No Ombudsman, Judicial and Bar Council in proposed federal charter

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 16) — Abolish the Office of the Ombudsman and the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), a group of lawmakers said in their proposed amendments to the Constitution.

"Duplicitous ang trabaho ng Office of the Ombudsman," said Rep. Ching Veloso, head of a subcommittee of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments.

Veloso said it is redundant to have the Ombudsman when there's already the Department of Justice (DOJ). The Ombudsman is an independent office tasked with handling complaints against high-ranking officials, while the DOJ is the government's prosecution arm and is part of the President's Cabinet.

The lawmakers on Tuesday began hearing the proposed constitutional amendments to make way for a federal form of government.

Another subcommittee, led by Rep. Fredenil Castro, wants the JBC abolished. It is a council under the supervision of the Supreme Court which nominates appointments to the judiciary.

"The Judicial and Bar Council should be deleted because it is the Prime Minister who should nominate those who are qualified to be in the judiciary of course through the Commission on Appointments," Castro said.

The subcommittee wants a Prime Minister as head of government, who shall appoint the Chief Justice, members of the Supreme Court and constitutional court, the lower courts, Office of the Ombudsman, and constitutional commissions. The subcommittee Castro leads does not call for the removal of the Ombudsman.

Related: Proposed charter for federal PH weakens Senate, eyes prime minister

Quezon City Rep. Ronald Cosalan, however, raised concerns over letting the Prime Minister appoint all members of the court.

"Will that not make all the members of the judiciary merely purely political appointees?" he said.

Castro said members of the judiciary could never be "very independent" but it would be best if a Commission on Appointments would put them in power, instead of a JBC that is "not isolated from anomalies."

This is not the first time the Office of the Ombudsman and the JBC have been threatened.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself said the Office of the Ombudsman is "better abolished." Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales had voiced disagreements on some of Duterte's policies and pronouncements, including his bloody war on drugs.

Meanwhile, alleged manipulation of the JBC was cited as one of the grounds for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to be impeached. The House Committee on Justice on Monday resumed hearings examining probable cause in the impeachment case.

"It was revealed yesterday by one of the justices that the Judicial and Bar Council itself is not isolated from anomalies. We would rather accept the anomalies committed by the Commission on Appointments rather than the judiciary itself," Castro said.

Rep. Roger Mercado, chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said the subcommittee's proposals will only be final once approved by the constituent assembly, composed of both Senate and the House of Representatives.

The House committee is mulling a plebiscite on the proposed constitutional amendments simultaneous with the May 8 barangay elections.