Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Update on Akbayan's Ombudsman Complaint against Abalos

Complaint was filed on 9 October 2007, with Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, representing Akbayan as the principal complainant. Benjamin Abalos was named sole respondent. Complaint cited violation of various graft laws including RA 3019, RA 6713, and Articles 211 and 212 of the Revised Penal Code. A copy of the Complaint and its attachments can be downloaded from http://www.akbayan.org/

Ombudsman took no action on the Complaint for over four months, in clear violation of Rule 112, section 3 of the Rules of Court, which requires that within ten days from filing, it should either dismiss the case or require the respondent to file a counter-affidavit.

Last week, the Ombudsman announced in the media that it would be holding a public hearing today, 18 February 2008, on the various complaints filed in relation to the ZTE-NBN scandal. Despite not having received any formal notice of hearing from the Ombudsman, Akbayan decided to attend and raise issues regarding the conduct of the Ombudsman investigation such as – the prior call on Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to inhibit herself from the investigation in view of her self-admitted closeness to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, the reason for the delay in Ombudsman action which clearly violated its own rules of procedure, and the timing of the public hearing.

At today’s hearing, Ombudsman Gutierrez immediately announced that she was voluntarily inhibiting herself from the case, preempting any objections that we would have raised against her participation. The hearing was then conducted by a panel of senior Ombudsman investigators.

During the hearing itself, we raised questions regarding the delay of four months, but instead of being a clear answer, were given vague references to a supposed investigation the Ombudsman had been conducting. No explanation whatsoever was offered to explain why it violated its own rules of procedure. When asked if they would release the results of the alleged investigation, the panel replied in the negative, saying that these were “confidential.”

Questions from other complainants likewise revealed that despite the four month “investigation,” the Ombudsman had not even succeeded in securing basic documents such as the official transcript of the ZTE hearings in the Senate.

For all the fanfare surrounding today’s hearing, all that was really done was for the complainants, including Risa, to “reaffirm” their complaints under oath and for copies to be served (finally) on the respondents. From all indications, it appears to have been a “show” hearing intended principally to show the public that the Ombudsman is in fact doing something to address the ZTE issue.

Some observers have opined that the Ombudsman hearings are actually intended to be used as a justification for discontinuing the Senate inquiry, or at the very least, as a legal excuse for government officials to avoid giving testimony before the Senate.

Respondents have been given ten days, or up to February 28, to file their counter-affidavits. Next hearing at the Ombudsman is scheduled for 4 March 2008.

By Atty. Barry Gutierrez, Akbayan Counsel

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