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Merci won't hit back at Noy

MANILA, Philippines - Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez does not intend to engage President Aquino in a public word war.

In a statement, Gutierrez said she is not going to pick a fight with Aquino, who has been going around delivering speeches about how he wants her removed from office.

“I have been attacked numerous times, though unjustly and without basis,” she said.

“Many of these attacks have been coming not only from my usual detractors, but from no less than the President of the Republic himself.

“Despite all that he has said and done, I maintain my deep respect for the President. Despite his repeated pronouncements, mostly before graduating students of various schools in Metro Manila, that he is ‘at war’ against me, I have chosen to be silent mainly because I have deep respect to the institution that the President represents.”

Gutierrez issued the statement a day after Aquino delivered another speech before graduates of the University of the Philippines, where he called on them to support efforts to oust the Ombudsman.

“Despite the open call of the President to impeach me and his calling on the people, especially young students, to support the impeachment proceedings against me, I would not engage him in a word war before the public as this would only demean both of us, especially in this season of Lent,” Gutierrez said.

“Just the same, the case against me is now with the Senate. The Senate should be allowed to do its job without any interference or pressure,” she added.

Gutierrez said she is willing to take part in the legal processes for the issues raised against her to be resolved.

“I am willingly submitting myself before the Senate as an impeachment court, not only because I am confident that I will be vindicated in the end, but also because the Senate as an institution should be protected against any perceived pressure or partiality,” she said.

“I have always believed in and strived for the preservation of institutions. Institutions must be preserved and protected and not demeaned and destroyed.

“Otherwise, we go back to tyranny and dictatorship where the rule of those in power reigns supreme over reason and the rule of law.”

Consolidating prosecution

At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Aquino was not into trial by speeches against Gutierrez.

“I think what is being emphasized here is the reason why we need to fix the prosecution aspect of Ombudsman,” he said.

“We want to make sure that the cases we are going to file are strong.”

Lacierda said they had to study the charges filed against former agriculture secretary Luis “Cito” Lorenzo, former undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante and their alleged cohorts in the fertilizer fund scam.

“So, again, this is an example of how do we know that the cases that are being filed will be strong enough to stand the evidences in court?” he said.

“The scrutiny of the court, this is important to us. We believe that if we have an Ombudsman that we can trust, who has the integrity to prosecute the cases… our thrust, our crusade against corruption will really flourish.”

Lacierda said Aquino was only highlighting his seriousness in the anti-corruption campaign in citing the impeachment of Gutierrez in his speeches.

Based on a survey, it was clear how the people perceived Gutierrez, he added.

Lacierda said the charges filed against Gutierrez were based on inaction.

“And she was impeached on those grounds and clearly, whatever actions that she has taken are belated actions,” he said.

“And I think the Senate is fully aware, also the people are fully aware of the belated actions taken by the Ombudsman on this matter,” he said.

“You know, that case is already six or seven years ago.

“So why the Ombudsman is taking action only now, it is something I’m sure that we all have our theories.”

Lacierda said whether Gutierrez’s action would influence the Senate would be all up to the senators themselves.

“I do believe that based on the charges that were filed before the Senate, I don’t think the belated filing will have an effect,” he said.

“And, in fact, it both served the fact that there has been a delay in the prosecution of these people.

“I think the senator-judges have their own independent thinking. They will be basing their judgment on (pieces of) evidence that will be presented in the Senate impeachment court.

“Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has already made a statement that (they) will base (their) judgment on the (pieces of) evidence presented. It would be all up to the senators as to how they will view and appreciate the evidence to be presented during trial.”

Lacierda said Lorenzo and Bolante could only be made state witnesses if they would come out with new and strong evidence.

“Let us see what they have to come out with,” he said.

“In the first place, we are not aware as to what they know. So unless and until former secretary Lorenzo and Mr. Bolante would offer in evidence what they know or what we still don’t know, then we cannot comment on whether they could be discharged as state witnesses.

“But also, again, it would depend on their willingness to become state witnesses and if they choose to do so and subject to the evaluation of the Department of Justice, we will welcome if they really have good information.”

Justice delayed…

At the House of Representatives, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the impeachment of Gutierrez should prod members of the judiciary to quickly resolve pending cases.

Speaking before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines during its 13th national convention in Zambales, Belmonte said the House is resolved to enact remedial legislation that would reinvigorate the prosecution of grave public wrongs and reclaim the people’s trust in our criminal justice system.

“Neglect and inefficiency of court officers, of prosecutors and defense counsels, of court employees and judges, can and do retard the speed of the adjudication process,” he said.

“The important regard of society to our lawyers and workers in the judiciary demands our fidelity to high standards of competence and integrity.”

Belmonte said members of Congress, particularly lawyers, have to make sense of these changes to enact modifications on laws.

“It is therefore the duty and obligation of lawyers to see to it that our laws are obeyed and the dispensation of justice is fair, equitable, speedy and respected by all concerned,” he said.

“Unfortunately, our court system has been grinding at a snail’s pace. On the average, regular cases are resolved at the lower court in three to five years. Such delays result in the denial of justice.”

Belmonte cited the House’s approval of the articles of impeachment against Gutierrez for her alleged failure to act on specific cases that apparently underlined the growing erosion of public trust and confidence in government.

“The impeachment of the Ombudsman sends an important signal that public trust must be compensated with efficiency, probity and fidelity to service, and that the prosecution of offenses cannot, henceforth, be business as usual,” he said.

Belmonte said the clogging of the court dockets is one of the culprits.

Despite the efforts of Congress to create new courts, the inferior and lower courts remain swamped with numerous cases, he added.

Panelo still with Gutierrez

Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus Jr. belied reports that lawyer Salvador Panelo is no longer with the team of Gutierrez.

“(The Ombudsman wants to) dispel insinuations coming from people whose agenda is to create a wedge between Ombudsman Gutierrez and Attorney Panelo whom she continues to regard in high esteem,” he said.

Panelo is the confidante and adviser of Gutierrez on the issue of the plea bargaining agreement between the Office of the Special Prosecutor and former military comptroller Carlos Garcia and other matters on a personal basis, De Jesus said.

Gutierrez had named Tomas Syquia, a former prosecutor of the Department of Justice, as her new impeachment spokesman two weeks ago.

He is also working pro bono like Panelo, retired Supreme Court justice Serafin Cuevas, and lawyer Anacleto Diaz.

Panelo told The STAR he offered his services for free because he was outraged by the “patent unfairness and the nauseating arbitrariness” that characterized the determination of probable cause in the House of Representatives committee on justice in violation of due process.

“The blatant disregard of the rules on evidence in the proceedings goes against the grain of my training as a lawyer and I can not watch in sepulcher silence and let it pass without speaking against it,” he said.

“The advocacy for truth and justice can never be provoked or triggered by the prospect of financial gain, rather it is moved by good conscience and sense of justice.

“The scathing and scurrilous attack on the reputation of Ombudsman Gutierrez has to be confronted with the unblemished record of her government service marked with integrity and efficiency.

“There is a yawning gap between fiction and reality in the case of Ombudsman Gutierrez and there is a need to enlighten the misinformed if not deceived public.”

‘Let senators judge Gutierrez’

Opposition lawmakers called on President Aquino yesterday to let the senators judge Gutierrez.

Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay was commenting on Aquino’s speech before graduates of the University of the Philippines to join in his campaign to remove Gutierrez from office.

“I think that P-Noy and the rest should just let the impeachment trial unfold and take its course this coming May,” she said.

“P-Noy talks about it (ousting Gutierrez) all the time in any forum. That’s why it appears that he is not confident with the case.”

Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas said it was really the prerogative of Aquino to remove Gutierrez.

“Maybe it’s P-Noy’s way of putting pressure on the Senate,” he said.

Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo defended Aquino’s action of calling for the removal of Gutierrez.

“We should not fault the President for doing what he does,” he said.

“He just wants the public to clearly understand the issue at hand… in simple terms.

“He is just like any president or advocate trying to get public support for what he strongly believes is right, like pushing for good governance, reforms and combating corruption.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, one of those who endorsed the impeachment of Gutierrez, also saw nothing wrong with Aquino’s advocating for Gutierrez’s removal. (