In the course of the testimony of hostile witness Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the senator-judges raised their concerns over what seemed to be excessive powers of the Ombudsman, should one take the entirety of her statements as the truth. If everything Morales said is true, then she can just snoop on other government officials’ vital information without a proper court order and consent from concerned parties, the only justification of which, according to Morales herself in response to senator-judge Miriam Santiago, is the nature of the complaint.
The senator then asked:
“Are you of the opinion that should somebody file a complaint against any senator or member of the House, you can go straight to AMLC, and ask for records without going to the court or without waiting for probable cause to be found by the counsel itself?”
The Ombudsman responded by saying that it would “depend on the complaint.”
In layman’s terms, the Ombudsman can do pretty much what she wants, as far as her argument is concerned. Thankfully, defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno raised an interesting point:
Corona’s defense team said the AMLC should have first obtained a court order to look into Corona’s accounts.
Defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno said the only exceptions to this are kidnapping, hijacking, illegal drugs, not impeachment or graft and corruption.
“In this case there should have been a court order,” Jimeno said. “The question here deals with the due process of the accused.”
This is corroborated by the following provisions in the Anti-Money Laundering Act:
“SEC. 11. Authority to Inquire into Bank Deposits. — Notwithstanding the provisions of Republic Act No. 1405, as amended, Republic Act No. 6426, as amended, Republic Act No. 8791, and other laws, the AMLC may inquire into or examine any particular deposit or investment with any banking institution or non-bank financial institution upon order of any competent court in cases of violation of this Act, when it has been established that there is probable cause that the deposits or investments are related to an unlawful activity as defined in Section 3(i) hereof or a money laundering offense under Section 4 hereof; except that no court order shall be required in cases involving unlawful activities defined in Sections 3(i)(1), (2) and (12). (emphasis mine)
SEC. 3. Section 3(i) of the same Act is further amended to read as follows:
“(i) ‘Unlawful activity’ refers to any act or omission or series or combination thereof involving or having direct relation to the following:
“(1) Kidnapping for ransom under Article 267 of Act No. 3815, otherwise known as the Revised Penal Code, as amended;
“(2) Sections 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 of Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002;
“(12) Hijacking and other violations under Republic Act No. 6235; destructive arson and murder, as defined under the Revised Penal Code, as amended, including those perpetrated by terrorists against non-combatant persons and similar targets;
Needless to say, it seems the Ombudsman is having unfair power over the rest of the government, which, to a rational person, should be an immediate concern. The prospect of a political entity head and shoulders above the rest in terms of power is an alarming prospect, especially to one’s freedom and privacy.
However, some people are perfectly okay with the idea. A Facebook comment about the issue of the Ombudsman’s powers said the following:
I not surprised that these bunch of senators are quite afraid of what an ombudsman can do….IT MUST SUPPOSE TO BE LIKE THAT, YES THEY MUST BE POWERFUL THAN ANYBODY ELSE! SINCE THEY ARE NOT WITH IN THE POWER OF THE PRESIDENT! THEY ARE INDEPENDENT CONSTITUTIONAL BODY… SO why be afraid if you are not hiding something? people can and will always fear of the truth if they live in LIES……..and CORRUPTION…….atleast we have a strong willed OMBUDSMAN who tried to find the TRUTH!
Another comment, from the Philippine Daily Inquirer website, had this to say:
What is there to be afraid of from the Ombudsman by government officials if they are clean? Why should the Ombudsman secure a prior court approval to investigate? What the Ombudsman is doing is just gathering evidence and to file the necessary charges if warranted based on a complaint filed. The affected government official will have an opportunity to defend himself of the charges when he is tried in court. The AMLC and Ombudsman Act should not be changed but strengthened instead.
Many other people in the Internet lauded the efforts of the Ombudsman to expose the alleged crimes of the embattled respondent, Chief Justice Renato Corona (which I will not disclose here, for the sake of brevity), and continued on making fun of the defense panel and the respondent. However, it seems there’s something crucial they consistently fail to overlook.
The problem with these people is that they’re barking up the wrong tree. Of course there’s the possibility that the senators are afraid because of something fishy they hide, but there is also a reason to worry from a perfectly logical and legally innocent perspective; after all, everything, and everyone, is corruptible.
The notion of “separation of powers” exists for an important reason. The separation of powers ensures that no one in the government can take advantage of anyone at all times. This is why the three major branches of the government exists; executive, legislative and judicial. They exist with relatively equal powers so that fairness can be achieved in every interaction; no one gains the upper hand.
The Ombudsman is no exception to this principle. The Constitution grants the Ombudsman powers, but not to the point that the Ombudsman is the most powerful entity in the country. If this happens, what stops him/her from being corrupted?
It is probable that supporters of the Ombudsman Morales support her not on a legal basis, but because she is against the respondent whom they so hate. What if the one they hate is the Ombudsman, and the Chief Justice is the one against the Ombudsman? Perhaps the story would be quite different, wouldn’t you say?
We Filipinos should be really careful with what we wish for when granting someone power. We must recognize if such power is stable or easily exploitable. Finally, we must always remember that fairness exists in the equality of the government’s branches. The title says it all; separation of powers: it really matters.