MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATED – 2:32 p.m.) Sen. Leila de Lima has accused President Rodrigo Duterte of being behind moves to oust Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno so that there will no longer be independent government leaders who will check on the abuses of the “despot” chief executive.
“At the maximum, the plan is to remove the independent Ombudsman and Chief Justice and replace them with subservient allies,” said De Lima on Wednesday in her 152nd dispatch from Camp Crame in Quezon City, where she has been detained since February 24 this year for drug-related charges.
“At the minimum, the intention is to keep them off-balanced and looking out for themselves, instead of performing their mandate of checking the executive’s exercise of his power and upholding the rule of law during these times of impunity,” she added.
The lawmaker, who has been criticizing Duterte’s alleged abuses since 1999 when she was still chief of the Commission on Human Rights, said it was no longer surprising that the attack on Morales at a time when cases had started being filed against members of the Duterte administration and the Davao Death Squad (DDS) and the President’s “own son.”
“It is not enough for him (Duterte) to simply wait for the end of the Ombudsman’s term middle of next year,” said De Lima.
Duterte recently said that Morales wasn’t entitled to a full seven-year-term as ombudsman, because she “is supposed to serve the remaining terms of the guy who resigned,” referring to Merceditas Gutierrez, who quit her post in April 2011.
But Morales, whose office is now investigating the complaint filed by self-confessed former DDS hitman Edgar Matobato against the vigilante group that was allegedly founded by Duterte when he was still Davao mayor, countered the President and said that she was “just following the law.”
She said that Section 8, paragraph 3 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 states that, “When the ombudsman leaves the office by reason of death, removal, or permanent disability, the overall deputy ombudsman shall be acting ombudsman until a new ombudsman is appointed, who shall serve a full term.”
VACC eyes impeachment complaint vs Morales
On Wednesday, Sept. 6, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption lawyer Manuelito Luna said the VACC might file an impeachment complaint against Morales over her office’s case backlog and its alleged selective prosecution of personalities.
“She may have looked into the personalities of the respondents involved, if they are perceived to be her enemies or the enemies of the previous administration,” Luna told ANC in an interview.
In the case of the Chief Justice, the attack came with the endorsement of the impeachment complaint against Sereno, according to De Lima.
Last Aug. 31, 25 members of the House of Representatives endorsed the impeachment complaint against Sereno filed by lawyer Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon, president of Pro-Duterte Constitutional Reformers to Federalism and volunteer counsel for pro-administration group Duterte Youth.
Gadon was able to substantiate his allegations against Sereno after the high court en banc granted his request to be given copies of several court records and documents, which included the list of official domestic and foreign travels of the chief justice and her companions in her trips.
On September 4, a second impeachment complaint was filed by Dante Jimenez of the VACC and lawyer Eligio Mallari of the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, Inc. against the chief justice. Sixteen House members endorsed the complaint.
‘Exercise of absolute power’
De Lima said “the objective of course of the attacks” against Morales and Sereno “is to eliminate the remaining institutional obstacles to Duterte’s exercise of absolute power.”
“In the face of repression, it is easier to go with the flow of the despot’s designs rather than to protest and oppose,” she said.
The senator said she “the first example and lesson for those who dare to go against the President and expose the bankruptcy of his political movement and the disaster that it spells for the country.”
“This is also the reason why sycophants and lackeys now dominate top posts in government. The reward for Duterte apologists and rabid supporters are juicy, never mind if these people are the most incompetent individuals who could possibly be appointed to government office,” said De Lima.
“This is a time when men and women of integrity and independence are persecuted, while con-artists, shysters and frauds are honored and glorified. These are dark times indeed, and Duterte’s impunity only assures us that this will continue to be a government of the most depraved grovelers,” she said.
“With public officials like these, it is indeed an honor to be among the ranks of those who choose to stand with their principles, rather than those who bend the knee for a taste of power and corruption,” the senator added.