JUSTICE Secretary Leila de Lima said Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez failed to inspire public confidence in her anti-corruption campaign due to the way she handled cases against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Gutierrez on Monday declared that she is ready to face threats to oust her, saying her closeness with the Arroyos cannot be used as a ground for her impeachment.

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She said she is prepared to explain her side to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in the wake of Malacanang’s pronouncements that it is looking at legal means of removing her from the post.

But according to De Lima, the public has strong perception that Gutierrez deliberately washed her hands off in all the criminal and administrative cases lodged against the Arroyos.

“Yung mga reservations about her are reasonable reservations. These are not opinions plucked out of thin air,” the justice chief said.

Gutierrez said she will not cower from impeachment moves being initiated against her, citing her intention of completing her fixed seven-year term which is set to expire on December 2012.

Appointed in December 2005 by Arroyo, Gutierrez was a classmate of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo in law school.

The planned impeachment complaint developed for her non-action on high-profile cases filed such as the botched US$ 329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal and the alleged P728-million fertilizer fund scam.

Members of the Liberal Party led by former Senate President Jovito Salonga tried but failed to impeach Gutierrez in April last year, alleging that she is liable for “betrayal of public trust and gross and manifest incompetence to perform her duties.”

The complaint, which labeled her as a “coddler of the powerful and corrupt,” went through the process but was junked on April 17, 2009 for lack of substance.

Palace hands off

In Malacanang, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Aquino administration is not persecuting Gutierrez, who the other day said she would inhibit herself from the cases that maybe be filed in her office against officials who served under the Arroyo administration.

Lacierda, denying that the moves against Gutierrez are part of a “payback” plan, said that as far as the Aquino government is concerned, they are not getting “the rule of law will be applicable to all”.

“There is no persecution in so far as the government is concerned. Some other civil society groups or sectoral groups like Akbayan would want to file a case of impeachment against the Ombudsman precisely because of her past decisions which tends to favor former the former first family,” he added.

Lacierda said Malacañang is not preparing any impeachment case against Gutierrez, citing he was merely engaging in an “academic discussion” when the issue was raised in last week’s media briefing.

He said they would leave it to the House of Representatives to handle should a case be filed. The Akabayan meantime said it would file the complaint against Gutierrez.

The Palace official added that they want to see the complaint first before they would decide if they would support it or not.

“There was a question posed of whether her (Gutierrez) association would be a ground for impeachment and I said it depends on the House of Representatives, how they appreciate the evidence, so it’s up to the House.”

Asked if President Aquino is willing to sit down and meet Gutierrez, Laceirda said it has not been discussed, but added that the Chief Executive is an approachable person.

He however said it is irrelevant to ask Aquino if he has trust and confidence on Gutierrez since the Ombudsman is independent of the Executive branch.

He said what is important to them is that the Truth Commission, once established, would look into the controversies that hounded the Arroyo government.

“We emphasize the need for the Truth Commission to gather solid evidence so that whether the Ombudsman, be it Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez or some other person, the case will hold, the case will stand and the case will further be prosecuted.” (JCV/JMR/Sunnex)