By Alex P. Vidal
“The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.”— William Hazlitt
ALL of a sudden, Ombudsman Samuel Martires has been so loud and proud.
Loud in announcing before the national television he discovered that a security guard in a certain government agency he didn’t name had at least P200 million in bank deposits while the guard’s wife had P175 million in another bank deposits.
He smelled rat and suspected graft and corruption.
Proud in saying his office “has been investigating” the security guard allegedly employed in the unnamed government agency for 27 years.
He smelled a smoking gun and a high-level of anomaly in the agency where the security guard belonged.
Ironically, the former Supreme Court associate justice, who was appointed as Ombudsman by former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018, has been media-shy these past four years.
In so many controversial cases involving mostly the lackeys of Mr. Duterte, if not the former president himself, there was no fire and brimstone in Martires’ mouth.
In fact, he seemed adamant to investigate them.
To so many frustrated Filipinos, he was a “useless” Ombudsman who was suspected of protecting Mr. Duterte and the former president’s corrupt allies instead of protecting the interest of the taxpayers.
Some suspected Marites, Mr. Duterte’s fraternity brother, was placed in the Ombudsman office “to ensure that no Duterte minion will go to jail for graft and corruption” and “to run after Duterte’s political nemesis.”
When Mr. Duterte’s term expired this year, not a single government official connected to the former president was investigated for graft and corruption by the Office of the Ombudsman.
And now Martires is talking a lot; he is in the limelight—for “investigating” a multi-millionaire security guard!
How about the multi-millionaire, or even multi-billionaire cronies of the former president, Mr. Ombudsman?
Some of these multi-millionaire or multi-billionaire associates and friends became rich only in six years that the former president was in office.
Why didn’t Ombudsman Martires also investigate them?
It’s difficult to deny there’s a double standard of justice between a security guard and high-ranking public officials under Martires’ watch.
He was the same Ombudsman Martires who sabotaged his own awesome powers and responsibilities as provided by the Constitution when he threatened to jail those who would comment on the SALNS (Statement of Assets and Liabilities) of Mr. Duterte, and other high-ranking government officials.
In her report on October 6, 2020, Teresa S. Abesamis of the BusinessWorld, cited Article XI of the Philippine Constitution. The Article provides for Accountability of public officials, and opens with the sentence “Public Office is a public trust.”
Further, Section 1 states: “Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”
Abesamis wrote that the most glaring reversal of policy that enforces accountability of specific public officials (the President, the Vice-President, heads of executive agencies and commissions), the mandated public access to SALNS (Statement of Assets and Liabilities) is to be rendered worthless if Ombudsman Martires’ ideas are allowed to take effect.
“The fact is, Ombudsman Martires would be violating the law, and therefore, he does not rightfully belong in that office since he would cause it to protect corrupt and abusive officials. Public access to the SALNs is crucial to the raison d’etre for the Office of the Ombudsman which is SALN custodian for most of the key government officers, elected or appointed,” wrote Abesamis.
She accused Martires of having “the audacity to state that the responsibility of releasing one’s SALN lies with the official himself, not the Office of the Ombudsman, which is a mere custodian.”
Abesamis asked: “How did he arrive at this conclusion? Perhaps he is just shirking a responsibility that calls for a strong backbone that can resist political pressure. There is actually no need to fear political pressure since the Ombudsman is provided with autonomy when it comes to managing the budget for his office, which is released automatically each year.”
For Abesamis, Martires “has gone so far as to suggest that the Office of the Ombudsman should be abolished. That will call for an amendment to the Constitution which created his Office. As a former Supreme Court Justice appointed by President Duterte in 2018, Martires should know that. Perhaps it is he who should relinquish that Office.”
“Martires obviously has little appreciation for the ethical standards and values expected of public officials whose salaries and operating budgets are paid for by Filipino taxpayers,” added Abesamis.
“He incredibly says that it is not our business if public officials want to own fancy cars (e.g., BMWs) or wear expensive brand attire. What, is he serious? Or does he or some of his friends in government own these things? What is the intent of the provision in Section 1 of Article XI of our Constitution that public officials should lead modest lives? That public office is a public trust?”
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)