EDITORIAL: President or King?

For this issue, may we take the liberty of publishing as our editorial the hereto copy of the timely statement released by Bicolano Senator Leila M. De Lima from her detention cell in Camp Crame, Quezon City. But before that, may we be allowed to give a brief introduction about her: Atty. Leila de Lima made her mark as an election lawyer before being appointed as the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in 2008. She obtained a degree in A.B. History from De La Salle University and Bachelor of Laws from San Beda College. She placed eighth in the 1985 bar exam. When Benigno Aquino III took over as president, de Lima was tapped as Secretary of Justice. She won as senator in 2016. Allegations that she used her position with regards to the New Bilibid Prison resulted in criminal complaints against her in 2017. However, it would later be revealed that she was the first justice secretary to investigate the drug lords of New Bilibid Prison, running counter to the complaints filed against her. Despite this, her arrest was made concrete with the backing of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte. By October 2017, de Lima released numerous statements while in prison condemning the death toll of the Philippine Drug War with children and teenagers as among the victims. In November 2017, de Lima was awarded the Prize for Freedom by Liberal International, becoming the second Filipino to receive the prestigious award after Corazon Aquino. On December 5, 2017, she was again bestowed with the Leading Global Thinker award by Foreign Policy for the second consecutive year. She was named by Time Magazine as one of the Top Most Influential People for2017. Now, here is her latest dispatch from her prison cell, while performing her duty, no matter how limited, as senator: In 2014, the Supreme Court reversed a 2012 ruling in the case of Gonzales v. Office of the President. The 2012 decision affirmed the President’s disciplinary powers over the Deputy Ombudsman. In reversing its 2012 decision, the Court said that Section 8 (2) of the Ombudsman Act granting the President disciplinary authority over the Deputy Ombudsman violates the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman, and is thus unconstitutional. Malacañang knows this. Despite this proscription on its power over the Deputy Ombudsman, Malacañang nevertheless proceeded to ignore the Court’s decision when it exercised disciplinary authority over Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang and suspended him. The rationale of the Court in the Gonzales case is precisely to protect the independence of the Deputy Ombudsman from the President’s control and influence in the event that the subject of the Ombudsman investigation is none other than the President himself. Precisely, the Court decision seeks to prevent the firing of the Deputy Ombudsman by the President when he is investigating the latter. Malacañang’s action in suspending Carandang for investigating the President is the most illustrative lesson on why the 2014 Court decision is correct. Giving the President disciplinary authority over the person empowered to investigate him engenders conflict of interest scenarios, like the present one. In this case, in order to protect himself and his family from further investigation by the Deputy Ombudsman, Duterte orders his suspension. This is of course convenient for Duterte who continues to hide his ill-gotten wealth and is preventing its exposure by the AMLC and the Ombudsman. Carandang’s suspension only shows that he is hot on the President’s money trail, and that Malacañang has to stop him before he uncovers the whole truth about the President’s ill-gotten wealth. This is all about protecting the President and hiding his corruption. And Malacañang has no qualms defying the Court’s 2014 ruling to do this. Malacañang’s action is the best reason why the Court should maintain the independence of the Deputy Ombudsman from the President. If the Court allows Ombudsman deputies to be controlled by Malacañang, the Ombudsman will no longer be able to perform its constitutional mandate as the only public official empowered by law to investigate the President. As if his government’s impunity in the exercise of power is not yet enough, Duterte still seeks to control the Office of the Ombudsman and make himself immune from investigation and accountability. The Supreme Court must not allow this. Otherwise, it might as well crown Duterte and declare him King of the Philippines.