DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 21 Nov) – After 29 years of renting office space, the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao (OMB-MIN) has finally moved to its own home, with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales gracing the inauguration on Tuesday.
“After an intense period of careful planning and faithful implementation of the project, the OMB Mindanao now has a home it can call its own. The Office has finally made the dream come true in building a safe and permanent shelter for the OMB Mindanao,” Morales said.
The new building, she emphasized, is not just a place where OMB-MIN employees report for work but “most importantly, it is the place where citizens in this part of the country find refuge in the face of government abuse.”
Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao Rodolfo Elman, who has been with OMB-MIN for 28 years and who assumed his current post in March 2014, narrated in his welcome address that “over time, the office space had become inadequate for this growing institution: work stations had become overcrowded, the storage overflowed, and the hallways obstructed, due to the steady stream of requests, complaints and other communications that the Office receives daily.”
The plan to construct a permanent structure was pushed by Morales who was disheartened to see the state of the rented Mindanao office during her first visit here.
Since it opened in 1988, OMB-MIN has had two office addresses – at the Mintrade building along Monteverde until it moved to H & C Building along Alvarez St. in May 1996, its home for 21 years.
Its new home at the corner of Libra and Earth streets in GSIS Heights Subdivision – an imposing structure of three floors and a covered roof deck intended for future expansion — stands on a 2,798 square meter lot behind the Government Service Insurance System compound.
Costing P187.67 million, the new building has a total area of 5,317.90, a far cry from the previous rented office space of 1,300 square meters.
The lot was blessed on March 28, 2014, groundbreaking rites held on May 7, 2015 and construction finally started on January 15, 2016.
When Elman assumed as Deputy Ombudsman in March 2014, the office had a total manpower complement of 78, with only 12 lawyers handling an annual workload of more than 2,000 cases. More lawyers and investigators were recruited to expedite the investigation of cases. As of September 2017, its number of personnel has reached 100, with 30 graft investigators and prosecutor officers.
As of October 31, the OMB-MIN reported that it has disposed of 868 cases or 88% of the total number of cases docketed in 2016 and earlier.
In January 2017, OMB-MIN cases had 725 cases docketed from 2014 to 2016 – one from 2014, 155 from 207 and 569 from 2016 – but by October 31, only 86 cases have yet to be disposed.
The OMB-MIN had an overall case workload of 1,728 cases old and new — from January to October 31. Of this number, 868 had been disposed and 860 are pending.
“As we gather today for this inauguration ceremony, let us not just marvel at this magnificent edifice where the Ombudsman Mindanao is now housed but also, hopefully, recognize that the more enduring grandeur and legacy lies not in the beauty of the building, but in the people who give life to the structure— their integrity, competence, and passion to do what is right and just. This is the true foundation upon which this building stands,” Elman said.
Mayor Sara Duterte was not able to attend but sent a signed message read for her by City Administrator Zuleika Lopez, who had earlier worked in the OMB-MIN.
“I trust that this new building will allow you to better discharge your mandate to the Filipino people,” the mayor said.
“May this building inspire you to continue to protect the people of Mindanao against social injustices, and promote efficiency, integrity and accountability in public service,” the mayor said, adding that “as protectors of the people of Mindanao, I trust that you will act promptly on complaints against officers or employees of the government, and enforce their administrative, civil and criminal liability when the evidence warrants in order to promote efficient service by the government to the people.”
Morales reminded OMB-MIN personnel that the greater foundation of the office “lies in the integrity of its people.”
“It is measured by the strength of their moral courage in the unrelenting pursuit of good governance. It is gauged by the steadfastness of their keen dedication in addressing people’s grievance against government inaction, delay or abuse,” said Morales, an Associate Justice at the Supreme Court from August 2002 to June 2011 and Ombudsman since July 28, 2011. Morales’ term expires on July 28, 2018.
Morales has been on the receiving end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ire for her alleged “selective justice.” Duterte also warned Morales of impeachment and on September 28 warned that he would set up a commission to investigate the Ombudsman, two days after overall Deputy Ombudsman MelchorArthur Carandang said they would act on the complaint of opposition senator Antonio Trillanes about his alleged hidden wealth. Duterte had vehemently denied the allegations.
“Sorry, Mr. President, but this Office shall not be intimidated,” Morales said in a press statement on September 29.
“The President’s announcement that he intends to form a commission to investigate the Ombudsman appears to be a retaliation to our ongoing investigation. We will, nonetheless, proceed with the probe, as mandated by the Constitution,” she vowed.
Morales, who left for Manila immediately after the inaugural rites, inhibited herself from participating in the probe, as she did in the past, even before Duterte became Presisdent because Morales’ nephew, Manases Carpio, son of her brother Lucas, is the husband of Mayor Sara Durerte.
Present during the inauguration were Undersecretary Jesus Melchor Quitain of the Office of the President, Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval, Deputy Ombudsmen Gerard Mosquera for Luzon, Paul Elmer Clemente for Visayas and Cyril Ramos for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices; and former Deputy Ombudsman Antonio Valenzuela.
Morales’ nephew Manases Carpio and her brother, Judge Emmanuel Carpio of Regional Trial Court XI, also attended. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)