By Raissa Robles
Broadcasters Ted Failon, Ces Drilon, Mike Enriquez, Jessica Soho and Luchi Cruz-Valdez should subject all those interested in becoming Ombudsman to a grilling of their lives, in the same way that major news networks grilled the presidential candidates last year.
Filipinos need not leave it to the Judicial Bar Council to shortlist the new Ombudsman.
Among all offices created by the 1987 Constitution, the Office of the Ombudsman (which replaced the Tanodbayan created by the Marcos Constitution) is probably the least understood by many Filipinos.
Personally, when I was covering the Presidential Commission on Good Government as a reporter for The Manila Chronicle, I did not understand the role of the Ombudsman and how this related to the PCGG and the Department of Justice.
Through the years I took it as a given and accepted it as a fact that the work of the Ombudsman was always shrouded in secrecy.
That is, until Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez came along with her controversial decisions:
- To sit on numerous cases of alleged corruption and electoral fraud committed by members of the Arroyo family
- To enter into a lopsided plea bargain agreement favoring General Carlos Garcia to the detriment of the Philippine government
- And to dribble Luneta bus hostage taker Rolando Mendoza on that tragic day as well as to firmly support what her deputy Emilio Gonzalez III did to Mendoza’s case.
These three instances showed me how an Ombudsman should NOT act and why the selection of the new Ombudsman is very important.
At least six names have been “floated” as possible contenders:
- Former Senator Wigberto “Bobby” E. Tañada
- Retiring Associate Justice Conchitina Carpio-Morales
- Prominent human rights lawyer Jose Manuel I. Diokno
- Former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rene Villa
- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima
- And private lawyer Frank Chavez
The last – Chavez – is a dark horse worth considering but needs more vetting and I’ll explain why.
Among the six names, I’m very familiar, as a reporter, with three of them – Tañada, De Lima and Chavez. And I’ve had occasion to listen to a fourth – Diokno.
The seven qualities of an Ombudsman
But first, let me tell you the seven qualities I’m looking for in the new Ombudsman:
Fire in the belly
This is the reason why Haydee Yorac succeeded in getting back the Marcos loot from Switzerland. She not only had the competence. She had the mojo.
Ex-Senator Bobby Tañada is a very nice, upright person who to this day continues to devote his own time and money fighting for the rights of coconut farmers. But when I was covering him at the Senate he did not stand out as a senator, despite being the son of the late Senator Lorenzo Tanada, the Grand Old Man of the Political Opposition. He’s just TOO NICE. Somewhat phlegmatic.
But he might make a good deputy ombudsman if he cares for the job.
The same goes for Dean Diokno. That man has a wonderful voice that he has not put to good use on radio and TV. With his background, perhaps he might be persuaded to take a sabbatical from teaching and become the overall deputy ombudsman.
A short learning curve
The next Ombudsman has to be very familiar not only with the Gloria Arroyo cases but also all the unfinished cases involving the Marcoses and their cronies.
A trial lawyer
Not a judge. The next Ombudsman has to be very familiar with the techniques and tricks of litigation. He is essentially the head of a team of prosecutors who will try to obtain favorable judgments in the corruption cases they will handle.
Justice Carpio Morales retires next month with her integrity and fearlessness as a judge fully intact. However, she has never been a trial lawyer. She started her illustrious career as a Regional Trial Court judge in Camaranies Sur in 1983 and will end it as a judge in the nation’s highest court this June. Here is her brief biography.
Prominent, with name recall
When President Benigno Aquino III appoints the new Ombudsman, Filipinos should not say – “Ombudsman who?”
Aquino made the battle against corruption the centerpiece of his government program. Appointing a nobody at the helm of this office after Gutierrez would show he doesn’t mean what he says.
The next Ombudsman would serve beyond President Aquino’s term of office. He would have to demonstrate that he will not be soft against erring officials of the Aquino government and Aquino’s relatives who might use their blood relations to him to gain government concessions.
Personally, I think President Aquino will try to do right by his late mother insofar as not committing graft is concerned. He has, however, a weakness for guns and fast, luxury cars that favor-seekers will try to exploit. The new Ombudsman will have to watch out for this.
A team leader
The Ombudsman cannot go it alone but will have to command a huge office with a nationwide reach. Everyone will be looking at his team’s success rate in litigation.
With a strong moral and physical stamina
Some men will not succumb to a million-peso bribe. But how about a US$2 million bribe? To protect the next Ombudsman and his deputies from such temptations, I believe they should all be asked by the public to sign waivers allowing the publication of their complete Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth every year and on top of that, open their bank accounts to scrutiny on the year they retire.
Why Frank Chavez seems to fit the bill, but –
Among all present candidates, it is private corporate lawyer Frank Chavez who SEEMS to fit the bill.
I first bumped into Chavez when I was covering PCGG and it was not very pleasant. He was the Solicitor General then and he was having this very public quarrel with Jovito Salonga and Ramon Diaz, who eventually became PCGG chair when Salonga ran and won as senator.
Chavez accused PCGG Chair Diaz of corruption and ineptness in connecton with lifting the sequestration order on garment firm American Inter-Fashion. As a result, Diaz was forced to resign.
When I interviewed him, Chavez kept his temper but he was testy with me.
Chavez can be very conceited and egotistic. He can be brutally frank and very abrasive. In his well-cut suits and blaring red suspenders – a la Elliot Ness of the old TV series The Untouchables – Chavez was then the exact opposite of the sartorially-challenged Salonga and Diaz.
At that time, I looked at Chavez’ actions with a sack of salt because I knew Diaz. Diaz was among the very few delegates of the 1971 Constitutional Convention who courageously voted against the Marcos Constitution.
However, through the years, I began to appreciate Frank Chavez. He was and still IS A VERY GOOD CORPORATE TRIAL LAWYER. His methods were different from those of Salonga but he produced results.
I’ve often heard when I talk to other lawyers that Chavez’ acceptance fee – for merely taking on a client to defend in court – is a cool one million pesos. I don’t know if this is true. Maybe Chavez can be asked this.
But while money is important to Chavez – to keep him elegantly suited, for one – he doesn’t seem to be all about money.
Singlehandedly, using his own time and money, he was able to stop the compromise settlement which the Marcoses secretly signed with the Ramos government through PCGG chair Magtanggol Gunigundo. Here’s a news report from my fellow foreign correspondent Sol Vanzi on this.
Without any government position, Chavez continues to try to help the government get back a portion of the Marcos wealth now secreted outside Switzerland. It’s his personal advocacy.
Recently, Chavez filed a plunder case against former President-turned-Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. I don’t think Arroyo saw that coming.
Finally, Chavez “spent” time writing a novel entitled Blighted. How many lawyers would do that? I’m reading it now. It’s actually more like a long essay with a story thrown in to elaborate on his views on Philippine corruption and poverty.
I’m reading it because I suspect he’s talking about real events and real persons (or composites thereof) but coating these with a thin veneer of fiction.
I know Chavez is interested in becoming Ombudsman. When Ted Failon asked him, I think last Monday over radio station DZMM, whether he was interested, he pleaded the First Amendment and asked to be allowed not to answer it.
I’m not rooting for Chavez per se. I do appreciate his strengths but I’m wondering whether he can rein in his weakness for talking in a tactless and conceited manner. (Hahaha, I know a tactless person when I see one since I’m one myself. )
Last year, I was able to interview Chavez extensively and I can say he has a passion for running after the Marcos wealth. We both share the belief that there’s plenty more out there that’s still being secreted. And for that I would root for Chavez until someone — who not only has his passion, drive, ambition, fire in the belly, intelligence — but also a way of speaking without offending so many, comes along.
Sometimes, I think of Chavez as the male version of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Problem is, Filipinos like male public servants not to sound arrogant nor conceited. But female officials can get away with it.