The Office of the Ombudsman, mandated as Protector of the People

Today, 2 October 2006, the Ombudsman absolved all respondents involved in the Mega Pacific controversy of all administrative and criminal liabilities. To recall, the Supreme Court threatened to cite the Ombudsman in contempt for its delay in determining the criminal liability, if any, of the public officials (COMELEC) involved in the bungled automation of the 2004 elections (Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines [ITF] vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 159139 [2004]). The Ombudsman, in the person of the Honorable Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez, is now the subject of scathing public criticisms.

Let’s examine the history and constitutional mandate of the Ombudsman in the Philippines.

The concept of Ombudsman originated in Sweden in the early 19th century, referring to an officer appointed by the legislature to handle the people’s grievances against administrative and judicial actions. He was primarily tasked with receiving complaints from persons aggrieved by administrative action or inaction, conducting investigation thereon, and making recommendations to the appropriate agency based on his findings. He relied mainly on the power of persuasion and the high prestige of the office to effect his recommendations.

The present Philippine Ombudsman, however, departs from this classical Ombudsman model.

In the Philippines, several Ombudsman-like agencies were established by past Presidents to serve as the people’s medium for airing grievances and seeking redress against abuses and misconduct in the government.

Integrity Board (Pres. Quirino)

Presidential Complaints and Action Commission (Pres. Magsaysay)

Presidential Committee on Administration Performance Efficiency (Pres. Garcia)

Presidential Anti-Graft Committee (Pres. Macapagal)

Presidential Agency on Reform and Government Operations and the Office of the Citizens Counselor (both under Pres. Marcos)

These agencies, however, failed to realize their objective for they did not enjoy the political independence necessary for the effective performance of their function as government critic. Their powers are also limited to fact-finding and making recommendations.

Thus, the framers of the 1973 Constitution saw the need to constitutionalize the office of an Ombudsman, to give it political independence and adequate powers to enforce its recommendations. The 1973 Constitution (Section 6, Article XIII) mandated the legislature to create an office of the Ombudsman to be known as Tanodbayan. Its powers are not limited to receiving complaints and making recommendations, but also include the filing and prosecution of criminal, civil or administrative cases. Pres. Marcos, who was then exercising legislative powers under Martial Law, issued a law to implement this constitutional mandate.

Under the 1987 Constitution, a new Office of the Ombudsman was created. The Tanodbayan became the Office of the Special Prosecutor, which continued to exercise powers except those belonging to the Office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman, which is intended to be independent and autonomous constitutional body, is armed with the power to prosecute erring public officers and employees. The Ombudsman has an active role in the enforcement of laws on anti-graft and corrupt practices, as well as other offenses committed by government officers and employees.

The present Ombudsman, designated under the constitution as the “Protector of the People”, is charged with five major functions – Public Assistance, Graft Prevention, Investigation, Prosecution and Administrative Adjudication. The framers of the Constitution defined the role of the Office of the Ombudsman as a watchdog, to monitor the “general and specific performance of government officials and employees.”

In short, the Ombudsman, as an institution, is and should be the PROTECTOR OF THE PEOPLE.

Sources: Uy vs. Sandiganbayan, G.R. Nos. 105965-70, 20 March 2001 (with Justice Puno as ponente); Ombudsman website. See extended discussion at LawCenter LegalWiki.

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  1. Pingback: Effect of pending cases on the Senate’s power to conduct investigation in aid of legislation at Philippine e-Legal Forum

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