Ombudsman to Duterte: 'This office shall not be intimidated'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 29) — The Office of the Ombudsman on Friday responded to President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to probe the agency for its "partiality."

"Sorry, Mr. President, but this Office shall not be intimidated," the Ombudsman said in a statement.

Duterte on Thursday said at the state-run PTV show Sa Totoo Lang with Erwin Tulfo that he may create a commission to investigate the Office of the Ombudsman for alleged corruption in their ranks.

READ: Duterte to form commission probing Ombudsman's 'partiality'

This follows the remarks of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang that there is an ongoing investigation into the Presidential family's wealth, in response to a plunder case filed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes during the 2016 national elections.

"The President's announcement that he intends to create a commission to investigate the Ombudsman appears to have to do with this Office's on-going investigation into issues that involve him. This Office, nonetheless, shall proceed with the probe, as mandated by the Constitution," the statement said.

The Ombudsman, however, said it welcomes the probe, and revealed it has previously removed officials for certain offenses.

"This Office, all the same, welcomes, as it has always welcomed, efforts to help it cleanse its ranks. Its Internal Affairs Board has, in fact, entrapped and removed Ombudsman officials and employees for various offenses," the Ombudsman said.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council had denied giving the Ombudsman any report on Duterte's bank records, after Carandang said he had received documents showing a cash flow worth P1 billion in the President's bank accounts.

READ: AMLC denies providing Office of Ombudsman report on Duterte's bank records

"As to the documents in its possession, the Office stands by its word. If the President has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear," the Ombudsman said.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has delegated cases involving the Duterte family to Carandang after inhibiting herself, as she is the aunt of Manases Carpio, the husband of presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

Under the Constitution, the Ombudsman is an independent office tasked to probe public authorities and take appropriate actions against them if found erring or committing crimes against the public.

Meanwhile, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Friday said Duterte is not intimidating the Ombudsman.

"No one is intimidating the Ombudsman. The President is not intimidating the Ombudsman, or the Office of the Ombudsman…The President welcomes any investigation. What he is against is the selective enforcement of the Ombudsman of the law," Panelo told CNN Philippines' News Night.

Panelo had earlier warned Carandang he should not reveal details of an ongoing investigation, otherwise he may face administrative charges.

No power to investigate?

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza said being an independent office, the Ombudsman could not be investigated by the President.

"The President has no power to investigate the Office of the Ombudsman for the reason that the Ombudsman is not under his control…it is an independent office. It's not answerable to the President," Mendoza told CNN Philippines' News Night.

Mendoza added that a commission may not be created for the sole purpose of investigating the Office of the Ombudsman.

"The Ombudsman's accountability can be enforced by impeachment, and that is the exclusive power of Congress. The President's power is derived from his power of control over executive departments, bureaus, and offices only," he said.

However, Panelo said while the administration recognizes the limitations of the President to probe the Ombudsman, Duterte still has the constitutional responsibility to enforce fundamental laws.

"With respect to the personnel…under the Constitution, the President is mandated to execute faithfully all laws of the land. One of the fundamental laws of the land would be the law of accountability and transparency," Panelo said.

"Not because there is no provision in the Constitution that grants him this power, that he cannot. It is inherent on the part of the President of the Republic," he added.