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Office of Ombudsman marks 25th year as the country’s ‘watchdog’

OVER the last 25 years, the Office of the Ombudsman has performed its major functions of investigation, prosecution, public assistance and graft prevention, and assumed its roles as watchdog, mobilizer, dispenser of justice and official critique under the leadership of five Ombudsmen: Conrado M. Vasquez, Aniano A. Desierto, Simeon V. Marcelo, Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez and the incumbent, Conchita Carpio-Morales.

“I would not be here if I were a rubber stamp and file a case just because certain people or the public want me to file a case,” Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales said in an interview with the Philippines Graphic. Such is the mettle of the people who have held the helm of the Office of the Ombudsman over the last quarter-century.

The Office of the Ombudsman marks its silver anniversary with the theme “Ombudsman at 25: Empowering the Nation in its Unrelenting Pursuit of Good Governance” and a renewal of its commitment  to fighting the plague of corruption and further propagating a culture of integrity in public service.

Besides the Ombudsman’s central office along Agham road in Quezon city, this government watchdog maintains area offices in Cebu City and Davao City, as well as regional offices in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Tacloban in Leyte, Iloilo in Bacolod and Rosales in the province of Pangasinan.

Origins

The Office of the Ombudsman, as we now know it, was created through the Ombudsman Act of 1989, which provides for the agency’s functional and structural organization.

While this law strengthens the office, there is so much more to the story of the nation’s prime guardian agency than just inception. Its history stretches back to the days of martial law.

On July 11, 1978, then-President Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree 1487 creating an independent Office of the Ombudsman. Then called the Tanodbayan (translated literally, the term means “the nation’s watchman”), this agency was designed to give flesh to the provision of the 1973 Constitution.

The Tanodbayan’s mandate then was to investigate complaints relating to public office and, where appropriate, file and prosecute criminal, civil or administrative cases before the proper court or body.

The concept for the Tanodbayan was patterned after that of similar agencies in Scandinavian countries.

The Tanodbayan was made operational on December 20, 1978, upon the appointment of the first Tanodbayan. From 1978 to 1988, four people filled the role of Tanodbayan: Salvador V. Esguerra, Vicente G. Ericta, Bernardo P. Fernandez and Raul M. Gonzalez.

Gonzalez went on to become the first special prosecutor of the Office of the Ombudsman after the Tanodbayan was renamed under the fiat of the 1987 Freedom Constitution, along with the creation of the Office of the Special Prosecutor as part of the new structure of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Executive Orders 243 and 244 were issued on July 24, 1987, by then-President Corazon C. Aquino. These EOs declared the effectivity of the creation of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Special Prosecutor, respectively.

Under these orders, the Office of the Special Prosecutor is to exercise the powers formerly exercised by the Tanodbayan, with the exception of those powers conferred by the Freedom Constitution upon the Office of the Ombudsman: “The Ombudsman and his deputies, as protectors of the people, shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against public officials or employees of the government or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and shall, in appropriate cases, notify the complainants of the action taken and the result thereof.”

The operations of the Office of the Ombudsman began on May 12, 1988, after Justice Conrado M. Vasquez took up his duties as the first Ombudsman, with Justice Jose C. Colayco assuming the mantle of Overall Deputy Ombudsman. It is from this date that the Office of the Ombudsman as we know it reckons its operational existence.

Integrity caravan

Transparency, trustworthiness and accountability are all essential to national progress—it is these things that attract and keep investments moving within the country’s economy and encourage international trade and investments between the Philippines and other members of the family of nations.

In this light, the Office of the Ombudsman under Morales launched the Ombusman Integrity Caravan on May 17. This roadshow seeks to engage the general public and members of the private sector and enable them to gain a better understanding of the programs and projects of the agency.

This caravan also seeks to strengthen existing ties and build a broad-based partnership among all anti-corruption stakeholders. It will involve key government agencies, local government units, private institutions, academic institutions, the business sector, development partners, people’s organizations, civil-service organizations and non-governmental organizations, as well as the public at large.

It will feature fora on governance that will enable public dialogues in which multisectoral practitioners, champions and advocates of good government and anti-corruption drives can discuss and share their approaches to these matters.

The Ombudsman Integrity Lecture Series on various good governance and anti-corruption topics will be delivered by distinguished personalities who are well-known in the local and global communities.

Reaching out to the youth, the caravan will also feature a University Integrity Tour specifically designed to build the foundation of good governance at the tertiary campus level. It will bring to the road show various programs and projects through mini-lectures, audio-visual presentations and photo exhibits.

Taking the road show to the grassroots, the Ombudsman also offers the Barangay Integrity Fora, a knowledge-sharing public exchange among barangay officials on ethical standards, good governance and public accountability. This seminar will cover relevant and timely topics, including (but not limited to) the roles, functions and programs of the Ombudsman, as well as an orientation on the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

Finally, there will be an Integrity Development Contest, which targets the youth as its audience with activities for students at various levels. This activity, seeks to introduce the youth to the fundamentals of good governance and the anti-corruption fight though creative forms of expression like essay writing, poster-making and short video-production tilts.

Finally, there is a seven-year road map from 2011 to 2018, which was the result of the Ombudsman’s strategic planning session in September of 2011. That planning session crystallized the agency’s policy thrust as one that seeks to “enhance efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, accountability and responsiveness in the performance of its mandate and functions toward the improvement of corruption prevention and control.”

In line with this is an eight-point list of priorities: 1) Prioritized disposition of complaints and cases involving high-ranking officials, large sums of money, grand corruption and celebrated cases; 2) Zero backlog; 3) Improved ‘survival’ rate of fact-finding cases; 4) Enforced monitoring of referred cases; 5) Improved responsiveness of public assistance; 6) Improved anti-corruption policy and program coordination among sectors; 7) Rationalization of the agency’s functional structure and; 8) Enhanced transparency and credibility.

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