THE passage of Republic Act 6770 or The Ombudsman Act of 1989 was in compliance with Section 5, Article 11 (Accountability of public officers) of the 1987 Constitution which states: “There is hereby created the independent Office of the Ombudsman, composed of the Ombudsman known as Tanodbayan, one overall deputy and at least one deputy each for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. A separate deputy for the military establishment may likewise be appointed.”
The Ombudsman is a time-tested institution which evolved in the Scandinavian countries. It was aimed at giving the common people a tribunal to which they can readily ventilate their grievances against the government. King Charles X11 of Sweden was generally credited with initiating the Office of the Ombudsman in 1809. Ombudsman comes from Norwegian word “Umbodhsmadhr” which means “Administration Man or King’s Representative.” But some historical facts said that a prototype Ombudsman may have flourished in China during the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC and in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty.
The functions of the Ombudsman are stipulated in Section 13 of the same Article 11:
1) Investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, officer or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient.
2) Direct upon complaint or at its own instance, any public official or employee of the government, any subdivision, agency, instrumentality thereof, as well as of any government owned or controlled corporation with original charter, to perform and expedite any act or duty required by law, or stop, prevent, and connect any abusive or impropriety in the performance of duties.
3) Direct the officer concerned to take appropriate action against a public official or employee at fault, and recommend his removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution and ensure compliance therewith.
4) Direct the officer concerned in any appropriate case, and subject to such limitation as may be provided by law, to furnish it with copies of documents relating to contracts or transactions entered into by his office involving the disbursement or use of public funds or properties, and report any irregularity to the Commission on Audit for appropriate action.
5) Request any government agency for assistance and information necessary in the discharge of its responsibilities, and to examine if necessary, pertinent records and documentation.
6) Publicize matters covered by its investigation when circumstances so warrant and with due prudence.
7) Determine the causes of inefficiency, red tape, mismanagement, fraud and corruption in the government and make recommendations for their elimination and the observance of high standards of ethical and efficiency.
Promulgate its rules of procedure and exercise such other powers or perform such functions or duties as may be provided by law.
You see how awesome the power of the Ombudsman is? But it’s just unfortunate that this office did not function well according to its mandate. Now, there are calls, including the Ombudsman himself, Samuel Martires, to abolish this office because of his frustration with the refusal of supposed witnesses to come forward and present other evidence of corruption in government. The office even refuses now to conduct lifestyle checks against government officials and employees suspected of acquiring unexplained wealth.
Aside from this, the office conducts “slow-paced” investigations. The media can no longer make follow up on some cases at the local Visayas Ombudsman office and no longer publicize cases. Where is its transparency? If we are going to abolish the Ombudsman, where can the ordinary people who are victims of abuses and excesses of government officials seek redress? Maybe, just reform the office, but do not abolish it.