Merceditas Gutierrez has been indicted by the House of Representatives and faces an impeachment trial for six counts of “betrayal of public trust.” Now, the President has come into the picture and dismissed from his post Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices Emilio A. Gonzalez III for “gross neglect of duty and gross misconduct” tantamount to “arbitrary and tyrannical exercise of authority and betrayal of public trust.” This was in connection with his mishandling of the dismissal-complaint against Rolando Mendoza, the Luneta hostage-taker.
Malacañang based its decision on the Ombudsman Law, specifically the following provisions:
Section 8. Removal; Filling of Vacancy. —
(1) In accordance with the provisions of Article XI of the Constitution, the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.
(2) A Deputy or the Special Prosecutor, may be removed from office by the President for any of the grounds provided for the removal of the Ombudsman, and after due process.
Ombudsman Gutierrez and Assistant Ombudsman Jose Tereso de Jesus, Jr. defy the presidential order and issued to the media their stand, as follows:
“This Office [Ombudsman] however had already taken cognizance of the case of DO Gonzales and its Internal Affairs Board has already acquitted him of the charge.”
“This action of our Office was in accordance with the independence of the Ombudsman from any other office of government (Sec. 4, Art. XI, 1987 Constitution) and with Sec. 21 of RA No. 6770, which provides, “The Office of the Ombudsman shall have disciplinary authority over all xxxx appointive officials of the Government xxx except over officials who may be removed only by impeachment, or over members of Congress and the Judiciary.”
“In view of the foregoing, this Office has considered the matter of DO Gonzales’ culpability in the hijacking episode as legally final and closed.”
With this act of defiance, Gutierrez has set the stage for the appeal to the Supreme Court. This is to be expected since this has been her ploy before in the case of her own impeachment. However, her support from the GMA-aligned majority faction among the justices is shaky by this time–the latter are also contemplating their own vulnerability to impeachment.
It is increasingly apparent that the Ombudsman, in using the argument of independence of her office, only exposes her own refusal to accept the political reality of her isolation from both the people and their elected representatives. She is also falsely interpreting this “independence” in an absolute sense, including independence from the sovereign people, their leaders, the Constitution, and the Ombudsman Law. Quite a breath-taking assertion from an appointed public official.
Nobody is above the sovereign people in a democracy. This is the lesson of our people power. The position of the Ombudsman is a public trust. When the people (and their elected representatives) clearly manifest their lack of trust of a public official, it is the signal to let go and leave the public office.
Gutierrez and her cohorts in the Office of the Ombudsman already lost their mandate. They may not know it but they have already lost the battle. All that is left are the formal procedures for their removal. The prosecutors are hereby prosecuted.