Saturday, August 08, 2009

Palace looking for new Ombudsman?

MANILA - Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez could be on her way out of the Ombudsman.
Unimpeachable sources told that First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo has been scouting for a replacement for his Ateneo law school batch mate, who was appointed to the post in December 2005.

Gutierrez is reportedly being considered for a seat in the Supreme Court before Arroyo exits MalacaƱang on June 30, 2010.

One source said Mr. Arroyo has dangled the post to Land Registration Authority Administrator Benedicto Ulep at least four times already. But the former Pasig City and Quezon City judge declined the offer.

The source said Ulep rejected the offer for health reasons. Ulep has undergone angioplasty operation and is a diabetic. “I cannot take the pressure there,” Ulep reportedly told the First Gentleman.

The source said Ulep became close to the Arroyos through a former law partner of Mr. Arroyo. “He is the one taking care of all the Arroyos’ properties. He helped [Diosdado] 'Dato' [Macapagal Arroyo] acquire a property in Camarines Sur to establish his residence in preparation for the congressional race in 2007.”

Dato, the youngest of the Arroyo brood, won as representative of the first district of Camarines Sur.

We contacted Ulep’s office for his reaction, but we were told that he was in a meeting. We requested for a return call, but as of this posting, his office had yet to reply.

Gutierrez, we found out, is still out of the country. She was among those who accompanied President Arroyo in her meeting with US President Obama last July 30 in Washington D.C.

Longer-lasting protection

Gutierrez’s stint in the Ombudsman will end on 2012, or only two years after President Arroyo steps down. This could explain the rush to appoint a new Ombudsman.

Like other members of a constitutional body, the Ombudsman has a 7-year tenure. The Ombudsman’s post is considered one of the most powerful posts, and some even say the most powerful, with the exception of the President. As “protector of the people,” the Ombudsman can investigate any public official for any alleged irregularity based on a complaint, even anonymous, or on its own.

A new appointment this year--or just before the appointment ban during the election period next year--of a subservient Ombudsman to the Arroyos, would serve as “protection” for the President when she steps down in 2010.

This is because unlike other constitutional members, the new Ombudsman would serve a fresh 7-year term regardless of whether the previous one served out his or her term. Opposition leaders have said they expect that dozens of cases will be filed against the President for graft and corruption after she leaves office in June 2010.

Gutierrez has been under fire since she set foot in the Office of the Ombudsman. She has been accused of sitting on cases and scandals that involve members and those close to the First Family.

For instance, we gathered that the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office has wrapped up its probe on the botched US$329 million NBN-ZTE deal, one of the major scandals that have rocked the Arroyo government. The report supposedly indicts some public officials in the scandal. The report has remained pending in Gutierrez’s office for more than a month now.
Supreme Court justice?

Another reason behind the move to replace Gutierrez is that she is believed to be eyeing one of the available SC posts this year. Three more vacancies will be created in the last quarter of the year with the scheduled retirement of Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Leonardo Quisumbing, and Minita Chico-Nazario.

On August 6, the President appointed former Court of Appeals justice Mariano del Castillo to the post vacated by retired justice Alicia Austria-Martinez. On August 7, she appointed University of Santo Tomas College of Civil Law Dean Roberto Abad for the post vacated by retired justice Dante Tinga. (Aries Rufo,


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