Monday, 2 March 2009

Philippine Ombudsman replies: The criticisms we endure

Opinion
Written by The Essential Thing
Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez
The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6730:the-criticisms-we-endure&catid=28:opinion&Itemid=64

Over recent days, some people, including Jose Cuisia of the Coalition Against Corruption, have called for my resignation for various reasons, ranging from incompetence to failing do my job as Ombudsman. But their calls are baseless.

At the risk of sounding defensive, the truth is that I am doing my job. When I stepped into office in December 2005, I inherited from my various predecessors almost 21,000 unresolved cases. Of these I have today been able to resolve almost 20,000.

For a year or two into my new office, the media crucified us for a low conviction rate. But the cases we lost during those days referred to cases filed before my time. Today, we are very careful in filing cases. We make sure we have real chances of winning them. True enough, of the cases we ourselves filed, our conviction rate is healthy.

So far as I could recall, people began judging me as incompetent and a failure at my job when they were shocked to know I did not file any criminal case against then-Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos. People criticized me by saying crimes were committed but there were no criminals; that everybody knew Abalos was guilty and only I did not know of it.

People were quite sure I made a mistake. What they did not know was that the voting machines that were at the heart of the controversy proved 100-percent accurate in 14 hours of continuous testing by the Department of Science and Technology!

It is the lot of somebody in my position to suffer undue criticisms and hurtful innuendoes. It is part of our job to endure them. And endurance makes one stronger.

Early on in my office, I said in an interview that I would act on cases coming before me only on the basis of evidence. But politicians and partisan Filipinos who have an ax to grind against persons accused of wrongdoing before our office want me to be their hatchet man. And if I exercised my own judgment as I should, they become very angry.

If I will not decide on the basis of evidence, what will happen when you, the reader, or somebody close to your heart, is dragged before our office with a charge of wrongdoing that is, at bottom, only trumped-up?

In the movie A Man For All Seasons, Saint Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, taught about the virtue of fealty to the law. In a conversation with a character named Roper, he said something like this: “Yes, I will insist on the protection of the law, because when it is the devil’s turn to go after you, you have no refuge but the law.”

When we were deliberating on the Abalos case, and we were stunned to realize ourselves that there was really no case against him, a close adviser reminded me to “do justice, though the heavens fall!” It was hard to go against public sentiment, which had already prejudged the man guilty; but it was so much harder to charge him formally in court when the facts we found were more consistent with his innocence than with his guilt.

The executive director of the Makati Business Club has also asked me to resign. Like Mr. Cuisia, he alleged essentially that I have been ineffective in stamping out corruption. To that I simply say, all of us have the shared duty to help stamp out corruption in our country. And criticizing one another just forces us to turn against each other, dissipating our energies and causing us to lose focus on the real enemy.

I only wish these Makati businessmen and the organizations they represent had policed their own ranks better, so that more businessmen hewed closer to ethical standards, which would have prevented such things as corporate failures that heap tremendous miseries on our people.

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I welcome feedback at ombproper@ombudsman.gov.ph. The above is meant only as a general guide, and is not a prediction of what the Ombudsman will do in actual cases. The assistance of counsel must be sought for specific advice as to rights and obligations also in actual cases.

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