A handmaiden of development

IN October of 2014 we hailed a decision of the Sandiganbayan dismissing the charges of the Ombudsman against businessman Roberto Ongpin that he obtained a behest loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). Now, the Court of Appeals (CA), in a November 2015 decision released last week, exonerated 12 officers of the DBP from the same alleged irregularity, negating an order of dismissal from the service by the Ombudsman.

We respect the opinion of some legal scholars that the Ombudsman is a lawyer of outstanding ability, having distinguished herself in the Supreme Court (SC) for brilliant legal opinions, among other things. But we can never forget that in the impeachment proceedings against former Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, the Ombudsman made a spectacle of herself when she added bank withdrawals and deposits in estimating the net worth of the Chief Justice, arriving at the ludicrous estimate of something like $100 million when it was actually closer to an infinitesimal fraction of that.

That she seems unaware that she has made a public exhibition of ignorance is either good acting or plain simple-mindedness.

What now can we say of the Ombudsman, with these decisions of the CA and, earlier, of the Sandiganbayan?  As lawyers would say, win some and lose some.  That’s par for the course. In addition, many people remain mesmerized by the prior publicity about the Ombudsman’s record in the SC.

But questions crop up, no doubt influenced by the so-called opposition: Is not the Ombudsman, along with the Department of Justice, guilty of selective prosecution? Are there only three lawmakers, all of them in the opposition, suspected of wrongdoing?  What about the 250 others who have been identified in the Commission on Audit reports as also suspected of having committed the same offensive acts?  Is their membership in the party of the administration or identification with powers-that-be shielding them from investigation and prosecution?

Rapid economic development requires that the national environment be conducive to investment activity, otherwise, development will not take place or will occur only slowly.  A prominent feature of this environment is the justice system.  The justice system must dispense justice as it sees fit, free from external influences and pressures.

An integral part of the justice system, the Ombudsman is officially designated to ensure that public servants remain faithful to their mandates.  While it may acknowledge a debt of gratitude to the appointing authority, the Ombudsman must demonstrate true independence, that its first loyalty is to “justice,” the delivery of fair treatment to all persons, national or foreign, the protection and furtherance of their rights as human beings.

The decisions of the CA and the Sandiganbayan on the DBP officials and Ongpin are unambiguous indicators that our justice system can be relied upon to give justice to people who come to it for redress of grievances. There is no reason the Ombudsman cannot remain a part of the system.

Image credits: jimbo Albano


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