Did Carandang commit breaches, and can the President remove him?

MANILA, Philippines – Lawyers associated with the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) on Tuesday, October 3, lodged two complaints against Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang for supposedly baring details of the investigation into the wealth of President Rodrigo Duterte.

They filed the complaints before the Office of the Executive Secretary in Malacañang citing Section 8(2) of  Republic Act 6770 or the Ombudsman law, which gives the President the power to remove a Deputy Ombudsman or the Special Prosecutor.

The provision, however, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC) in 2014.

In G.R No. 196231, decided on January 28, 2014, the SC en banc voted 8-7 to declare unconstitutional Section 8(2) of RA 6770, saying that the President’s jurisdiction to discipline a Deputy Ombudsman is “in violation of the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman.”

In ruling so, the SC said the Ombudsman is still authorized to “conduct an administrative investigation, if warranted, into the possible administrative liability” of a Deputy Ombudsman “under pertinent Civil Service laws, rules and regulations.”

Luneta hostage crisis 

At the time, the SC was handling the case against former deputy ombudsman Emilio Gonzales III who was charged with gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct constituting betrayal of public trust for the alleged mishandling of the case against police senior inspector Rolando Mendoza.

Mendoza was the cop who held a tourist bus hostage in Luneta in 2010 where 8 people died. SC records say Mendoza had told interceder and former Manila vice mayor Isko Moreno that Gonzales extorted P150,000 from him.

In a speech in Marawi City on Monday, October 2, Duterte rehashed this incident as he once again accused Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and her entire office of being corrupt. Merceditas Gutierrez – not Morales – was the Ombudsman at the time of the Luneta incident, however.

In his concurring opinion then, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said that: “It is difficult to imagine how the independence of the Ombudsman can be preserved when the President has concurring powers to remove her deputies.”

The SC decision was limited only to the Deputy Ombudsman and excluded the Special Prosecutor. The President’s power to remove the Special Prosecutor remains.

Did Carandang commit a breach?

In his complaint, lawyer Jacinto "Jing" Paras said Carandang violated Section 2 of the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman which lays down the rules on public disclosures when it comes to the Ombudsman’s investigations.

The provision states: 

When circumstances so warrant and with due prudence, the Office of the Ombudsman may publicize in a fair and balanced manner the filing of a complaint, grievance or request for assistance, and the final resolution, decision or action taken thereon: Providedhowever, that prior to such final action, no publicity shall be made of matters which may adversely affect national security or public interest, prejudice the safety of the witnesses or the disposition of the case, or unduly expose persons complained against to ridicule or public censure.

Paras said that Carandang's statements to media were “premature, arbitrary and imprudent.” Paras also said Carandang falsified documents.

On Monday night, Duterte claimed that Carandang obtained bank transaction records from an employee of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) who stole his bank details.

But where did Carandang get his records?

Carandang told Rappler on September 27 that the Office of the Ombudsman got copies of bank transaction records from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). He also said the transaction records “more or less” resembled the documents submitted by opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. The investigation stems from Trillanes’ plunder complaint against Duterte.

Statements

On September 28, the AMLC released a statement saying it has not provided the Office of the Ombudsman with “any report as a consequence of any investigation of subject accounts for any purpose.”

This was consistent with what Carandang also told Rappler: that the AMLC has to proceed with its own investigation and generate a report of its findings. Carandang said they have made a request for the AMLC's report on its investigation, which it has not yet submitted, thus confirming the AMLC’s statement. The Office of the Ombudsman itself is conducting its own investigation.

A day after, on September 29, Morales released a statement, part of which says: “As to the documents in our possession, we stand by our word.”

On October 2, Carandang released a statement through the Office of the Ombudsman’s media officer insisting that he “observed confidentiality.” In the same statement, Carandang said he “was reading through the documents shown to him by the media during the ambush interview.” Rappler was not in that "ambush interview".

Reporters covering the Office of the Ombudsman, through its media officer, sought to clarify whether they indeed have copies of Duterte's bank records from the AMLC. The Office has not responded as of this writing.

After Duterte repeated his allegations against the Ombudsman and his call for her to resign, Morales once again sent a statement to reporters on October 3. But it stayed silent on the issue of bank transaction records.

The Ombudsman said: "I will not be baited into abandoning my constitutional duties. If the President has charges against me, I am prepared to answer the charges against him in the same manner.”

In August, Trillanes said in a statement sent to reporters that "as early as April last year, the Office of the Ombudsman has received official AMLC documents showing flagged transactions in Duterte's various bank accounts."

Every official who submits his or her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) gives the Office of the Ombudsman authority to probe to some extent.

At the bottom of SALN forms, this provision is found: "I hereby authorize the Ombudsman or his/her duly authorized representative to obtain and secure from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue, such documents that may show my assets, liabilities, net worth, business interests and financial connections.” The AMLC is a government agency. 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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