THE Office of the Ombudsman has indicted former Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner Ma. Rowena Amelia Guanzon over complaints for violation of Republic Act (RA) 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
In a resolution, Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer III Fatima Kristine J. Franco-Ilao said she has found probable cause to file graft charges against Guanzon “for prematurely disclosing confidential information during her interview conducted by Sandra Aquinaldo on 27 January 2022 and by Paterno Esmaquel II on 28 January 2022.”
Aguinaldo is a reporter from the GMA Network, while Esmaquel is a news editor from Rappler.
In particular, a charge for violation of Section 3k of RA 3019, or for divulging valuable information of a confidential character, acquired by her office or by her on account of her official position to unauthorized persons, or releasing such information in advance of its authorized release date, was filed against Guanzon.
The said interview was in relation to the disqualification case against then presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to which Guanzon served as the presiding Comelec commissioner who handled the case.
“Records disclose that by virtue of respondent’s position, she acquired valuable information relating to the disqualification cases of Marcos Jr. and she prematurely divulged such confidential information prior to the official release of the Comelec's decision,” the resolution stated.
“In an interview with Sandra Aquinaldo, she (Guanzon) announced her vote to disqualify Marcos Jr. from the presidential race. Then, in another interview with Paterno Esmaquel II, she named and identified the ponente who will write the resolution and discussed the contents of her separate opinion on the disqualification cases. She divulged these information while the cases were still pending and were being considered by the Comelec First Division and before the release of their Resolution,” it added.
The Ombudsman also noted in its resolution the adoption by the Comelec of Resolution 10685, also known as “In the Matter of People’s Freedom of Information Manual,” which “recognizes exceptions to the right of access of information.”
As stated under Resolution 10685, among the exemptions were “information, documents or records known by reason of official capacity and are deemed confidential, including those submitted or disclosed by entities to government agencies, tribunals, boards, or officers, in relation to the performance of their function, or to inquiries or investigation conducted by them in the exercise of their administrative, regulatory or quasi-judicial powers.”
Meanwhile, complaints against Guanzon for the alleged violation of Section 7 of Republic Act 6713 or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees” was dropped by the Ombudsman as it failed to present proof that respondent was motivated by any private interest or that she gave any private party unwarranted benefits, which prompted the disclosure of the information. There is also no proof that the respondent intended to prejudice the public interest with such disclosure.
In a social media post, Guanzon denied involvement in any corrupt practices with her over 25 years in service to the government.
“Hindi po [ako] nagnakaw sa gobyerno. That case filed by Topacio is related to my interviews about the F. Marcos disqualification case. It was my duty to inform the public that there were powerful people who were interfering in Comelec and independence and the elections were at serious risk,” she said.
“Wala pa naman botohan noong na interview ako kaya walang vote ako na na disclose. Wala ring internal deliberations dahil ang ponente hindi nag submit ng desisyon na,” she added.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio is one of the complainants in the case against Guanzon.
Guanzon expressed belief that the complaint is a “retaliatory act” of Topacio, whom she accused of Cyber Unjust Vexation, and is facing trial in the Regional Trial Court of Bacolod. (TPM/SunStar Philippines)