Nagkakabukingan na po. Ang baho-baho na talaga ng Office of Ombudsman. That is what Malacanang got for appointing a friend of Mike Arroyo in that sensitive office. Somebody’s house is falling down, falling down, falling down. Buti nga! — Danton
By ARIES C. RUFO
The battle lines between Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio have been clearly drawn.
If push comes to shove, Villa-Ignacio said he will go to the Supreme Court and inform the justices of the underhanded tactics aimed at forcing him to resign his post.
In a hastily called press conference shortly after a show of force by subordinates of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, Villa-Ignacio, in a rare show of pique, said “they will have to shoot me” if Gutierrez’s allies would have him removed from the Office of the Special Prosecutor.
Deputies of Ombudsman Gutierrez closed ranks behind her and said the row between their boss and Villa-Ignacio should be resolved internally. (See Other Top Stories, Ombudsman rallies support from staff)
Villa-Ignacio is known to be a quiet person and rarely gives media interviews. But he told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak that he can no longer keep quiet because it is his integrity that is being impugned. “They can fault me for my litigation skills but not my integrity,” the said in an earlier interview.
“I am sure they are going to suspend me,” Villa-Ignacio said during the press conference, referring to the estafa case filed by former prosecutor Elvira Chua against him before the Ombudsman’s Internal Affairs Board. “A foul scheme is being foisted against me.”
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He said he “will go to the SC and explain the unthinkable things happening in the (Office of the) Ombudsman.”
Spilling the beans on the motive for his ouster, Villa-Ignacio said Malacanang wanted him removed to give the President a free hand in appointing a new Special Prosecutor.
He said his term as Special Prosecutor will lapse on Feb. 14, 2010, a period covered by the 90-day ban in the appointment to government positions before the May 2010 presidential race.
“(The President) will not be able to appoint my replacement (if that happens),” Villa-Ignacio said.
He said he is determined to stick it out even as he urged Gutierrez to resign as Ombudsman “if there should be a call.”
Ronaldo Puno’s case
Villa-Ignacio questioned the Ombudsman’s quick move to give due course to the estafa case filed against him when “there are other significant cases rotting in her office.”
He pointed out that the complainant, prosecutor Elvira Chua, had an axe to grind against him after he “disciplined” her, together with another prosecutor, for bungling a huge case.
This case, he said, was the Motorola communications contract involving Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno. He said Chua conveniently failed to attach a requirement in appealing the case to the SC, causing its dismissal by the High Court due to technicality. “They also resorted to the wrong mode in appealing the case.”
As an experienced prosecutor, Villa-Ignacio said it was unlikely that Chua committed an honest mistake, other than to ensure that the case is dismissed. “When Gutierrez found out this incident, she took the two to her office.”
He also pointed out that it was Chua who was behind the defective case filed against Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay which the Court dismissed for lack of probable cause.
The estafa case, Villa-Ignacio said, is part of a series of harassment moves by Gutierrez. These include disapproving the recruitment and employment of new prosecutors, denying a move to transfer the OSP’s office to a bigger space which will only cost government P1 a year, and keeping him out of the decision-making process in the filing of cases.
As to the OSP’s transfer, Villa-Ignacio said the Commission on Audit offered to lease its 3rd and 4th floors for the OSP’s use for P1 a year. But the Ombudsman, for some reason, denied the transfer.
It began with Megapacific
Villa-Ignacio said the tension between him and Gutierrez started when the Ombudsman moved to dismiss the P1.2-billion MegaPacific computerization case against officials of the Commission on Elections.
The panel, which Gutierrez created and was headed by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro, agreed to charge certain officials for the failed project, recommended further investigation as to other officials, and dismiss those with no evidence to indict them for the anomaly, Villa-Ignacio said.
But on orders of Gutierrez, Villa-Ignacio said the panel, of which he was a member, decided to drop the case against all officials. Villa-Ignacio protested and told a colleague that “it would be the last time that I would lend my name and credibility (to an Ombudsman report).”
(It will be recalled that Gutierrez created the Casimiro panel to disabuse allegations that the investigation on the MegaPacific case would be rigged. Gutierrez inhibited herself from the investigation).
Villa-Ignacio said the press conference called by Gutierrez’s allies to prove that there is no demoralization creeping into the ranks and the show of force “is a sign of insecurity.”
“Was there ever an instance where (former) Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo called for a show of support? There was none. You need not do that if you feel you have the support of the staff,” Villa-Ignacio said.
Belittling the show of support behind Gutierrez, Villa-Ignacio said there are those who feel otherwise “but they cannot come out in the open.”
We earlier reported that demoralization has crept into the ranks of the Ombudsman as a result of Gutierrez’s centralized management style. The disenchantment is worsened by the Ombudsman’s dismal performance in the Sandiganbayan where the former’s conviction rate has gone down. The dip in the conviction rate is being blamed on Gutierrez’s centralized decision-making process and her clipping the OSP’s role in the evaluation and assessment of cases.