January 28, 2009
MIRIAM: OMBUDSMAN SAT ON WORLD BANK REPORT
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez may have culpably violated the Constitution in delaying investigation of public works officials who facilitated the alleged rigged bidding of World Bank-funded road projects.
Santiago quoted the Constitution: "The Ombudsman shall act promptly on complaints filed, and shall notify the complainants of the action taken and the result."
This developed as finance secretary Margarito Teves passed the blame for the delay to the Ombudsman.
In his letter to Santiago dated 27 January, Teves said: "After we received the strictly confidential referral report of the World Bank on 16 November 2007, considering the urgency of the matter, we immediately forwarded the said report to the Office of the Ombudsman on the next working day, 19 November 2007. We believed that the Ombudsman has legal jurisdiction over the investigation and the necessary resources to conduct a thorough inquiry."
Santiago said that the Constitution further requires the Ombudsman "to expedite any act required by law, or to stop, prevent, and correct any abuses or impropriety in the performance of duties."
"The Ombudsman cannot claim that she had to build a case for over a year, because the Constitution gives her the power to request any government agency such as the NBI, for assistance and to examine pertinent records and documents," Santiago said.
Santiago said that under the Ombudsman's own Rules of Procedure which adopts the Rules of Court, the period for preliminary investigation should only take some 45 days.
In her excuse slip submitted to Santiago before the hearing last Tuesday, Gutierrez cited an internal rule in the Office of the Ombudsman which prohibits disclosure of facts before preliminary investigation is completed.
"The issue is why it took so long for the Ombudsman to act. There is no issue about its internal rules," Santiago said.
Gutierrez reportedly announced that she will release the results of her investigation by February.
Santiago said that although the Constitution provides that the Ombudsman shall be independent, the Constitution merely means that the Ombudsman is independent of the executive branch.
"Nowhere in the Constitution is there a provision granting the Ombudsman immunity from Senate invitations or subpoena. On the contrary, the Constitution expressly gives to the Senate the power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation," she said.
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