Ombudsman Morales tones down response to Duterte remarks

MANILA, Philippines – It was very different from her strong statements in the past in response to President Rodrigo Duterte's remarks against her.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, on Thursday, August 31, issued toned-down responses to Duterte's recent criticism of her, such as overstaying in her position and rendering selective justice.

In a brief chance interview with reporters on the sidelines of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards on Thursday, August 31, Morales said she is lawfully serving her 7-year term. 

Duterte had said that Morales is not entitled to a full 7-year term, but only authorized to serve the unexpired term of her predecessor who resigned. Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez resigned in April 2011 or a year before her term was to be completed. Morales was appointed in July 2011 by then-President Benigno Aquino III.

Speaking softly and smiling at times, Morales explained that the Ombudsman law allows her to serve a full term.

"[The law] says that when the incumbent Ombudsman leaves the office by reason of death, removal, or resignation or disability…permanent disability, the Overall Deputy Ombudsman shall be the acting Ombudsman until a new Ombudsman is appointed who shall serve for a full term. Sinusunod lang naming 'yung batas na 'yun (we're just following that law)," Morales said, citing Section 8 of Republic Act 6770.

Selective justice?

Morales was also asked about Duterte's statement that there was selective justice in prosecuting pork barrel scam cases.

Morales said it was only natural to prosecute first the 3 senators: Ramon Revilla Jr, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada because Janet Lim Napoles had already named them.

"Hindi ka na naghirap na maghanap ng ebidensya (it was not that difficult to find evidence), of course on top of what you gather," Morales said.

On the accusation of a snail-paced resolution of cases, Morales said her office had actually done a good job finishing investigations, considering she inherited a heavy backlog. Morales said she inherited 19,000 cases in 2011, followed by 35,000 new ones filed during her term.

"I am proud to say, as I have said again, our pending as of December 2016 was more than 6,000 cases," Morales said.

There is a stark difference in the tone since she was interviewed early August, where she said the President cannot interfere in the investigations of the Ombudsman. Duterte had said in his State of the Nation Address that the Ombudsman or the Commission on Human Rights cannot probe law enforcement officials without his approval.

"Ano ang pakialam niya (Why should he interfere)?" Morales said then.

The Ombudsman even added at the time: "Marami diyan na bumabatikos sa 'kin eh akala mo kung sino sila. Sila ang maging Ombudsman (There are many people who are criticizing me, acting like they know everything. They should try to be Ombudsman). It's a thankless job," she said.

Before that she told Japanese news network NHK that Duterte was "goading people to kill people."

Matobato complaint

Morales also confirmed on Thursday Rappler's report that the Office has started preliminary investigation into Edgar Matobato's complaint, alleging killings carried out by the so-called Davao Death Squad. Duterte is not among the respondents in the first two cases that moved forward.

Morales clarified she has inhibited from the investigation into the Matobato complaint.

"I have inhibited myself in that case because one of those who were charged by Matobato was the President, okay, so naturally I inhibited," Morales said.

The Ombudsman was not able to answer the follow-up question why Duterte was not named a respondent in the first cases. Matobato's lawyer Jude Sabio said they will file an appeal.

Morales has been threatened with an impeachment case as early as May, but it has not progressed because there were no endorsers among congressmen.

It would have added up to the impeachment cases lodged against other officials, such as Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. There have been threats by some individuals to file an impeachment complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo. – 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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