Ombudsman says it will not enforce Palace suspension vs. Carandang

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 31) — The Office of the Ombudsman said Wednesday it would not enforce the suspension order against Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang.

"It's clear she will not enforce OP (Office of the President) suspension order," a member of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales staff said in a message to CNN Philippines.

Citing a 2014 decision by the Supreme Court, Morales said the Office of the President insulted the Supreme Court and the independence of the Ombudsman.

Morales made the statement in the wake of Carandang's suspension for 90 days for supposedly spreading false information on President Rodrigo Duterte's bank accounts.

READ: Deputy Ombudsman suspended, facing 'false information' charges

In a press release on Wednesday, Morales called the Palace move "patently unconstitutional" based on a Supreme Court en banc ruling in Gonzales III vs. Office of the President.

"The Supreme Court categorically declared unconstitutional the administrative disciplinary jurisdiction of the President over deputy ombudsmen," Morales said.

In 2012, the Supreme Court's ruling on the case affirmed a deputy or special prosecutor may be removed from office by the Office by the President. However, it later reversed this decision in 2014, and denied the President disciplinary jurisdiction over deputy ombudsmen as it was "unconstitutional."

"The Ombudsman cannot, therefore, seriously place at risk the independence of the very Office which she has pledged to protect on the strength of the constitutional guarantees which the High Court has upheld," said Morales.

Morales said the Palace actions were an insult to the high court.

"It has become clear that the act of the Office of the President… was not an inadvertent error but a clear affront to the Supreme Court and an impairment of the constitutionally enshrined independence of the Office of the Ombudsman," said Morales.

She added, the recent "spate of events" are a "great cause for concern."

Under the Constitution, the Office of the Ombudsman is an independent body.

Malacañang, however, remains firm on its position.

Shortly after Morales' statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said it was giving Carandang 10 days to file his answer on the "Resolution and Order."

"It is incumbent upon Mr. Carandang to submit his answer within the required period," said Roque. He said the President will decide on the matter after the ten-day period has lapsed.

Carandang said last year he received a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) that President Rodrigo Duterte's bank account has amounted to over P1 billion. The AMLC, however, denied it provided any report to the Ombudsman on Duterte's bank transactions.

READ: AMLC denies providing Office of Ombudsman report on Duterte's bank records

Roque said Monday the Office of Executive Secretary formally charged the deputy ombudsman with grave misconduct and grave dishonesty for misuse of confidential information and disclosing false information. This was in line with the complaint of Manuel Luna and Eligio Mallari filed in October 2017.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, said until a "competent court" says the act violates the law and the Constitution, it is presumed "valid and legal.

He said any "willful refusal" to halt such an enforcement may open the official to administrative and criminal sanctions.

"If it is malicious and deliberate, it can be considered a betrayal of the public trust. Otherwise, it may not be," he said when asked if the Ombudsman's refusal to suspend Carandang could be an impeachable act.

In a separate press release, Panelo added Duterte "has no desire" to intrude on the Ombudsman's Constitutional independence.

"To be clear, the implementation of check-and-balances in government and the enforcement of public accountability is not incongruent with the respect for Constitutionally guaranteed independence," he said.

Panelo added while the Supreme Court had ruled on the Gonzales case in 2014, the circumstances of Carandang's suspension "differ."