Unknown to many younger students, the University Student Government (USG) Judiciary branch had an ombudsman before who acted as an investigator of anomalies and constitutional violations in different units of the USG. One of the ombudsman’s key functions was to file cases against negligent USG officers in behalf of the students and present the evidences available to the Judiciary
In 2014, the Office of the Ombudsman was dissolved due to its “unconstitutionality.” In light of the corruption allegations against some officers of the USG, students only recently expressed their interest in a possible comeback of the ombudsman to further investigate on the allegations.
Ombudsman in the past
Lasallian alumni Miguel Adriano and Guillanio Sencio, with the aid of former Legislative Assembly (LA) Representative Carl Au, were the proponents in the formation of the Office of the Ombudsman which came into full effect in 2012. Instead of being formed under the USG’s Constitutional Commissions such as the Commission on Elections and the Commission on Audit, the office was placed under the Judiciary instead.
According to former Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business Magistrate Mark Wong, the office was established in order to provide a faster way of prosecuting and gathering data for cases. He shares that the original proposal was to establish a solicitor general, but it was later on suggested to have an ombudsman instead.
“The [role] of the Judiciary before, aside from to represent, was to [also] search for possible cases. Instead of having an uncoordinated search party and people who have unfair advantage and wavering interest with whatever is to arise from an investigation, why not just assign one body for that? [That’s why] the ombudsman was born,” Wong expounds.
Specifically, the ombudsman’s role consists of filing cases, processing evidence in accordance with the law, finding the most effective techniques to handle cases, and bringing such analyses to court hearings. Furthermore, according to a March 2013 article by The LaSallian, an ombudsman “cannot be a prosecutor and member of the defense counsel because it will entail unjust advantage.”
In terms of the differences between the Judiciary and Office of the Ombudsman, current Chief Magistrate Frances Lim says that some students would usually go to the ombudsman when they have concerns but do not have proof. In that case, the responsibility for investigating cases was transferred to the ombudsman, not the Judiciary.
She adds, “On the other hand, the students go to the Judiciary when they have a case to file and subsequently request for a subpoena, so they can investigate themselves without the help of the ombudsman.”
Throughout the years 2012 to 2014 when it was operational, the Office of the Ombudsman was involved in several cases in the USG. Among some notable cases include the impeachment case filed against a USG Executive Secretary, the freezing of five USG accounts due to audit non-compliance, and the impeachment of an LA representative—all of which occurred in 2014, the same year the office was abolished.
However, as stated in a February 2014 article by The LaSallian, the office was not mentioned nor defined in the ratified 2009 USG Constitution and the proposed 2013 USG Constitution. Due to this, it was declared unconstitutional and eventually dissolved.
Implications, future plans
Lim explains that one of the implications of the absence of an ombudsman since it ceased its operations is the “loss of presence of an active investigator in the USG.” She mentions that the Judiciary handled less cases previously, since the Office of the Ombudsman had been active in investigating certain units.
However, Lim has already raised the suggestion to incumbent USG President Zed Laqui and mentioned working together with the LA through a resolution rather than a plebiscite in bringing back the office.
“Zed was amenable [to] the motion and we’re both consulting our own people to study this case first before bringing it up to Janine [Angelo], [the] Chief Legislator,” Lim reveals. “Right now we’re in the planning stage, hearing the will of the student body.”
Lim also discloses that there are no current measures the Judiciary is undertaking to investigate the recent corruption allegations the USG is facing. These cases were already deemed closed and resolved by the Judiciary. She elucidates that it is only the ombudsman who can further investigate on the matter, since the Judiciary cannot conduct investigations and preside over the case at the same time.