Impeaching the Ombudsman: a lonely battle, no more

Impeaching the Ombudsman: a lonely battle, no more

(Published at the Dec. 15-21, 2001 issue of The Junction Regional Newspaper)

 

Do you still remember the Impeachment Complaint against Ombudsman Aniano Desierto? The complaint filed by Atty. Ernesto ‘Jun’ Francisco?

 

The issue did not gain much publicity so that some people might not even know that it exists. Some also do not care much about it. They do not know its implications and how would it affect this country. It is not high sounding to say the least, which just shows that many Filipinos are still mum and silent about graft and corruption.

 

Many still do not understand the role of the Ombudsman. Many do not understand that if the Ombudsman fumbles up, its effect to the entire future of this country will be tremendous. Not unless one has once dealt with the Office of the Ombudsman, that one can understand this.

 

At this point, many are still hoping that the Office of the Ombudsman will save them from the evils of graft and corruption. Many still believe that they can run to the Office of the Ombudsman if they have complaints against an erring government official. But those who tried that route (most) only ended up frustrated and disappointed.

 

A classic example is how the plunder case against the former President is being handled by the Ombudsman. We know that the public prosecutors (Office of the Ombudsman) are not doing a good job. As a matter of fact, we might end up losing the case because of the fumbles up of the office that is constitutionally mandated to handle the case, the Office of the Ombudsman.

 

A few weeks back, we have published the whole content of the Impeachment Complaint, with the objective of making our readers study and evaluate for themselves whether it has some bearing.

 

Slowly, the complaint is gaining support. First it was endorsed by Misamis Oriental Representative Oscar Moreno. 6 other representatives joined in endorsing the complaint. And then just last Thursday, the Committee on Justice voted for its sufficiency in form. Next week, the august body will determine whether it is sufficient in substance. Still a long way to go for Atty. Francisco.

 

They say that the complaint is Atty. Francisco’s lonely battle. We say lonely battle no more. Some civil society groups such as Akbayan, have already thrown in their support to Atty. Francisco. Many others are silently supporting and praying for him, and the cause his fighting for. Rep. Moreno, however, is disappointed that a very important issue such as this one, is not widely supported by the media. Is it because Atty. Francisco spilled the beans on some of them?

 

In the effort of making our readers fully appreciate the essence of the complainant better, we are printing below the speech he delivered during the Akbayan organized forum last December 11. Transcript of the controversial 3 minute audio-tape is also printed.

 

We pray that the members of the committee on Justice will have the wisdom on their Dec. 18 meeting

 

Personal/Professional History

I am a graduate of the Ateneo Law School Batch 1989. I joined the ACCRA Law Offices right after passing the Bar in 1990. I was separated from ACCRA in 1998.

 

I do not pretend to be clean. The kind of law practice I had at ACCRA was, to put in bluntly, outright dirty. I was an active participant in bribing judges, prosecutors and hearing officers. I had hurt a lot of people when I frustrated the wheels of justice by engaging in acts of bribery. I used to describe my law practice then as “pera-pera” lang. I was representing moneyed clients against moneyed opponents. I used to console myself that bribing judges was an open secret in the legal profession and that many other

lawyers, older and more senior than me, were doing the same thing.

 

However, early on, the Lord took mercy on me and intervened. With some stroke, he pulled me out of that kind of law practice. In May 1998, I got involved in a taxpayer’s suit on behalf of motorists using the coastal Road and protesting the exorbitant toll fees which eventually led tom my separation from the ACCRA Law Offices. All of a sudden, after eight (8) long years with ACCRA, I was on the other side of the fence. I realized my mistakes, I repented I corrected and re-oriented my law practice, and start a new and better life.

 

The Petron Scam

It was during my stint at ACCRA that I had the personal experience of seeing Ombudsman asked and received bribes from a client. I was an active participant in the acts of bribery involving Ombudsman Aniano Desierto. I must say that while I got used to bribing judges and prosecutors at that time, I was still surprised that it was too easy to bribe the Ombudsman. Prior to this experience, I must admit that I look up the Office of the Ombudsman with apprehension considering that it was supposed to be the watchdog against graft and corruption while lawyers like myself had our hands full bribing judges and other corrupt officials.

 

Why go after the Ombudsman

After the Economic Summit, many news commentators were one saying that the summit ended up with the conclusion that “ang puno’t dulo ng problema ng bansa ay ang labis na katiwalaan sa pamahalaan.” Indeed, if we come to think of it, all of the problems confronting our nation now are practically rooted in corruption-ranging from the most petty like a traffic policeman mulcting a jeepney driver to the plunder of the nation.

 

However, the stark reality is that while we have taken the habit of constantly talking about corruption, we have not really seriously and consistently addressed this problem. We have been reduced to paying lip service to the so called fight against graft and corruption. While a year ago we succeeded in impeaching and eventually deposing a corrupt President, we seem to have stopped there. We have allowed his co-principals and accomplices to get away and even enjoy their loot. We have even elected one of them to congress. We are once again surrounded by the same corrupt leaders and their cronies, only this time, they sport different names and have different faces.

 

Our leaders are committing graft and corruption with impunity because they know they can get away with it. Why? It is another open secret in our society that the official tasked by our constitutional watchdog against graft and corruption, their common retort is “why not file a case with the Ombudsman?” Indeed, you will be shocked  by the amount of information I have received about corruption at the Ombudsman since I filed the impeachment complaint.

 

Finally, our going after the Ombudsman now should serve as lessons to all government officials that crime does not pay because sooner or latter, someone might just tell!

 

Why only now?

The decision I had to make is certainly not that easy one. It is probably the last thing that any lawyer would do - openly and publicly admit that he participated in an act of bribery. It could mean the loss of one’s license to practice law, loss of livelihood and possible criminal liability. It is also a  very dangerous thing to do considering the personalities involved, their stakes, and what they are capable of doing to their detractors. Even assuming that I do not lose my license to practice law, it may also mean the end of my legal practice because by telling on a client, I am practically serving notice on my present clients and prospective clients  that they cannot trust me with their darkest secrets. To do what I have just done, I had to reach that point where I am prepared to give up everything. I had to reach that stage where I was able to go beyond my personal needs and convenience and look at the bigger picture.

 

What also helped me a lot to reach this decision was my frustration and disgust in the handling of the plunder cases by the Ombudsman. I was one of those who filed plunder and graft cases against the former President and his cronies. Out of the nine (9) plunder case filed against the former president and his cronies, I filed two (2) plunder cases on my own and was the counsel in another. Three (3) cases out of nine (9). However, after EDSA dos, I was appalled by the reality that a corrupt Ombudsman ended up investigating and prosecuting the plunder and graft cases against Erap Estrada and his cronies. This is precisely the reason why I did not join the private prosecutors despite the opportunity to do so. Early on, judging from my own personal experience, I could not help but convinced that with Ombudsman Desierto and Deputy Ombudsman Margarito Gervacio, the proceeding would be a “moro-moro” and that money would likely change hands.

 

The subsequent deliberate failure of Ombudsman Desierto to conduct fact-finding, the repeated bungling, the failure to prosecute presidential cronies, all the more confirmed my belief.

 

Why not allow Ombudsman Desierto to just retire?

It will indeed be the height of hypocrisy to allow Ombudsman Desierto to get away. In this instance, we will once again be affirming another open secret in our society, that crime does pay. Worse, Ombudsman Desierto might even end up in the Supreme Court or as one of the high elective officials of the land. Because if the charges of bribery against him are true, one can just imagine what he is capable of doing in the future. We should also look at this impeachment complaint as an opportunity to continue the cleansing process that was started with the impeachment of the former President but which has gone wrong.

 

How will this affect the plunder case?

This impeachment complaint will only affect the plunder cases now pending in the Sandigan Bayan if we continue to allow ourselves to be held hostage by Ombudsman Desierto’s pretense that he is the one prosecuting the plunder case.

 

Of utmost importance is the fact that if the charges of bribery against Ombudsman Desierto are proven to be true, this may explain the fact why he has bungled the prosecution of the plunder case now pending before the Sandigan Bayan. I must point out that the so-called mistakes committed by the Ombudsman Desierto could not have been plain mistakes. Even a law student with obviously no experience about trial practice will tell you that in the ordinary course of things, those mistakes should not have taken place.

 

Who will take over in case Ombudsman Desierto is impeached?

If Deputy Ombudsman Gervacio is now dreaming that he can take over assuming Ombudsman Desierto is impeached, he can dream on. With the help of other lawyers, I will take the necessary legal action to make sure that he cannot do so. But that is another story.

 

The following is a transcript of a three (3) minute excerpts of the 26 October 2001 meeting of Atty. Jun Francisco, Luke Roxas  and 5 others, which clearly that both Ombudsman Desierto and Mr. lied to their teeth when they denied bribery charges. Atty. Francisco furnished the media with the copy of the tape which incurred the ire of Isabela Representative Antonio Abaya, who demanded to know whether Atty. Francisco wanted a fair trial, or wanted to resort to ‘trail by publicity’. Whatever it is, the people have the right to know what has transpired, and that the tape should not be kept from them.

 

ATTY FRANCISCO: I talked to Desierto in the process of patching it up. The first thing that he told me was he asked me about you.

MR. ROXAS: Ah, Desierto? He still remembers me?

ATTY FRANCISCO: Of course.

MR. ROXAS: (laughs aloud)

ATTY. MARASIGAN: You are very famous or infamous (laughs aloud)

MR. ROXAS: What is the meaning of…famous, I know. What is infamous?

ATTY. MARASIGAN: Opposite (everybody laughs aloud)

ATTY FRANCISCO: Not only that. So he asked me about you.

MR. ROXAS: Oh…

ATTY FRANCISCO: Sabi niya…

MR. ROXAS: Oh, what happened to your friend? Is he dying already or is he alive?

ATTY FRANCISCO: Well I told him that you are under rehabilitation but you seem to be doing well.

MR. ROXAS: Thank you, thank you. Thank you for the nice statement.

ATTY FRANCISCO: Now, but, ah… the problem is that he said that he might, he wants to pay a social call on you.

MR.ROXAS: Social call… what is the meaning of social call on you?

ATTY FRANCISCO: To visit you. To see you.

ATTY. AVERILLA: Pwede…

MR. ROXAS: O, what do you think I do now?

ATTY FRANCISCO: Then…

MR.ROXAS: Malaki ba ang gastos for a social call? (Everybody laughs)

ATTY FRANCISCO: And then the following day, the following day…

MR. ROXAS: That’s recently or long time ago?

ATTY FRANCISCO: Ah… that was about three months ago.

MR. ROXAS: Ah… he can remember me, ha? He wants to pay me even a social call.

ATTY FRANCISCO: Hmmm…

MR. ROXAS: So very nice. Oh, what are we going to do about it?

ATTY FRANCISCO: Then the following day, remember this Ding Timbol?

MR. ROXAS: Hmmm… so what happened?

ATTY FRANCISCO: This man, this man, you remember we were at Philippine Plaza Hotel?

MR. ROXAS: Ah…I…I…Oh…what happened?

ATTY FRANCISCO: Okay, okay… we were at the Philippine Plaza Hotel, the three of us, and somebody went in? There were two of them? Ding Timbol was the broker. You remember him? He was the one who… who…who asked for this Betacam parts?

MR. ROXAS: Betacam?

ATTY FRANCISCO: Yeah, we… gave the Betacam parts.

MR. ROXAS: beta…

ATTY. MARASIGAN: Beta camera.

ATTY FRANCISCO: The one that we bought…

MR. ROXAS: Ah, oo, oo, parang… as a gift.

ATTY FRANCISCO: As a gift

MR. ROXAS: Tama. Tama. Tama yata. Yeah I remember that.

ATTY FRANCISCO: P250,000.00 worth

MR. ROXAS: Expensive…

ATTY FRANCISCO: Expensive…

Xxxx xxxx

MR. ROXAS:  You know, I booked…booked… ano…(inaudible) I booked a room.

ATTY FRANCISCO: I was the one who booked the room.

MR. ROXAS: Ah, you booked that room… oo, oo, and then, you know, what happened? If I remember it right, you know, even the room was so expensive, you know why? I think he, Desierto even insisted, no?… Even insisted that it should be a room, no? at EDSA Plaza, Shangri-la EDSA Plaza, and then he said, and, all of a sudden, he will call you, and then you will call me, “Oh, Luke, saan?” Parang secretive yun no? And then we booked a room, You know what happened?  I even rushed to the hotel and the hotel said, “fully booked”! And you know what happened? We ended up in the Presidential Suite! Whaaa!!! So expensive for a meeting. But no choice.

ATTY FRANCISCO: So that might be a second meeting…

MR. ROXAS: Ah, I cannot remember na…

ATTY FRANCISCO: Because the first meeting, ah, we  were still toying, no? Whether to give P1,000,000.00 or P500,00.

MR. ROXAS: Parang 400 di ba? Ah I forgot na.

ATTY. FRANCISCO: No, 500.

MR. ROXAS: We made tawad yata…