WHEN IT comes to hailing to jail alleged crooks in the military and police, the Ombudsman practically accords star-rank officers a mere slap on the wrist.
Only 19 generals of the Armed Forces have actually been prosecuted for alleged corruption in the 22-year history of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Of the 19, one and only one, Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia, was convicted, after pleading guilty to a lesser offense of bribery, and after securing a plea-bargain agreement to evade prosecution for plunder.
Apart from the star-rank officers, however, a big majority or eight in every 10 respondents from the Armed Forces in the cases filed by the Ombudsman since 1988 have been men of lower rank, notably sergeants and lieutenants, and a spattering of colonels.
In the Philippine National Police (PNP), only 31 officials of star rank (chief superintendent to director-general) have been named as respondents in 118 counts of alleged graft, over the last 22 years.
Of the total, only one, a director, was convicted in one case. Nine were acquitted while cases against six others were dismissed. The rest of the cases were either withdrawn by the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) or are still pending in the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.
This dismal record in pursuing graft and corruption cases against star-rank officers is the shared story of the four officials who had served as Ombudsman of the republic: Conrado M. Vasquez, from May 1988 to September 1995; Aniano A. Desierto, October 1995 to September 2002; Simeon V. Marcelo, October 2002 to November 2005; and Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez, December 2005 to the present.
Gutierrez’s term of office will end in November 2012 yet.
Vasquez enrolled 613 respondents from the military in cases, mostly alleging malversation and estafa that involved a total amount of P2.18 billion.
Desierto named 2,028 respondents from the military in cases mostly involving malversation and violation of Section 3E of Republic Act. No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act). The cases involved a total amount of P3.22 billion.
The act that Section 3E of R.A. No. 3019 declares as unlawful is this: “Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. This provision shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.”
Marcelo listed 82 respondents from the military in cases involving mostly estafa and violation of the same provision of R.A. No. 3019, involving a total amount of P381.81 million.
Gutierrez accused 85 respondents from the military of violations also of Section 3E of R.A. No. 3019, involving a total amount of P371.55 million.
But when it came to the star-rank officers, the database of the Sandiganbayan shows that all four Ombudsmen had shown a weakness of case, or even perhaps weakness of will to prosecute.
Vasquez, Desierto, and Gutierrez scored zilch in terms of convictions secured against star-rank officers.
During his term, Vasquez filed 19 counts of graft against five generals. Two brigadier generals was acquitted in 14 counts, two other cases were archived, and three others withdrawn by the OSP.
Desierto filed suit against four generals. One was acquitted while the cases against the three others were all dismissed.
Gutierrez prosecuted 14 cases against five generals. One case against a brigadier general has been dismissed, while all the other cases remain pending before the Sandiganbayan.
Only Marcelo achieved a singular conviction of one major general. This is dwarfed, however, by the results of his other cases. Of the 19 cases he filed against five generals, one was acquitted in three cases, while 15 other cases remain pending before the Sandiganbayan.
The first pass on these mostly pending and failed cases goes to the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO). As of December 2009, MOLEO had 31 lawyers and 79 technical and administrative support staff, according to the Ombudsman’s annual report.
Three bureaus make up MOLEO: the Fact-Finding and Intelligence Bureau, which “verifies complaints and gathers evidence”; the Criminal Investigation, Prosecution and Administrative Adjudication Bureau, which “undertakes the preliminary investigation and administrative adjudication of cases”; and the Public Assistance and Community Coordination Bureau, which “renders public assistance.”
The MOLEO’s poor record in going after crooks in uniform unfolded amid a steady rise in its own budget. In the last six years, the agency’s budget has grown from just P12.58 million in 2005 to P22.50 million in 2011.
Apart from MOLEO’s budget, the Office of the Ombudsman under Gutierrez has invariably secured P3 million in “intelligence funds” year on year from 2005, with 2008 as the sole exception. That year, the “intelligence funds” of the Office grew three-fold to P10 million, all monies entrusted to Gutierrez’s office.
MOLEO’s current head is Emilio Gonzalez III, who the late Police Captain Rolando Mendoza had accused of solicitation of bribery in connection with his case. Last September, Mendoza held hostage a busload of Hong Kong tourists, an incident that ended up with nine deaths, including the hostage-taker.
The Ombudsman, despite its powers to act motu propio on raw leads or anonymous tips, ignored Mendoza’s charges and did not subject Gonzalez to even an initial inquiry. It was only in the wake of a public outcry over the incident that Ombudsman Spokesperson Jose de Jesus said Gutierrez had ordered the Office’s Internal Affairs unit to investigate Gonzalez. Nothing has been heard from the Ombudsman since.— With additional reporting by Karol Ilagan, PCIJ, February 2011