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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, July 8, 2013
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Ombudsman’s call


You can take the title in two ways. The first is the invitation of the Office of the Ombudsman for citizens to help. The second is the expectation of people on the Ombudsman to act with dispatch and perform its duty in the light of its mandate under the law and the image of the Ombudsman as an independent authority to insure that government officials execute the laws with efficiency, honesty and integrity.

Officials of the Ombudsman came to Bacolod with a call for the people to assist in the monitoring, at least of the actuations of the government officials and to report these questionable acts to the Ombudsman.

This is not new. We recall how many times the Ombudsman, from the beginning has been asking the people to report. And report the people did as an act of civic duty.

In fact, Negros has had a very active citizens group called People’s Graftwatch chaired by the late Dr. Patricio Tan. He was very active spending his own money for monitoring, investigations and reporting to the Ombudsman in Cebu. His medical office was busy with cases of reported anomalies by government functionaries.

There were Graftwatch chapters in several towns and cities of the province, the reason that several cases reported to Cebu were from outside the Capital City.

The cost of running Graftwatch was not peanuts and it could not solicit funds to maintain its independence. Fortunately Dr. Tan had personal resources to cover the cost of transportation, reproduction of documents, communications and meetings, aside from the use of his office personnel for follow-ups.

In sum, as far as private citizens helping the Ombudsman there is no scarcity of civic-minded citizens who would want his country rid of all grafters, incompetents and sluggards. In fact, there were immediate positive responses to the invitation of the Ombudsman from Iloilo.

The main question is not therefore the absence of civic consciousness but the response of the Ombudsman to its own call. The shoe is actually on the Ombudsman’s foot.

Our experience with the Ombudsman in Graftwatch is a series of frustrations and disappointments. Promises of action remained promises; assurance was without substance and pledges without commitments on the part of the Ombudsman. They failed to make good their call. It was their call and they missed or never heard it.

Don’t take my word for it although I have worked closely with Dr. Tan. Check the records of the Ombudsman on how much it has done to make good their promises of “immediate action” on the complaints filed by Graftwatch.

I remember a promise, after the Ombudsman in Cebu conducted an ocular inspection in  April or May and the promise to complete the findings and recommendations by May. It is a big case worth millions and suspicions of collusion by local officials.

More than ten Mays had passed and until now the Ombudsman has not come out with a finding, at least not that we know of. Dr. Tan passed away years ago without knowing what happened to the case he worked so hard for.

I remember the Ombudsman Desierto came all the way to Bacolod to meet with Dr. Tan and several others in Graftwatch. I was there and I heard all the promises of action. That was the last we heard of it until others came with the same come-ons.

I wonder if these “meetings” with the citizens is a mere gimmick or just to authorize a trip.

I can cite a dozen others in Dr. Tan’s files but that is no longer the point. The cases might have already been settled outside the public eyes. One never knows the wonders that happen in the dark.

Now the Ombudsman in Iloilo has come with the same pitch. How many times have they come? I have not heard of anything new, but somehow I get the impression they only want to impress.

It’s now the Ombudsman’s call. It has to show that it means business, but sadly we can list the cases the Ombudsman has not acted upon, so what’s the point in adding to their “undermanned staff” which is the usual justification for slow (or no) work.

I never tire of repeating the words of US President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis: Sincerity is subject to proof.

Let the Ombudsman show proof that the labor of citizens, taken with grave personal expense and risk is worth it. Sure there are harassment cases, but these are few and can readily be shown as shams.

Helping the Ombudsman is no picnic. Believe me you’ll pass the gauntlet.*




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