Religious workers oppose Martires’ bid as next Ombudsman

MANILA — A group of religious workers on Monday formally expressed their opposition to Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Martires’ bid to become the country’s next Ombudsman, replacing Conchita Carpio-Morales who will retire on July 26.

In a six-page opposition letter addressed to Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who is also acting Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) ex-officio chairman, 18 Catholic priests, evangelical pastors, and theological teachers urged the JBC to disqualify Martires due to various issues, including his alleged failure to meet “the standard of probity”.

“The Constitution provides that the Ombudsman should have recognized probity in which had been administered as a high standard; in fact, adhere to the highest principles and ideals as per having strong moral principles, honesty, and decency. Hence, Mr. Martires had failed to meet the certain standard,” reads the letter signed by the concerned Catholic priests, Evangelical pastors, and theological teachers.

“The Ombudsman can shape the landscape of the civil service for the Ombudsman to have been administratively admonished in the past, for the Ombudsman to have failed to follow mandatory rules such as recusal as a judge, for issuing questionable resolutions, for asserting untruthful historical facts, and for the Ombudsman to have prejudgment against faithful people; all these would besmirch our institutions and would invite discrimination in the highest echelons of our Constitutional government,” the opposition letter stated.

Among the issues raised by the group was Martires’ refusal to inhibit from the quo warranto case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and his “biased line of questioning” during the oral arguments on the case, where he raised a question on the connection, if any, between “‘mental illness’ and ‘invoking God as the source of personal strength”.

During his stint as magistrate of the Sandiganbayan, he was admonished, along with two other justices of the anti-graft court, by the High Court in January 2013 for “not immediately” implementing the arrest warrant against former Bacarra, Ilocos Norte Mayor Pacifico Velasco.

They also argued that Martires’ lack of probity is also shown by his April 2013 Sandiganbayan resolution, which upheld the plea bargain agreement entered into by former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia and the former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. He allowed Garcia to plead guilty to the lesser and bailable offenses of indirect bribery and facilitating money laundering, instead of plunder.

His vote to allow the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and his position that Marcos “was not dishonorably discharged” from the service by virtue of the EDSA People Power revolution in 1986 were also cited.

“As leaders of the faith community, we educate the faithful on how to behave in civilized society, how to act properly, how to be governed by strictures and rules which provide the least harm for every person. We see the Supreme Court serving a similar function as it educates not only the Bench and Bar but also every citizen and person on how to understand and meaningfully read the law and observe its proper compliance,” the opposition letter added.

Sought for comment on the letter-opposition through the SC Public Information Office, Martires said he has no comment on the issue.

According to an announcement released by Supreme Court (SC) Clerk of Court and JBC ex-officio secretary Edgar Aricheta, the nine applicants — Martires, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz, Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval and lawyers Edna Herrera-Batacan, Rey Nathaniel Ifurung, Rainier Madrid, Felito Ramirez and Rex Rico — will be put under questioning by the screening body starting 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

Bello will be the first to be interviewed in the morning, followed by dela Cruz and lawyers Herrera-Batacan, Ifurung, and Madrid, while Martires, who retires from the high tribunal in January next year, is slated to be interviewed first in the afternoon and will be followed by Ramirez, Rico, and Sandoval.

Another candidate, Davao Judge Carlos Espero II, will no longer be interviewed on Wednesday since his interview for the SC associate justice post which he also applied for, will be considered valid for his application as Ombudsman, the announcement said.

Morales, 76, is a retired SC Associate Justice who was appointed by former president Benigno Aquino III as Ombudsman in 2011.

The country’s top graft buster is also the sister of lawyer Lucas Carpio Jr., husband of retired Court of Appeals (CA) associate justice, Agnes Reyes-Carpio.

Lucas and Agnes are the parents of lawyer Mans Carpio, husband of President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

All applicants will be screened by the JBC and the shortlist will be submitted to the President.

The JBC is constitutionally mandated to screen and vet nominees to the President for vacant posts in the judiciary and the offices of the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman. It consists of seven members — the SC Chief Justice, the Justice Secretary and a representative of Congress as ex-officio members; and a representative each from retired SC justices, the academe, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the private sector as regular members.

It is chaired by Carpio, with ex-officio members Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Senator Richard Gordon, and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali.

Its regular members are retired SC Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, representing the justices and chairperson of the JBC Executive Committee; lawyer Jose Mejia, representing the academe; lawyer Milagros Fernan-Cayosa, representing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and retired Judge Toribio Ilao, representing the private sector. With reports from Rachel Banares, OJT/PNA-northboundasia.com