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony Golez said in a statement. – With Perseus Echeminada, Paolo Romero

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