If there is one thing former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales remembers about the late former President Benigno Aquino III, it is that he had always asked her to “keep your independence” and “go after the corrupt” since her job entailed looking into the dubious practices of government officials and agencies.
Even during official functions, the late former president would always remind her to “be independent.”
“Keep your independence. Of course, that was flattering to me because it was a given on his part that I’m independent. I thought to myself that if it was the case that he had already wanted me Ombudsman in the beginning,” she shared during a media forum organized by opposition coalition 1Sambayan on “A Life Remembered: What PNoy Taught Me.”
“So, the President’s marching order was that be independent, go after the corrupt. If necessary, put them to jail,” Carpio-Morales added.
Aquino’s family, friends, and former Cabinet officials commemorated the 40th day since he died last Monday, August 2.
Before being appointed by the President as Ombudsman, Carpio-Morales was a Supreme Court associate justice. She was appointed a month after she retired from the SC in July 2011. Her appointment was announced during Aquino’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA).
“Destiny called for the reversal of roles. This time, the president was the one administering the oath of office to me. He again reminded (me) to be independent,” she shared.
Aquino took his oath of office before Carpio-Morales when he became president. She said that Aquino himself set an example for her.
“He believed in leadership by example so he gave me a free hand to go after the corrupt and on my part, I saw to it that if a complaint was filed, we had to validate the facts or cold facts that were furnished the Office of the Ombudsman before we proceeded to considering the case for preliminary investigation,” she recalled.
“On a few times that I met the president in Malacañang on official functions, he always told me to maintain my independence. Talagang broken record ‘yung kanyang sinasabi sa akin (It’s really a broken record what he was telling me) which I replied: ‘I won’t fail you, Mr. President, I won’t fail the nation.’ And, of course, I didn’t,” Carpio-Morales added.
And true enough, the retired Supreme Court associate justice stayed true to her word.
As Ombudsman, she filed usurpation and graft charges against Aquino in November 2017 in connection with the January 2015 deaths of 44 Special Action Force members in a botched operation against terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
She also indicted the late former Chief Executive for usurpation of legislative powers over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). The Mamasapano case was dismissed by current Ombudsman Samuel Martires, an appointee of President Duterte, while the DAP case has yet to be formally filed before the Sandiganbayan.
But all these did not affect Carpio-Morales’s relationship with Aquino, who she said remained “true to form, gracious enough to talk and banter with me” when she last saw him at a party.