Ombudsman Martires sabotages his own office

Teresa S. Abesamis-125

In his recent statements before Congress, Ombudsman Samuel Martires has sabotaged his own awesome powers and responsibilities as provided by Article XI of the Philippine Constitution. The Article provides for Accountability of public officials, and opens with the sentence “Public Office is a public trust.”

Further, Section 1 states: “Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

The most glaring reversal of policy that enforces accountability of specific public officials (the President, the Vice-President, heads of executive agencies and commissions), the mandated public access to SALNS (Statement of Assets and Liabilities) is to be rendered worthless if Ombudsman Martires’ ideas are allowed to take effect. The fact is, Ombudsman Martires would be violating the law, and therefore, he does not rightfully belong in that office since he would cause it to protect corrupt and abusive officials. Public access to the SALNs is crucial to the ration d’etre for the Office of the Ombudsman which is SALN custodian for most of the key government officers, elected or appointed.

Martires has even had the audacity to state that the responsibility of releasing one’s SALN lies with the official himself, not the Office of the Ombudsman, which is a mere custodian. How did he arrive at this conclusion? Perhaps he is just shirking a responsibility that calls for a strong backbone that can resist political pressure. There is actually no need to fear political pressure since the Ombudsman is provided with autonomy when it comes to managing the budget for his office, which is released automatically each year.

Martires has gone so far as to suggest that the Office of the Ombudsman should be abolished. That will call for an amendment to the Constitution which created his Office. As a former Supreme Court Justice appointed by President Duterte in 2018, Martires should know that. Perhaps it is he who should relinquish that Office.

Martires obviously has little appreciation for the ethical standards and values expected of public officials whose salaries and operating budgets are paid for by Filipino taxpayers. He incredibly says that it is not our business if public officials want to own fancy cars (e.g., BMWs) or wear expensive brand attire. What, is he serious? Or does he or some of his friends in government own these things? What is the intent of the provision in Section 1 of Article XI of our Constitution that public officials should lead modest lives? That public office is a public trust?

It is interesting to note controversial positions taken by Martires in previous posts as reported in a Rappler report by Pia Ranada.

As associate justice in the Supreme Court, Martires’ votes aligned with the interests of the administration. He voted in favor of martial law in Mindanao and the continued detention of Senator Leila de Lima. Martires also voted to uphold the plunder acquittal of former president and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

At the Sandiganbayan, Martires penned the anti-graft court’s verdict clearing the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the late Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Fabian Ver, and businessman Roberto Ongpin over the alleged Binondo Central Bank scam. Martires also penned the 2011 Sandiganbayan decision clearing then-mayor Rodrigo Duterte in a corruption charge involving a Davao City project.

As Ombudsman, Martires will also have to decide on ill-gotten wealth cases against Duterte’s son, former Davao City vice-mayor now Congressman Paolo Duterte. The Ombudsman will also decide whether the investigation into the Duterte family’s bank accounts would be reopened or not.

Is Martires expressing his own views, or is he trying to please the Administration, and therefore unable to preserve the independence of his Office necessary to make it effective?

There are too many reasons why Martires does not belong in the vital post of Ombudsman. He is clearly not fit for it; and he thinks it should be abolished anyway. It will be easier for him to resign than to amend the Constitution which it seems is what he is attempting to do.

It is sad to note that Samuel Martires’ name was one of six submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to the President as options upon the retirement of the remarkable Conchita Carpio Morales for the post of Ombudsman. Was he the best we could find? Are we really scraping the bottom of the barrel; or was the JBC also trying to second guess the President?

Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and Fellow of the Development Academy of the Philippines.

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