Bello: I won’t be ‘political’ Ombudsman

MANILA Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Wednesday vowed to exercise neutrality once he is appointed as the country's next Ombudsman.

The possibility of being a 'political Ombudsman', medyo malayo po yun (it's too far), not at this stage of my life. I'm not really a politician except for that I was brought into the fray through uncontrollable and unforeseen events, Bello said during the public interview of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for aspirants vying for the Ombudsman post.

Bello said President Rodrigo Duterte has asked him to join the administration's senatorial line-up for six to seven times and in order to stop the President from making such request, I told him I am applying for the job (as Ombudsman).

I was flattered but I declined graciously the offer of the President because I feel that my ace may not be consonant with the campaigning - a very rigorous activity - plus my limitation in terms of logistical capability, your honors, so I graciously declined the offers of the president, he noted.

He added that serving at the anti-graft office might be my last chance to help the President in his crusade against corruption.

When asked about his capability, he said that being able to work with four Presidents namely, Corazon Aquino (as Department of Justice Undersecretary and Secretary), Fidel Ramos (as Solicitor General and Justice Secretary), Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (as chairman of the PH panel in government's peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army/National Democratic Front), and President Duterte (as Labor Secretary and chief PH negotiator in the PH-CPP/NPA/NDF peace talks), and to run in at least two senatorial elections is an indication that he is qualified for the job.

Bello, who was the first to be interviewed, was also asked about his opinion on the inclusion of the Philippines in the Global Workers Rights Index 2018 as one of 10 worst countries for working people, to which he expressed his disagreement with the findings.

I respect the view of the union federation about us being one of the 10 worst countries on labor matters, but I wish to disagree because, modesty aside, this is probably the best time or the only time where you can say there is industrial peace in our country. Wala po kayo masyado nakikitang mga welga welga dyan (You won't see so many protests there), he explained.

Bello also said that for the first time in the country's history, major corporations are being ordered to regularize their employees.

This is probably the first time anyone of us in court is hearing the decision of the Secretary of Labor directing one of the biggest companies in our country, PLDT, to regularize its employees. malalaking corporations po ito (these are big corporations) - Jollibee, Burger King, and soon to come will be yung Mang Inasal, Chowking, Red Ribbon - they will all be treated equally: we will demand and order them to regularize their employees in accordance with the provision of our Constitution on the security of tenure of our workers, he said.

To date, some 182,000 contractual employees have been regularized under Bello's leadership. DOLE is eyeing 300,000 more to be regularized before yearend.

He said the accomplishment was made possible despite the department's handicap of having only 574 labor law compliance officers to undertake the inspection of some 900,000 business establishments nationwide.

The Labor Secretary also told the JBC panel that he was able to compel the SM Supermalls, the biggest mall chain in the country, to regularize some of its workers.

According to Bello, the company came up with a regularization program and promised DOLE for this semester that they will regularize not less than 5,000 of their employees and by the end of the year 2018 they will regularize another 5,000 a total of 10,000 workers.

To my mind, your honor, wala pa yatang nakakagawang Department of Labor (Secretary) ng ganyan (no Labor Secretary has done that); with all humility, pambihira 'yung achievement na yun (that is a rare achievement), Bello told the JBC.

Bello also belied reports that he has pending cases before the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Labor chief presented a clearance from the Office of the Ombudsman signed by Graft Investigation Officer 1 stating that he has no pending administrative and criminal cases.

After I learned the news that I may be disqualified, I asked the Ombudsman [on the status of the complaint], Bello said as he showed to the media a copy of his clearance.

Aside from Bello, included in the morning session of the JBC public interview were Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz and lawyers Edna Herrera-Batacan, Rey Nathaniel Ifurung, and Ranier Madrid.

Dela Cruz was asked on why he is vying for the Ombudsman post when he is retiring from the judiciary in October.

I applied for the tucking in of my service with the juvenile and domestic relations court for one year it's still pending with the SC. I thought that I had to apply for early retirement once that is approved before accepting the position of ombudsman your honor otherwise I will have nothing if I will just accept this without applying for early retirement.

Dela Cruz also explained how he will deal with the large volume of cases at the Ombudsman.

I heard the incumbent Ombudsman that she is working there very early in the morning leaving the office late in the evening, even during non-working days, I'm willing to do that your honor. and also to avoid to check the delays in the resolution of cases there I think I will have to conduct an inventory of cases to determine the choke points why there are such delays there and to propose or implement measures to avoid the choke points.

"I have just read in the decisions of the Supreme Court about the workings of the Ombudsman especially with respect to delays in resolving cases, your honor. I will have to study the workings there, inner workings, so i can be an effective Ombudsman, your honor, he stressed.

The Sandiganbayan justice was also asked on his opinion on proposals to amend the Constitution, move towards federalism, and the structural concept of Ombudsman under federalism.

I think the Office of the Ombudsman is one of the offices which our constitution should strengthen, another is the COA (Commission on Audit) in order to curb graft and corruption. those offices should be strengthened even in a federal type of government, he said.

Meanwhile, Edna Herrera-Batacan and Rainier Madrid, the two private lawyers who served as counsels to President Rodrigo Duterte and his son, former Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, also faced the JBC public interview for the post.

Among the issues asked to them are their relations to the first family and their judicial independence.

Batacan served as legal counsel to the president in a graft case in 2010, admitted that she maintains a close relationship with the president because he has been not only my client but also the godfather of my eldest daughter.

She also insisted that Duterte will not interfere with her work, should she be appointed as ombudsman.

I think he won't be interfering in my job because I know him personally, she added.

Madrid, who was the younger Duterte's lawyer when he faced the Senate for a probe into the PHP6.4-billion shabu shipment case.

Madrid clarified that he is not the lawyer of Paolo in his pending case at the Ombudsman.

The Office of the Ombudsman earlier cleared Paolo from the shabu shipment case, outgoing Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said that her office is looking into the presidential son's wealth declaration documents.

Should he be appointed and a probe on Paolo be conducted, he said: I will leave it as it is. Complete inhibition is the safest tack.

Madrid also said that he made his application on his own.

Ifurung, also a lawyer, said his background which is more concentrated on investigation, makes him the right man for the job.

He also insisted that his energy, talent and experience, and lastly yet one of the most significant is his character.

He also mentioned that he thoroughly studied law and management skills.

The big fish, especially those who are publicized in the papers, that could be immediate to my mind. Secondly, to remove the back-log and system and time table to meet deadlines because of the dismissed cases lately of the Ombudsman and third, to have a high percentage of condition, are the three priorities of Ifurung as he was asked by one of JBC panel his former classmate in Ateneo, lawyer Jose Mejia.

Other aspirants for the post who were interviewed by the JBC in the afternoon session include SC Associate Justice Samuel Martires, lawyers Felito Ramirez and Rex Rico and Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval.

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

Morales, 76, is a retired SC Associate Justice who was appointed by former president Benigno Aquino III as Ombudsman in 2011. (With reports from Rachel Banares, OJT/PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency