The Office of the Ombudsman

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By Kelvin Lee

Question of Law

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


YOU hear a lot about the Office of the Ombudsman nowadays, especially with the increase of high-profile graft and corruption cases and pork barrel related scams being mentioned in the media.

This begs the natural question: what is the Ombudsman?

The Ombudsman is an independent office created by the 1987 Constitution (Sec. 5, Article XI, Constitution). As an independent office, the Ombudsman was envisioned as being able to act on its own without being beholden to any power or authority.

It is considered the protector of the people. In fact, the law provides that, the Ombudsman and his deputies, as protectors of the people shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against officers or employees of the Government, or of any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and enforce their administrative, civil and criminal liability in every case where the evidence warrants in order to promote efficient service by the Government to the people (Section 13, R.A. No. 6770).

Its primary functions are (in summary form), among others, to investigate any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient. (Sec. 13, Article XI, Constitution). To direct any public official or employee to perform and expedite any act or duty required by law, or to stop, prevent and correct any abuse or impropriety in the performance of duties (Id.).

In short, the powers of the Ombudsman are very broad. As per the Supreme Court, the Ombudsman can investigate any “illegal act or omission of any public official even if the offense committed by the official is not related to the performance of his function.” (Deloso v. Domingo, 191 SCRA 545 (1990)).

The Office of the Ombudsman is also mandated by law to prioritize certain cases. “The Ombudsman shall give priority to complaints filed against high ranking government officials and/or those occupying supervisory positions, complaints involving grave offenses as well as complaints involving large sums of money and/or properties” (Sec. 15, R.A. No. 6770).

It is thus no wonder that so many high profile graft and corruption cases are now winding up before the Ombudsman. By law and constitutional fiat, these cases fall under the Ombudsman’s responsibility. The Ombudsman is even required to prioritize such high profile cases.

Another question is: has the Ombudsman been effective since its creation? The answer to that question will depend on one’s point of view.

***

As I write this, I just heard that the Supreme Court has held the RH Law is constitutional, save for some provisions, namely, Section 7, Section 23(a)(1), Section 23(a)(3), Section 23(b), Section 17, Section 3.01(a) and (j), Section 23(a)(2)(ii).

Many people consider this a victory, while others consider this a defeat. Whichever side is correct, remains to be seen.

***

The opinions expressed herein are solely of Atty. Lee. This column does not constitute legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship with any party. You can reach Atty. Lee at lvlawoffices@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on April 10, 2014.

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