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Frenzy against Merci: eyes on the Senate

IN MARCH 2006, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, then the leftist Akbayan party’s representative, was taken by three policewomen out of a rally as a courtesy to a parliamentarian before police dispersal operations were undertaken. Baraquel must have been horrified by hoi-polloi policewomen touching her. She filed criminal and administrative cases at the Office of the Ombudsman against the three.

For the police rank-and-file, Baraquel’s complaint was particularly cruel, as she owes much to the Philippine National Police, and knows how a case in the Ombudsman can ruin an officer’s career: her late husband was a PNP comptroller, while one brother and two brothers-in-law were also ranking police officers.

The Manila city prosecutor dismissed the case against the policewomen, and Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez concurred. Baraquel didn’t appeal the decision.

Now, Baraquel is one of the leaders of the impeachment pack against Gutierrez, claiming that the ombudsman’ dismissal of her case against the three policewomen was a betrayal of the public trust. A former ABS-CBN broadcaster, Baraquel during the House hearing of the case, glanced at the TV camera and dramatically said in Filipino, “Nothing personal here, Mrs. Ombudsman.”

In 2009, Baraquel demanded that all Ombudsman files be opened to her. But laws require the confidentiality of such records, as these could be used to blackmail government officials with threats of publicity. Now, she says that is a ground for impeaching Gutierrez.

That one should doubt Baraquel’s claim of “rock solid-evidence” against the ombudsman, and even her motives, is obvious in the Wikipedia item about her, which she or her staff obviously wrote. There it is prominently claimed that “she earned a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for her work … in the peace talks with the National Democratic Front from 1998 to 1999.”

What? Not even President Cory Aquino could say that she was a Nobel nominee, even if there was nearly global consensus that she was a shoo-in for it. The fact is, the Nobel Foundation does not release nominations it has accepted, allowing many megalomaniacs to put in their CVs that they are Nobel Prize nominees. A Nobel Peace Prize for heading the government’s socio-economic panel in the most preliminary talks with the NDF?

One of Baraquel’s allegations that isn’t tied to her personally is that the Ombudsman under Gutierrez has had a low conviction rate.
For starters, even if all Gutierrez did in the past five years was to win only this particular conviction, her performance would have been stellar. I am referring to the conviction of former President Joseph Estrada in 2007, which was during Gutierrez’s watch, the first time that a president was convicted of graft.

While the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has become some sort of nerd providing data and trivia to justify the wrath of political lynch mobs, it still has respect for facts. Using data from the Sandiganbayan, the PCIJ reported: “Gutierrez emerges as having the biggest case convictions… From December 2005 to December 2009 under her watch, she secured the conviction of 644 respondents in four years, for an average of 49, higher than convictions under the terms of (former Ombudsmen) Marcelo (40) Desierto (32), and Vasquez (30).”

PCIJ pointed out though that 221 cases in 2008 involved only one official. True, since there were that many counts filed against him. But including those cases, the Sandiganbayan decided on 553 cases filed by the Ombudsman, 406 of which resulted in convictions, for a conviction rate of 73 percent, a record.

Under Gutierrez’s watch up to 2009, her office successfully prosecuted 447 cases against mayors, three against governors (including the father of Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. who heads the committee pursuing the impeachment case), and 802 cases against other government officials. Will the Senate be asked to debate how many successful prosecutions mean that an ombudsman is doing his job?

Why is Baraquel so much fired up demanding Gutierrez head? Nothing personal against Gutierrez, as she would say, but very personal for her: senatorial elections in 2013. In the 2010 elections she was a hair’s breadth away from becoming a senator, landing 13th. She left far behind candidates with better name recall, such as leftist Rep. Satur Ocampo, Ramon Mitra and Susan Ople. Her victory would have been a tectonic shift in the political landscape as it would have been the first time that a leftist party had a representative in the powerful Senate.

Almost completely unknown outside NGO circles, how did she achieve that feat? She was at the head of another failed frenzy with also the “resign end-goal”: the demonization of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the past few years. Other than out-shrieking many in the anti-GMA lynch mob, does any one remember what causes she stood for? For Baraquel, the television coverage of an impeachment trial against the ombudsman will, in her mind, make her the new, improved Loren Legarda in 2013.

As in any lynch mob, there is a mix of motives in this particular pack: sweet revenge against an ombudsman who prosecuted a president, hundreds of mayors, and three governors; television coverage to jumpstart the senatorial ambition of third-term congressmen, including Bayan Muna’s Teddy Casino, another impeachment leader; wrath among 117 congressmen with graft cases which the ombudsman had the gall not to dismiss right away; and of course blood-lust against Arroyo whom they think they can finally pin down with a new ombudsman. And they want the Senate to be their stamp pad?

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer


Next week, the cases against Arroyo which Gutierrez allegedly “didn’t act upon.”