2014 SC decision settles President having NO power to discipline Deputy Ombudsman

Section 8(2) of RA No. 6770 vesting disciplinary authority in the President over the Deputy Ombudsman violates the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman and is thus unconstitutional. Our discussions, particularly the Court’s expressed caution against presidential interference with the constitutional commissions, on one hand, and those expressed by the framers of the 1987 Constitution, on the other, in protecting the independence of the Constitutional Commissions, speak for themselves as overwhelming reasons to invalidate Section 8(2) of RA No. 6770 for violating the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman.

In more concrete terms, the Supreme Court rules that subjecting the Deputy Ombudsman to discipline and removal by the President, whose own alter egos and officials in the Executive Department are subject to the Ombudsman’s disciplinary authority, cannot but seriously place at risk the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman itself. The Office of the Ombudsman, by express constitutional mandate, includes its key officials, all of them tasked to support the Ombudsman in carrying out her mandate. Unfortunately, intrusion upon the constitutionally-granted independence is what Section 8(2) of RA No. 6770 exactly did. By so doing, the law directly collided not only with the independence that the Constitution guarantees to the Office of the Ombudsman, but inevitably with the principle of checks and balances that the creation of an Ombudsman office seeks to revitalize.
What is true for the Ombudsman must be equally and necessarily true for her Deputies who act as agents of the Ombudsman in the performance of their duties. The Ombudsman can hardly be expected to place her complete trust in her subordinate officials who are not as independent as she is, if only because they are subject to pressures and controls external to her Office. This need for complete trust is true in an ideal setting and truer still in a young democracy like the Philippines where graft and corruption is still a major problem for the government. For these reasons, Section 8(2) of RA No. 6770 (providing that the President may remove a Deputy Ombudsman) should be declared void.

The deliberations of the Constitutional Commission on the independence of the Ombudsman fully support this position. Commissioner Florenz Regalado of the Constitutional Commission expressed his apprehension that any form of presidential control over the Office of the Ombudsman would diminish its independence. The following exchanges between Commissioners Blas Ople and Christian Monsod further reveal the constitutional intent to keep the Office of the Ombudsman independent from the President:

MR. OPLE. xxx

May I direct a question to the Committee? xxx [W]ill the Committee consider later an amendment xxx, by way of designating the office of the Ombudsman as a constitutional arm for good government, efficiency of the public service and the integrity of the President of the Philippines, instead of creating another agency in a kind of administrative limbo which would be accountable to no one on the pretext that it is a constitutional body?

MR. MONSOD. The Committee discussed that during our committee deliberations and when we prepared the report, it was the opinion of the Committee — and I believe it still is — that it may not contribute to the effectiveness of this office of the Ombudsman precisely because many of the culprits in inefficiency, injustice and impropriety are in the executive department. Therefore, as we saw the wrong implementation of the Tanodbayan which was under the tremendous influence of the President, it was an ineffectual body and was reduced to the function of a special fiscal. The whole purpose of our proposal is precisely to separate those functions and to produce a vehicle that will give true meaning to the concept of Ombudsman. Therefore, we regret that we cannot accept the proposition.

The statements made by Commissioner Monsod emphasized a very logical principle: the Executive power to remove and discipline key officials of the Office of the Ombudsman, or to exercise any power over them, would result in an absurd situation wherein the Office of the Ombudsman is given the duty to adjudicate on the integrity and competence of the very persons who can remove or suspend its members. Equally relevant is the impression that would be given to the public if the rule were otherwise. A complainant with a grievance against a high-ranking official of the Executive, who appears to enjoy the President’s favor, would be discouraged from approaching the Ombudsman with his complaint; the complainant’s impression (even if misplaced), that the Ombudsman would be susceptible to political pressure, cannot be avoided. To be sure, such an impression would erode the constitutional intent of creating an Office of the Ombudsman as champion of the people against corruption and bureaucracy. (G.R. No. 196231; January 28, 2014)

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