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Ombudsman quits to avoid trial

Impeachment off but bishops say justice must still be done

Ombudsman quits to avoid trial
Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez makes a point during a press conference
Sean Salvador and staff, Manila

April 29, 2011

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The embattled Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez resigned today, 10 days before the Senate was set to start an impeachment trial against her. Catholic bishops who have been calling for Gutierrez’s resignation welcomed her decision but said moves to make her accountable for alleged irregularities should be pursued. Gutierrez said she has been vilified in the media long enough. “I hope we can now all focus on the impelling problems of our people rather than expending so much time, effort and resources to remove me from public office,” she said. Senators heaved a sigh of relief, saying it will save them precious time, although the government already spent some 15 million pesos (US$350,000) for trial preparations. “My question is with her resignation, has justice been served or will the search [for evidence of corruption] continue?” said Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila said the government must still hold Gutierrez accountable for her alleged misdeeds. He said it is also high time for the administration of President Benigno Aquino to appoint someone who has high credibility. “Now is the time to watch President Aquino on his seriousness to fight corruption. We’ll see who he will put as Ombudsman,” the prelate said. Aquino had been saying Gutierrez was a stumbling block in his efforts to rid the government of corruption. Congressmen who voted to impeach Gutierrez said she might have saved herself from a trial at the Senate, but she still has to face criminal charges. “While it will render the impeachment trial at the Senate moot, it does not get her off the hook. The process of impeachment is only to impeach and remove her from office. Now the next step is to file charges against her," said Niel Tupas Jr. of the justice committee of the House of Representatives. Former Solicitor General Frank Chaves, who recently filed plunder charges against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said charges of obstruction of justice might be filed against Gutierrez. “She has stolen the thunder. But she has saved the nation a lot of trouble, man-hours and efforts to have her impeached,” Chavez said. PM14042
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