“They just lie there / And they die there”. Nat King Cole crooned that line, from the 1950 song “Mona Lisa”, into Grammy’s Hall of Fame. Here, that line describes cases crammed in a semi- paralyzed Ombudsman.
“Deeper than politics, and larger than individuals, are institutions,” cautions Philippine Human Development Report 2009.. “(They) structure human interactions, (specially where) “fundamental change is needed, but has not occurred.”
PHDR analyzes the Ombudsman (OMB) and other institutions, politics and their impact of human development. This biennial study has been published since 1990. United Nations Development Programme and New Zealand co-sponsor this latest edition.
The constitution patterns our OMB on Sweden’s ombudsman of 1809. Independent of the executive, this official defended rights of citizens. Scandinavian and other countries adopted this innovation.
How do we compare? Over a 12 year period, OMB took cognizance of 9,826 criminal cases. Almost 58 percent are unresolved, PHDR found. So are 61 percent of 9,033 administrative cases.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo scoffs at claims of OMB institutional rigor mortis . “From its dismal past record, (OMB’s ) conviction rate increased 500%,” she declared in her 2008 State of the Nation Address.
Credit Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo for that, says PHDR. From 2002 to 2006, Marcelo instituted reforms that “spilled over” After Marcelo’s resignation due to “ill health”, Ms. Arroyo named the chief presidential legal counsel — and First Gentleman’s schoolmate — as Ombudsman
Under Merceditas Gutierrez, conviction rates slumped “dramatically to 14.4 percent by first semester of 2008,” PHDR noted. Rates ( dipped ) to as low as 5 percent in March, then 3 percent in May. It was zero by June — when Ms Arroyo’s speechwriters were drafting her 2008 Sona.
Did the presidential wordsmiths know of OMB’s rapid erosion? If not, they should have been cashiered for incompetence. If they knew, then they stitched into Sona a lie. That, too, is a firing offense. Did the President know — and consent?
Three months after Ms Arroyo’s Sona, Sandiganbayan disposed of 349 cases. Only 25 resulted in convictions : a measly 7 percent. How will she report this shabby track record in next month’s Sona? Abangan.
Led by former Senate President Jovito Salonga, 31 civil society leaders, meanwhile, sought to impeach Ms Gutierrez. They cited high profile cases: from collusion in bids for World Bank road construction loans to the euro generals scandal.
Controversy over House Resolution 1109 on charter change froze action on this rap . But few have illusions. A Malacanang stamp-pad, the Lower House will junk this case. Ms Gutierrez then joins Luzviminda Tancangco of Comelec in a grey “honor roll”: Those who cases were never decided on merit.
“Let her be,” snapped the First Gentleman. “We were not classmates merely schoolmates,: he added. “But let her do her job.” And she did just that.
“Performance and trust were further undermined by OMB’s action – or inaction – on high profile cases,” PHDR notes. “These include the P2 billion purchase of automated counting machines by the Commission on Elections from Mega Pacific for the 2004 elections, the $2 million bribery case involving former Justice Secretary Hernani Perez, the P728 million fertilizer fund scam and the ($328 ) million NBN-ZTE broadband deal.”
“The slide in performance and credibility (stems) from the undoing by the incumbent Ombudsman of the very institutional reforms that previously strengthened the organization,” the report adds.
From 2002 to 2006, Marcelo beefed up the OMB’s miniscule staff of 37 to over 100. He cobbled links with civil society and interfaith groups while boosting agency funding. Above all, he set the example.
Public perception of OMB sincerity in curbing corruption climbed to +28 percent, in 2004, from the -5 percent, set by the distrusted Aniano Desierto in 2000. Marcelo resigned, claiming illness. Reports persisted that Malacanang leaned on OMB to favor friends.
Ms Gutierrez, in contrast, systematically stripped deputy ombudsmen for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, of cases involving governors and vice-governors. She re-centralized decisions in herself. About 36 percent of prosecutor’s jobs are vacant.
“Most unfortunate… is her dismantling of the Inter-Agency Graft Coordinating Council, PHDR notes. “OMB simply did not convene the council.” That shut out the Commission on Audit and Civil Service Commission. She also hang up on critical civil societies.
Public perception of OMB’s sincerity in battling corruption plummeted to +4 percent, Social Weather Stations found. This was a nosedive from the +28 percent Marcelo set.
Is OMB burnishing it’s tattered image? Recently, it offered to investigate burying of medicine in Pangasinan. Yet, this agency took two years to even read a World Bank report on collusion in bid rigging.
OMB and other constitutional offices play a critical role in maintaining the quality of governance. Such agencies need to be held to a higher standard.
“Are recent changes in OMB driven by partisanship? Or are merely basic managerial style differences, even technical incompetence? “Such a question ideally should not even arise”, PHDR says. But they do, and like the “Mona Lisa” song of 1950, they haunt us.