Deputy Ombudsman Visayas

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


PELAGIO S. Apostol's seven-year term as Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas ends on August 21. The Judicial and Bar Council is currently seeking his successor.

The position is mentioned in the Constitution which also specifies necessary qualifications. Section 8, Article XI states "that the job holder must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, and at the time of appointment, at least forty years old, of recognized probity and independence, and members of the Philippine Bar, and must not have been candidates for any elective office in the immediately preceding election."

Phew! That narrows the field, especially the bit about recognized probity and independence.

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There are only the necessary attributes. Necessary but not sufficient. Sufficiency is attained by additional proven qualities including:

(a) Public Relations skills. The Deputy Ombudsman's Office (DOO) for the Visayas should establish an efficient mechanism in which any member of the public who believes he has encountered a situation which comes within the purview of DOO is able to convey salient information via telephone, text, or e-mail. Contact details are vital as are acknowledgements that the information provided is being treated properly and, when requested, confidentially.

(b) Organizational skills. Nationally, the Ombudsman's function is highly centralized. We would expect, however, that the Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas is given the authority to deal with local matters where appropriate.

When issues occur locally but clearly also have a national dimension, then obviously the role of the Visayas Deputy Ombudsman is to provide local findings to "Head Office."

An example is the computer overprice in schools case in which officials from the Department of Education (DepEd) are allegedly involved together with current Bacolod City Mayor Monico Puentevella. A key component of the alleged overprice is Merryland Publishing Corporation which has reportedly obtained a total of P2.8 billion from education material contracts.

Bacolod is small beer for Merryland.

(c) Tenacity. The Deputy Ombudsman will be subject to escape and evasion tactics from those who do not wish to assist with enquiries. We expect the Deputy Ombudsman to be tenacious and not to be fobbed off by deflections and obfuscations. This may be stating the obvious but my experience is that well-meaning government officials are easily manipulated by the nefarious ones. The lone official who is relentlessly persistent in obtaining the truth is rare and needs the support of his supervisors and, where appropriate, the public. There are not many Heidi Mendozas. We should cherish them.

***

Who fits the job?

I don't know but I hope whoever is suitable applies. It is a vital appointment and the successful applicant has the opportunity to make a real difference.

I wish him (or, just as likely, her) well.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 11, 2014.

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