How to catch a thief, the Ombudsman way

MANILA, Philippines – With 4 more years to go as Ombudsman, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales is planning a legislative offensive for the passage of additional anti-graft and corruption measures.

The Ombudsman is scouting for "champions" in the House of Representatives and the Senate to sponsor its proposed measures.

Carpio-Morales is also seeking public and stakeholder support for the proposed laws, anticipating a fair amount of opposition to some of its proposals to grant additional powers to the Ombudsman. A multi-sector forum is slated this month for this purpose.

With only less than two years before the 2016 presidential elections, the Ombudsman knows it has limited time to push for its legislative agenda.

The following are 3 of the major legislative agenda being pushed by the Ombudsman:

1) An Act Strengthening the Institutional Capacity of the Office of the Ombudman 

The major provisions include:

a) Use of wiretapping as an investigative technique when the circumstances of the case so warrants. Wiretapping may only be used when there is grant of judicial authority.

b) Exercise exclusive jurisdiction over cases before the Sandiganbayan and take over, at any stage, from any investigatory agency the investigation of such cases, if in its determination, public interest will be served.

c) Power to compel and secure the compulsory attendance of any witness or production of any evidence

d) Access to bank and non-bank records even prior to the filing of cases

e) Power to inspect, enter or visit, or if circumstances require, break into, any government office or public premises in the course of a lawful investigation and seize any object or article which may be related to the case.

f) Stronger contempt power 

g) Power to deputize private lawyers to act as investigators or prosecutors 

h) Create and administer its own witness protection and whistleblowing programs

i) Immunity of investigators and prosecutors from criminal, administrative and civil suits arising from the regular exercise of their duties 

2) An Act Strengthening the Forfeiture Powers of the State

The major provisions include:

a) More refined definition of illegally-acquired properties to include properties unlawfully acquired but ownership concealed through layering

b) Transferring to the Ombudsman, from the Office of the Solicitor-General, the power to conduct fact-finding investigation to determine if there is prima facie evidence that a property has been unlawfully acquired. Prima facie evidence exists when the public official or employee has acquired properties manifestly out of proportion to his salary, has failed to file Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth upon assuming office.

c) Authority to sell properties pending forfeiture proceeding in case where there is danger of depreciation to the property.

d)  Ombudsman’s share in the forfeited assets at 35% of the value of the property, to be earmarked as additional funding to the agency

3) An Act to Strengthen the Ombudsman, Upgrade Employee Skills and Augment Compensation and Benefits and Enhance Fiscal Autonomy

The major provisions include:

a) Aligning the salaries, allowances, and retirement benefits of prosecutors and investigators with those enjoyed by members in the judiciary.

b) Improved retirement pension

c) Additional benefits like health care services, accident insurance policies, scholarships for employees to enhance their knowledge and skills

d) Provident Fund 

e) Special Allowances in the exercise of their duties – Rappler.com

 

Wooden gavel image via Shutterstock