Separation of Powers: it really matters

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.”

(Source: Link)

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.”

(Source: Link)

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;

(Source: Link)

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.


About Arche

I'm just throwing ideas around. I also love coffee.

Post Author: Arche

I'm just throwing ideas around. I also love coffee.

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47 Comments on "Separation of Powers: it really matters"

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nelson ongpauco

ang masasabi ko lang kungwala kang ginawang kurakot ay wala kang daapat ikatakot .dapat miriam ang sumunod na imbistigahan ng ombusman dahil penoprotektahan si arroyo at corona pati si morales ay binabastos niya… dahil walang magawang depensa si cuevas …isunod narin ang mga judge na pumirma sa HL para malaman nila ang binangga nila..

Daido Katsumi
Flawed logic you got there. What if Ombudsman Morales is also corrupt? The problem lies in the SYSTEM, not one person or more people. You’re contradicting yourself here. The prosecution who have cast the first stone due to their antics, incompetence, childish whining and even presented evidence were based from half-truths and hearsays. Dream on, trollfag. Miriam would never be tried since she won’t tolerate any kind of trial by publicity/trial by media shenanigans. You can never burn a house just to catch mice. Did your mama teach you that? In fact, it was all about HL and that is… Read more »

Something must be done to reign in the Ombudsman. If left unchallenged, the current interpretation of Carpio-Morales can set a dangerous precedent. The Ombudsman becomes both a prosecutor and a judge with no clear check and balance in place!

Hyden Toro

The Office of the Ombudsman, is now being used by Noynoy Aquino and the Cojuangcos to protect their Hacienda Luisita. It is being used to conduct Political Inquisition on Noynoy Aquino’s political enemies. The power cuts both ways…it can be used for good. If you have a good Ombudsman Judge. Or, it can be used for evil. If you have an Ombudsman Judge, beholden to those, who are in power…

selective dishonesty… 🙂 jimeno was giving you RA 9160 without the amendment of RA 9194. RA 9194 amended Sec. 11, the authority of AMLA(C)to inquire into bank deposits. Here is the amended section: “Authority to Inquire Into Bank Deposits – Notwithstanding the provisions of Republic Act No. 1405, as amended; Repubic Act No. 6426, as amended; Republic act 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… Read more »
Michael Yap

“This reporting mechanism does not need a “prior court order” and the amendment speaks clearly that this is one instance where a court order is not needed” – sinabi po dun reporting not disclosure po sa senado, and such information should not be disclosed in public because the chief justice is still under the ongoing impeachment trial, it could affect public perception and nullify due process of law…


Mr. Nelson ongpauco. Kunwari ako ang ombudsman at ikaw ang isa sa pinakamayayaman na pilipino. Sabihin ko na corrupt ka? Payag ka? Kasi ako ang makapangyarihan at wala ka magagawa

nelson ongpauco

kung ako ay mayaman hindi kona kailangan pang magnakaws sa pera ng bayan kung iimbistagahan ako at wala akong kasalanan ay haharapin ko ang ombudsman dahil ang makasalanan lang ang nagtatago sa palda ng asawa gaya ni corona …dapat harapin niya ang korte para malaman na ang tutuo..gaya ng sina sabi niya na hindi raw niya tinutukan ng baril si mang indo pero nakuha ni raissa robles ang kopya ng affidabvit ni mang indo kung gusto ninyo ang ebidensya tinan niyo sa blog ni raissa robles naandoon lahat pati ang bahay ng anak ni corona ….


Pareng nelson,di mo naman sinagot tanung ko eh. paanu nga kung sabihin ko na corrupt ka at kelangan mo makuklong? Kunwari ako pa din ang ombudsman. Payag ka?


Carpio Morales’ justification just made it easier for the corrupt politicians to avoid local banks and other financial institutions altogether; better for them to stash the money elsewhere where it can still be laundered, mafia-style, and where it will be more difficult to detect.

She thinks she has the power to just crash into people’s money, but her actions fail to take into consideration that corrupt people are also smart people. Whatever her justifications, they only hurt innocent people.


Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.


What recourse exists if the Ombudsman oversteps his/her authority?