Gutierrez: I won’t resign

07/14/2010 - MANILA, Philippines—Make my day.

With 200 supporters cheering, a defiant Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez Monday declared that there was no basis for calls that she step aside in the face of President Benigno Aquino III’s drive against corruption as the linchpin of a program to eradicate poverty.

“Like many constitutional officials, the Ombudsman has a fixed term and can be removed only by impeachment,” Gutierrez said in a nationally televised press conference in her office.

“The Constitution enumerates the specific grounds for impeachment. Alleged closeness to the appointing authority is not one of them,” she said.

Saying she had no intention of resigning, Gutierrez stated that she was willing to talk with Mr. Aquino and outline to him her accomplishments.

Gutierrez was appointed in December 2005 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who faced a string of scandals that included the “Hello Garci” election fraud controversy, the scuttled $329-million NBN-ZTE deal, on top of the long-pending P728-million fertilizer scam.

Critics said investigations of these controversies had lagged because of Gutierrez’s close ties to Arroyo, who is now a representative of the second district of Pampanga. The former President’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, was a Gutierrez classmate in law school.

Only after truth

Asked for comment, Mr. Aquino said at a press conference at Camp Aguinaldo: “I’m not prepared to answer with regard to Ombudsman Gutierrez ... Ang hinahabol po namin ang hindi pagsisinungaling. Ako po, hirap ako talaga mag-lie kung hindi kayang sabihing makakasakit ng damdamin, kadalasan hindi ko na lang sasabihin (We’re only after the truth. I have difficulty lying. If truth will hurt, I would rather remain silent).

Last week, Gutierrez said her office had recommended charges of graft be filed against those involved in the fertilizer scam. Her detractors said plunder raps should have been filed.

Also last week, the Akbayan party-list group said it would launch fresh attempts to impeach Gutierrez once Congress opens at the end of the month.

Impeachment proceedings were initiated against Gutierrez in March last year, but it was killed six months later by Arroyo’s allies in Congress.

Gutierrez, whose term ends in 2012, noted that she had inhibited herself from controversial cases like the NBN-ZTE deal and the fertilizer fund scam while maintaining that she and her office were “independent.”

Stop prejudging actions

Gutierrez said that the Ombudsman would fully cooperate with a truth commission that Mr. Aquino said he would create to investigate anomalies in the Arroyo administration.

Heading the commission is former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., who was once appointed by Arroyo as UN ambassador.

“I hope that some quarters stop prejudging the future actions of former Chief Justice Hilario Davide… in the same way that this early they are prejudging my actions on the findings of the truth commission—just because I was appointed by the former President,” Gutierrez said.

She said that criticisms against her had been affecting her official and personal family. “I am only human. I am affected, but not to the extent that I will give in to any pressure.”

Gutierrez also said she was never involved in any anomaly, adding, “I just don’t know about my detractors.” Her statement was wildly applauded by her supporters.

She said that her job entailed adhering to the rule of law and the evidence on hand. “I only mean well. I would just like to make a difference… I come to work early and I leave late at night.”

Gutierrez reiterated that despite her perceived closeness to the Arroyos, the Judicial and Bar Council had unanimously voted for her for the post before her name ended up in a short-list submitted to Arroyo.

Ombudsman’s record

Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus said the office planned to send out orders to some 700 officials and former officials involved in the fertilizer fund to submit counteraffidavits. He said this would be the start of the case’s preliminary investigation.

A Sandiganbayan report released last week said that in the first four months of the year, the Office of the Ombudsman lost most of the cases it had filed in the anti-graft court.

Of the 98 cases resolved this year, 78 individuals were either acquitted or saw their cases dismissed. The Sandiganbayan said that between January and April, it resolved 62 cases involving 98 respondents. Only eight persons were convicted.

The same report showed that 56 people were acquitted, while 22 people had their cases dismissed even before trial could start. (Inquirer)

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