Ombudsman Morales on big losses: I don’t quantify success

MANILA, Philippines – Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales will be remembered in history for her big fish indictments that include two former presidents and a vice president.

This feat, however, will be seen side by side with an unflattering losing record. 

Morales' biggest loss as Ombudsman are the cases stemming from the P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) fund scam. In 2016, the Supreme Court acquitted former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of plunder in connection with the scam, and soon after, all other accused walked free.

There is no one now to hold accountable for the questionable use of PCSO funds. But Morales is not counting her losses.

“I don't quantify success. Success to me is the respect you elicit from people. If people like what you did, that to me is success,” Morales said in an interview with Rappler.

High profile

Morales has always admitted that she prioritizes high-profile cases – she said such cases were her sources of excitement in her 7 years in office. 

The more challenging the case is, the more satisfaction you derive. Like in the PDAF cases, the PCSO case of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the cases of former Vice President [Jejomar] Binay. If your case is bland, you don't derive any satisfaction. But if they are a bit complicated and they involve a lot of evidence, then you feel satisfied. Right or wrong, you arrive at a conclusion,” Morales said.

Their conclusions, however, did not always fly. For example, former senator Jinggoy Estrada was granted bail because  the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan said he was not the main plunderer in his multi-million peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam case. (READ: 'Parking' fee? Fault lies in Ombudsman setup)

Morales’ prosecutors cannot push the plunder case of former senator Juan Ponce Enrile forward; it has been stuck at the pre-trial phase for years.

Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante, agriculture undersecretary during the Arroyo administration, has also been acquitted in the fertilizer fund scam, while other local officials involved were cleared because of investigation delays at the Office of the Ombudsman.

“You see, what we do is to find probable cause. Now, when the case reaches the court, our prosecutor prosecutes the case. But it is the justices or judges who come up with the verdict whether guilty or not guilty. It's no longer within the control of the Ombudsman although of course, we see to it that our prosecutors prosecute in earnest,” Morales said in defense of her office.

Morales said that she is contented with the legacy she will leave behind. She also boasts of an all-time high conviction rate of 77% in 2017, a dramatic increase from a mere 41% when she took over in 2011.

“People keep saying they now find the office credible, they find that I restored credibility,” she said. 

Hands tied

Morales has charged former president Benigno Aquino III twice, but there is one president that wouldn’t be on her indictment list: President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Office of the Ombudsman terminated the investigation into the alleged hidden wealth of the Duterte family because of the supposed non-cooperation of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

This is unusual because AMLC has always worked hand-in-hand with the Office of the Ombudsman on the pork barrel scam cases, and even in the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona that led to Morales filing a forfeiture case before the Sandiganbayan.

“In the case of Corona, I was very active. I was prompted to ask for records of then chief justice Corona on account of the complaints filed against him. On the case of the President, I inhibited from participating in that case even when he was still mayor, I already inhibited,” Morales said.

Morales inihibited in the case because she is the aunt of presidential son-in-law Manases Carpio, husband of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

The losses and setbacks will now just serve as lessons for the woman wrapping up nearly 5 decades of public service as a judge, justice (at the Court of Appeals, then the High Court) and the nation’s graft buster.

“The lesson to learn is to never think that you are infallible because if you do think that you're infallible, you will be dejected. That should be the case. That should be a lesson that we should all know,” she 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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