Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ombudsman Has "Mercy"

Gutierrez and Arroyo
Originally uploaded by josephthaddeus.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed her Chief Legal Counsel Merceditas Gutierrez as the next Ombudsman to replace Simeon Marcelo whose resignation takes effect today. Gutierrez is the first woman Ombudsman in the country's history.

Gutierrez' appointment came amidst criticisms about her supposed closeness with the First Family. Aside from being the president's counsel, she is also a batchmate of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo at the Ateneo Law School Class of '72.

"I want to tell them that I cannot be approached for favors or be bribed," Gutierrez said shortly after Malacanang announced her appointment.

But anti-corruption groups are wary of her appointment.

PlunderWatch's Atty. Marichu Lambino said her group is wary how Gutierrez can function given the fact that there are several plunder complaints lodged at the Ombudsman against the President. Two of these complaints stemmed from the alleged use of the fertilizer fund and the PhilHealth Card funds for the President's 2004 election campaign.

"The Ombudsman is the one of the more sensitive positions in the government. He's tasked with prosecuting erring public officials including the President. The one who should be appointed to the position should be perceived as independent," Lambino said.

Another group, Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN) which monitored the selection process for the Ombudsman conducted by the Judicial Bar Council said it doesn't doubt the integrity of Gutierrez but is also concerned about her perceived closeness to the President.

"An Ombudsman should be independent so the people can trust him/her," TAN Chairman Vincent Lazatin said.

But former colleagues of Gutierrez at the Justice Deparment said they could vouch for her independence and integrity.

Gutierrez entered the Justice Department as state counsel in 1983 and rose from the ranks to become Acting Secretary before being appointed as Chief Legal Counsel.

"I have worked for her for twenty years, and I can tell you she has her own mind. She is independent," Asst. Chief State Counsel Antonio Abanilla said.

"I know the President cannot approach her to do things that she doesn't want to do because she knows Sec. Gutierrez is independent," State Counsel Mildred Bernadette Alvor said.

Gutierrez was chosen from the JBC list which included Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Diosdado Peralta and Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Victor Fernandez.

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