Ombudsman sets Aug. 27 deadline for cases filed in 2007 and below

07/24/2010 - Better late than never.

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has ordered the anti-graft offices to resolve all pending cases from 2007 and below by Aug. 27.

This means that the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas only has 35 days to resolve several pending cases, including the fact finding investigation on the alleged overpriced construction of the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) in Mandaue City, which reached more than P800 million.

Businessman Cris Saavedra, who asked the Ombudsman-Visayas to probe the CICC construction, was pleased with Gutierrez’ memorandum.

“The CICC investigation has been pending in their office for four years. It’s about time for an immediate response (to the case),” Saavedra said. He added that he believed the complaint he filed had a strong evidence since these were based on documents which were hard to refute.

Saavedra has claimed that CICC, which was used as the venue for the 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in 2007, was overpriced.

Director Virginia Palanca-Santiago of the Ombudsman-Visayas said they received the memorandum two months ago, ordering them to resolve all cases filed before their offices from 2007 and below.

The memorandum, signed by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimero and approved by Gutierrez, gave the anti-graft offices until Aug. 27 to resolve the pending cases.

Santiago could not give an estimate on the number of cases that would be affected by the order. But she admitted that these were several and their failure to resolve these would affect their performance evaluation.

But, she said, one of these is the graft complaint filed by Saavedra and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) against Gov. Gwen Garcia and other provincial officials for the alleged overpriced construction of the CICC.

The Ombudsman-Visayas had come out with a resolution on the CICC case but it was forwarded to the Ombudsman central office early this year in compliance with the order of Gutierrez that all resolutions involving high ranking officials should be reviewed and approved by the Ombudsman. It has not been returned to the Ombudsman-Visayas.

While they would not be sanctioned, Santiago said they would have to explain to their central office if they failed to comply with the memorandum.

Santiago said that in order to meet the deadline, she had given their 20 graft investigators a minimum quota of seven cases to resolve per month. So far, she added they were within schedule.

Their difficulty was in gathering documents as evidence since the anti-graft office only has six fact-finding investigators.

But a staunch critic of the Ombudsman said the memorandum should also include the complaints filed in 2008 and above.

Human rights lawyer Democrito Barcenas said there were a lot of pending cases filed this year that involved billions of pesos of government funds.

He, however, said he doesn't believe that Gutierrez would be able to deliver a “credible decision” especially on cases involving the family of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose husband, Mike Arroyo, was a classmate of Gutierrez.

“She is more loyal to the Arroyo family than the Constitution. I want her to resign,” Barcenas said.

Saavedra agreed with Barcenas, citing the graft complaint filed against provincial officials over the purchase of the 24.7-hectare beachfront property in Naga City worth P98.9 million, which turned out to be mostly underwater and planted to mangroves.

“They should come clean if they would push for faster decision of the recent cases like Balili.,” he said.

Lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, one of the environmental advocates who sought the investigation of the province's land deal fiasco, wondered why the cases filed recently were not covered by the memorandum.

“Why is it that only cases filed in 2007 and below were included? What's the basis for that?,” Ramos asked.

She said the Ombudsman-Visayas should not only prioritize the cases that were covered by the memorandum but should also speed up the resolution of other pending cases.

Still, Ramos said the memorandum was a “welcome development” and would hopefully bring back the positive image of the constitutional body, which was weakened since Gutierrez took over as head.

“Out of delicadeza, she should resign. It would be a better service for the country,” she added.

For Saavedra, the memorandum was meant to thwart the moves to impeach Gutierrez from office after several impeachment complaints had been filed against her before the House of Representatives.

Santiago denied that the issuance of the memorandum was politically motivated, saying she received a copy of the order two months ago, long before the impeachment complaints were filed.

She, however, said it was part of the job of Ombudsman graft investigators and officials to be sued.

But Santiago said they would remain supportive of Gutierrez despite the criticisms hurled against her. “This is just a regular act from the Office of the Ombudsman,” she said.

Santiago said the memorandum was just part of regular evaluation done by the Ombudsman central office at least twice a year to make sure that pending cases would not sit idle too long in the office.

She said the regular inventory had been done to monitor the status of the pending cases and to resolve these within a given timeframe.

The Ombudsman-Visayas director assured that the pending impeachment cases filed against Gutierrez would not also affect the status of the pending cases filed before the anti-graft body. Gutierrez, she added had told them to go ahead with their work because the impeachment complaints were filed against her and not the office.

She added she also doesn't doubt the credibility of her boss and her ability to decide on cases involving the Arroyo family, who is known to be close to Gutierrez. (C'ebu Daily News)

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