Carandang case: Impeachment for Morales or Duterte?

SHOWDOWN. President Rodrigo Duterte and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales are headed for a showdown over the order to suspend the Overall Deputy Ombudsman.

SHOWDOWN. President Rodrigo Duterte and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales are headed for a showdown over the order to suspend the Overall Deputy Ombudsman.

MANILA, Philippines – In the standoff to suspend Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, who committed an unconstitutional act? The one who ordered the suspension, or the one defying it?

Lawyer Jacinto "Jing" Paras, newly-appointed labor undersecretary, is appealing to lawmakers to sign their names on the impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales that they filed before the House of Representatives. It has not moved since it lacks the required endorsement.

“If indeed they are allies of the President, then there is no more obstacle to sign and endorse the impeachment complaint against Morales, otherwise, Morales will continue to be arrogant and defiant, and will undermine the powers of the President,” Paras said.

Law professor Tony La Viña said that if President Rodrigo Duterte insists on enforcing a provision in law that has been voided by the Supreme Court, then he is committing a possibly impeachable offense.

Malacañang issued the suspension order against Carandang despite a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2014 that declared unconstitutional the provision in the Ombudsman law which previously gave the President the power to discipline Deputy Ombudsmen.

“The current law now is that the Deputy Ombudsman is not under his disciplinary authority as ruled by the Supreme Court. The President took an oath to implement our laws faithfully. If he acts contrary to that in the Carandang case, he is violating his oath of office and culpably violating the constitution. That is theoretically impeachable,” La Viña said.

La Viña added:I emphasize theoretical because enough members of the House of Representatives must agree to send articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial."

Of course under the law, there cannot be an impeachment complaint against Duterte until the one-year ban has passed since Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano filed the first complaint in March 2017.

Unconstitutional

Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, a professor in Constitutional Law, agreed that the suspension order against Carandang was an “unconstitutional act.”

“That is culpable violation of the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the Ombudsman as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” Hilbay said.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo defended the suspension by saying all official acts enjoy presumption of legality – an established rule in Philippine jurisprudence.

“That presumption stays until a court of competent jurisdiction declares it’s unconstitutional,” Panelo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Panelo and the rest of Palace officials are confident that the Supreme Court will reverse its rule. (READ: Malacañang on Carandang: 'There is only one President')

“True, the SC can reverse its 2014 decision – but that is also beside the point. No public official, not even the President, can adopt a 'violate-the-law-now, seek-reversal-later' attitude when its comes to decisions of the SC. That attitude is incompatible with his constitutional obligation to enforce the law: it is the antithesis of the rule of law,” Hilbay said.

La Viña and Hilbay agree that Morales’ defiance is simply the Ombudsman following the law.

“She is following the Constitution scrupulously. She should be impeached if she implements the order of Malacañang,” La Viña said.

Carandang

“The unconstitutional act is tainted by a personal conflict of interest. The President is acting not to protect a beleaguered citizen from abuse of power by the Ombudsman; he is acting to protect himself. This act cannot pass any standard of fairness,” Hilbay said.

Carandang was suspended for alleged illegal disclosure of bank details of the President and the first family. Carandang is the head investigator of the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Dutertes.

Paras was among those who filed the complaint against Carandang before Malacañang, dismissing as an outright lie Carandang’s disclosure that records show a transactions of almost a billion pesos.

This defense by Morales of Carandang clearly shows that Morales has sanctioned Carandang to lie to the public on Duterte’s bank account and made herself a party to lies being spread against the President thereby causing undue injury to the latter,” said Paras.

Supreme Court

Constitutional law professor Dan Gatmaytan said that Malacañang got exactly what they wanted, which was to create a controversy for the Supreme Court to rule on.

Malacañang is relying on the fact that the tight voting of 8-7 in 2014 can be easily reversed.

Panelo even dropped a hint to Duterte appointees Associate Justices Noel Tijam, Samuel Martires, Alexander Gesmundo and Andres Reyes Jr: “So apat ang bagong appointees so, hindi natin malalaman kung ano ang takbo ng mga utak nila (There are 4 new appointees, we don’t know how their minds work.”

Former senator Rene Saguisag, Duterte’s fellow Bedan lawyer, calls this an “arrogant and presumptuous move.”

“They are bragging that they can hold the Supreme Court by the balls,” Saguisag said.

Asked if he thinks it can be a ground for impeachment against Duterte, Saguisag said: “Impeached by lackeys? Tell me another.”

Saguisag said that we have a “gangster government” that gets whatever they want.

Can anybody stop them? “The people,” Saguisag said. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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