MANILA, Philippines – Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales may face administrative or criminal sanctions because she is defying Malacañang's order to preventively suspend Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang.
"Any willful refusal to do so or any deliberate act impeding such enforcement may open the said official to administrative and criminal sanctions," said Panelo in a message to media on Wednesday, January 31.
President Rodrigo Duterte's chief lawyer said this was because the President's acts must be "presumed" to be legal until a court says it is not so.
"Every official act is accorded the presumption of regularity. Until a competent court declares that such official act is in violation of the law and the Constitution, President Rodrigo Duterte's order of preventive suspension is presumed to be valid and legal," said Panelo.
However, the Supreme Court had already ruled in 2014 that Section 8 (2) of the Ombudsman law (RA 6770), which previously gave the President the power to discipline the Ombudsman and her deputies, is unconstitutional.
Malacañang, by issuing the suspension order, is thus violating the Constitution and itself defying the highest court of the land, said Morales on Wednesday.
Is Morales' refusal to implement the order an impeachable offense? Panelo said it could be if it can be considered "malicious and deliberate."
"It depends. If it is malicious and deliberate, it can be considered a betrayal of the public trust. Otherwise, it may not be," he said.
Panelo said the Palace order "should be implemented by the Office of the Ombudsman."
"Anyone who disagrees with the suspension are free to question the same before the courts," he said.
It is not yet clear if Morales will challenge the Malacañang order in court.
Asked if the OP will file an administrative or criminal complaint against Morales, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said, "We have not even requested the Ombudsman to implement the suspension order."
Malacañang wants to wait for the 10-day response period given to Carandang to lapse before acting on Morales' defiance. That will be on February 9, Friday. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.