Ombudsman: Palace letter recognizes unconstitutionality of Carandang suspension order

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 15) — The Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday said the Solicitor General admitted to the unconstitutionality of the suspension order on Melchor Carandang after recognizing him as the Overall Deputy Ombudsman (ODO) in a letter-inquiry.

In a statement, the Ombudsman said "the Office observes that the Solicitor General effectively recognized Carandang as the Overall Deputy Ombudsman through his official letter-inquiry dated 8 February 2018 addressed to ODO Carandang who, at such date, had been 'supposedly' under preventive suspension."

"The Office sees this as a recognition of the unconstitutionality of the preventive suspension order," it added.

Carandang was suspended for supposedly falsifying information on President Rodrigo Duterte's bank accounts.

On February 8, Solicitor General Jose Calida sent Carandang, addressed as the ODO, a letter to inquire on the Ombudsman's investigation on the plunder case filed by Senator Antonio Trillanes over Duterte's alleged questionable wealth.

In a response on February 13, Carandang said the investigations have been "closed and terminated."

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told CNN Philippines the Ombudsman's claim is "shallow."

The suspension was issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary, he said, and it cannot be stopped by any acts done by the Solicitor General.

On May 5, 2016, Trillanes filed a plunder complaint against Duterte. He said Duterte had ghost employees on the payroll of the Davao City government when he was mayor. Based on the 2015 Commission on Audit report, there were 11,000 ghost employees with a budget of P708 million, he said.

Trillanes alleged this was the source of Duterte's hidden wealth, which he supposedly discovered in the President's bank accounts.

Carandang said last year he received a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) that Duterte's bank account has amounted to over P1 billion. The AMLC, however, denied it provided any report to the Ombudsman on Duterte's bank transactions.

The Office of Executive Secretary formally charged Carandang with grave misconduct and grave dishonesty for misuse of confidential information and disclosing false information. This was in line with the complaint of Manuel Luna and Eligio Mallari filed in October 2017.

The Ombudsman later said it will not enforce the suspension order. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said the order was "patently unconstitutional" based on a Supreme Court ruling.

"The Supreme Court categorically declared unconstitutional the administrative disciplinary jurisdiction of the President over deputy ombudsmen," she said.

In 2012, the Supreme Court affirmed a ruling that a deputy or special prosecutor may be removed from office by the Office by the President. It reversed this decision in 2014, and denied the President disciplinary jurisdiction over deputy ombudsmen as it was "unconstitutional."

Under the Constitution, the Office of the Ombudsman is an independent body.