By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) Updated July 26, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (12)
MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino named yesterday retired Supreme Court (SC) associate justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as the new ombudsman in his second State of the Nation Address.
“When the new Ombudsman, former Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, takes office, we will have an honest-to-goodness anti-corruption office, not one that condones the corruption and abuses in government,” the President said, receiving one of the loudest and strongest applause when he made the announcement as part of his speech.
“I expect that this year, we will have filed our first major case against the corrupt and their accomplices. And these will be real cases, with strong evidence and clear testimonies, which will lead to the punishment of the guilty,” he said.
Carpio-Morales was the one who administered Aquino’s oath of office and was chosen over three other names submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council, including Justice Undersecretary Leah Armamento, Presidential Commission on Good Government Commissioner Gerard Mosquera and former justice secretary Artemio Tuquero.
She will replace Merceditas Gutierrez, who had been closely identified with former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Gutierrez was impeached by the House of Representatives mainly due to complaints that she failed to act on various corruption cases involving the past administration.
Arroyo had openly opposed the appointment of Carpio-Morales as ombudsman, saying as SC justice, she never voted in her favor in almost all cases.
In a statement, presidential spokesman Edwin Laceirda said, “We have consistently emphasized the need to have an ombudsman who shall act for and in the interest of the Filipino people, one who shall not let Garcias and Bolantes go scot free without answering to the people.”
Lacierda was referring to discharged military comptroller Carlos Garcia Jr. who was accused of plunder and former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante who was the alleged main architect of the fertilizer fund scam.
“An ombudsman must be independent, one of unquestionable integrity, and willing to face the rigorous task of restoring faith in our recovering institutions by ensuring that the corrupt are held accountable for their misdeeds,” Lacierda said.
A native of Paoay, Ilocos Norte, Carpio-Morales brings with her 42 years of legal experience in the executive and judiciary, with special interests in anti-corruption and human rights.
“Her integrity and impartiality are evident from her years as presiding judge of the Court of Appeals and associate justice of the Supreme Court,” Lacierda said.
Carpio-Morales retired in June at the age of 70. Those opposed to her appointment had linked her to a law firm that used to be for Arroyo but had turned against her.
She is the daughter of Lucas Carpio, a judge, and Maria Claudio Carpio.
In 1964, Carpio-Morales earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of the Philippines and then a Bachelor of Laws at the University of the Philippines College of Law in 1968.
From 1968 to 1971, Carpio-Morales started her career in a Manila law firm where she was an assistant attorney.
In 1971, a former UP professor of Carpio-Morales, then secretary of justice Vicente Abad Santos, took Carpio-Morales in as a special assistant at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
From 1971 to 1983, Carpio-Morales worked at the DOJ as assistant, lawyer, researcher, assistant special lawyer and senior state counsel before she became a judge.
Former President Ferdinand Marcos appointed Carpio-Morales as a trial court judge in Pili, Camarines Sur and on Nov. 4, 1986, then President Corazon Aquino appointed Carpio-Morales as trial court judge in Pasay City.
In 1994, former President Fidel Ramos appointed Carpio-Morales to the CA and in 2000, Carpio-Morales was a bar examiner in legal ethics.
On Sept. 3, 2002, upon the unanimous endorsement of the members of the JBC, she was appointed SC justice.
It was reported that President Aquino had offered the ombudsman post to Carpio-Morales in an earlier occasion they had attended with retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.
In that event, the President himself wrote a note to Carpio-Morales asking if she was interested in the post vacated by Gutierrez.
Carpio-Morales reportedly replied to the President: “If Chief Justice Panganiban will endorse me.”
Among the four nominees of the JBC for the post, the former magistrate’s nomination had the most objections.
Several quarters have also questioned the qualification of the 70-year-old retired justice who, according to former Ombudsman Aniano Desierto and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, is no longer fit for the job that has a workload 10 times of that of an SC justice.
But Carpio-Morales said she is fit for the job as shown by a wellness exam taken in mid-May.
She likewise believes she has “the moral fiber to prosecute those who ought to be prosecuted and to ward off extra-legal factors that impede the proceedings.”
Before President Aquino’s announcement, Carpio-Morales said that should she be appointed, she would first make an inventory of cases and personnel in the anti-graft office to be able to institute necessary reforms.
She vowed not to allow delay in the disposition of graft cases and revealed that she would order a re-orientation of special prosecutors immediately.
Carpio-Morales will inherit the task of resolving at least three plunder complaints filed against Arroyo.
Yesterday, she said she is not afraid of filing cases against Arroyo.
“I cannot tell you (when we will be filing a case against former President Arroyo) because we go by evidence. You just do not file a case for the heck of filing,” she said. “You have to go through the records, testimonial and documents and see if the evidence is strong.”
Apart from resolving such complaints, she will also be left with the task of continuing the prosecution of high-profile cases at the Sandiganbayan.
When asked for reaction, JBC member and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima lauded the decision of President Aquino to appoint Carpio-Morales as ombudsman.
“She’s the best choice for such a crucial post. No doubt. She’s made of the right stuff, both morally and cerebrally, to hurdle the challenges which inhere in such post,” said De Lima, who admitted she voted only for Carpio-Morales during the JBC deliberations for the post.
Former President Joseph Estrada, who attended President Aquino’s second SONA yesterday, also echoed De Lima’s opinion that Carpio-Morales is very much qualified for the job.
Santiago, meantime, said the new ombudsman should immediately order the state prosecutors to resolve within the year the entire backlog of cases pending with the Office of the Ombudsman.
Santiago said the ombudsman should have the characteristic of being “muscular and adrenaline-packed” because the office carries with it the challenge of a high caseload.
“If the President fails to set a deadline, his flagship program against corruption will become unsustainable,” Santiago said.
In the order of importance as far as the cases are concerned, Santiago said that the President should direct all the concerned personalities to prioritize the criminal cases that were unearthed recently, such as corruption among generals in the military, generals in the Philippine National Police and officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
“The way to dispose of the backlog is for the President to authorize the justice secretary to appoint special prosecutors with the sole function of resolving pending cases in the Ombudsman,” the senator said.Santiago said that Malacañang should not wait for the result of probes being conducted by Congress on the alleged anomalies before acting because these inquiries usually take a long time to finish.