November 24, 2005 · Posted in: In the News

Arroyo to name new Ombudsman

THE President is set to name the new Ombudsman who will replace Simeon Marcelo, the anti-graft czar who will leave his post on November 30.

The Judicial and Bar Council submitted to President Gloria Arroyo its short list of nominees on November 21, after conducting confidential deliberations on the nominations of fourteen individuals.

It is widely speculated that the position will be given to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Merceditas Navarro-Gutierrez, whose nomination has reportedly been endorsed by the President.

Gutierrez has denied having ever been endorsed by Arroyo, saying she merely sought the president’s permission to vie for the post, like any employee would.

There are, however, persistent reports that the president had indeed expressed her preference for her chief counsel to replace the widely respected Marcelo.

Kilosbayan, an anti-corruption group headed by former Senate president Jovito Salonga, said in its November publication’s editorial that Palace sources had "authoritatively" informed them that the president had endorsed Gutierrez for the position.

A day after the end of JBC’s deliberations, news accounts said the Council had unanimously voted for Gutierrez as its top bet. Asked by the PCIJ to comment, the JBC secretariat neither confirmed nor denied such reports and only said that the Council has submitted to the President its list of "three or more names."

Gutierrez is perceived to be close to presidential spouse Mike Arroyo, her classmate at the Ateneo Law School.

When asked if, as Ombudsman, she would prosecute even the President and her family should they face a graft case, Gutierrez told the JBC, "We will apply the law to everyone without exception." She also made a promise to speed up the process of resolving cases.

Gutierrez is a career justice official, having logged over 20 years of service at the Department of Justice, most recently as Acting Secretary from December 2003 to August 2004. She obtained a postgraduate diploma in International Law and Development from the Institute of Social Studies, the Hague, Netherlands.

She was appointed chief presidential legal counsel on September 1, 2004.

The next Ombudsman will be the fourth to hold the position since the Office was created in 1987 to serve as watchdog of government officials and employees. Past Ombudsmen, preceding Marcelo, are Conrado Vasquez and Aniano Desierto.

The JBC interviewed the nominees between November 16 and 18. Lasting from as little as half an hour to two hours, the interviews dwelled on each of the candidates’ views on issues such as the need for reforms in the Office of the Ombudsman and how the conviction rate can be improved, as well as changing the largely negative public perception of the Office. More senior candidates were also asked about their health.

Anti-graft groups like Kilosbayan and the Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN) have been closely monitoring the JBC deliberations, emphasizing the need for an independent Ombudsman.

"If we end up with an Ombudsman that is less independent, of lesser integrity, and of lesser competence than the outgoing Ombudsman, then we only have ourselves to blame," TAN said in a statement. The group also observed the lack of accountability of the JBC, as its creation of a short list of nominees is closed to public scrutiny. "Shouldn’t the JBC be made to explain how each and every candidate made it to the short list?"  

The JBC is supervised by the Supreme Court and is composed of Chief Justice Hilarion Davide Jr., Justice sercretary Raul Gonzalez, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Rep. Simeon Datumanong, Integrated Bar of the Philippines representative J. Conrado Castro, retired Justice Regino Hermosisima, Dean Amado Dimayuga and retired Justice Raoul Victorino.

View brief profiles of the thirteen other nominees, as submitted to the JBC:

1. Crispin B. Bravo, Manila Municipal Trial Court judge
2. Douglas R. Cagas, Davao del Sur representative (also click here for information posted in PCIJ’s i-site)
3. Arturo M. de Castro, Lawyer and professor
4. Gualberto D. dela Llana, Consultant to House Speaker and Senate President
5. Victor C. Fernandez, Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon
6. Remedios S. Fernando, Court of Appeals Associate Justice (also click here for information posted in i-site)
7. Nicodemo P. Ferrer, former Sandiganbayan Associate Justice
8. Margarito P. Gervacio Jr., Overall Deputy Ombudsman
9. Christopher O. Lock, Supreme Court Deputy Court Administrator
10. Diosdado M. Peralta, Sandiganbayan Associate Justice (also click here for information posted in i-site)
11. Arno V. Sanidad, Human rights lawyer
12. Dennis M. Villa-Ignacio, Special Prosecutor, Office of the Ombudsman
13. Florencio O. Villarin, former National Bureau of Investigation Regional Director for Central Visayas

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