"Will the Office of the Ombudsman agree with him?"
Will the Duterte administration's declared all-out war on even just a "whiff of corruption" catch a big fish?
That possibility looms with the filing of graft charges against Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III last week before the Office of the Ombudsman.
The complaint-affidavit was filed by Adolfo Paglinawan, a radio commentator who claims to be a "crusader and advocate in exposing the shenanigans and wrongdoing of government officials and private persons."
Bello is alleged to have committed grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and abuse of power in making at least 40 nonessential travels abroad and causing the government to spend at least P4 million for the trips that "did not redound to the benefit of the government."
While Bello made it appear that his travels abroad were all intended to check on the situation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East and other countries, the complaint said, these were in fact "in defiance and disobedience to the President's guidelines on foreign travel." It cited as precedents Duterte's earlier move to dismiss two government officials for non-essential, excessive and costly foreign travels.
The complaint pointed out: "Were these travels necessary and essential? It should be emphasized that as Secretary of Labor and Employment, Bello has so many responsibilities in managing the affairs and operation of a very large Department. He cannot just entrust his job to an OIC which he often does as he is out of the country half a month of every month of the year. How could he run efficiently and effectively the affairs of his office. As a matter of fact, his office is in disarray, such that he keeps changing the clusters, thereby confusing his subordinates. Furthermore, there are so many pending cases for decision in his office that have not been acted upon for months...Anyway, no matter how you look at them, these foreign trips of Bello gave him unwarranted benefits as he spent government money for airfare, hotels and food. If indeed he spent millions on these travels, he has caused undue injury to the government and prejudiced the Filipino people. Hence, Bello has committed the crime of graft and corruption, under RA 3019 and RA 6713 and also, under Article 208 of the Revised Penal Code for Abuse of Power."
The complaint also charged Bello with grave misconduct and serious dishonesty for authorizing the travel abroad of two subordinates which it deemed "excessive, not essential and not beneficial to the government."
Bello is also charged with grave misconduct and serious dishonesty for alleged usurpation of legislative powers by issuing Administrative Order No. 443, Series of 2018 that allowed him to retain the power to regulate private sector participation in the recruitment and overseas placement of workers by designating the POEA Administrator to be his authorized representative, "when in fact he does not have such power."
Bello is also alleged to have committed the crime of usurpation of authority or official functions when he exercised the powers of the President under Section 17 of EO 292, Series of 1987 by designating an Assistant Secretary as an OIC Undersecretary through the issuance of Administrative Order No. 408, Series of 2019, "despite his knowledge, being a lawyer and former Secretary of Justice, that the power and function to designate or appoint a high official of a Department under the Executive Branch solely belongs to the President of the Philippines."
The complaint also charged Bello for the illegal designation of a DOLE Director's OIC Assistant Secretary to fill the office left vacant due to the appointment of an Assistant Secretary as a Labor Attachè. Again, the complaint emphasized, only the President of the Philippines has the power and authority to designate temporarily a certain high official of a department in the Executive Branch to another office or position.
On top of all this, the complaint accuses Bello of treason for making a secret trip to the Netherlands to meet with Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Bello has defended his trips abroad by saying that all these are official travels authorized by no less than President Duterte: “All of my travels have presidential authority. I cannot go out without presidential authority,” Bello said, adding that as Labor Secretary, it is part of his job to know the actual situation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
As to his meeting with Sison, Bello said, all his meetings with Sison have President Duterte’s blessing.
“These are all with the authority of the President. I never go out of the country to talk to them without authorization. It is only upon the instructions of the President,” he said.
That may be so, but will the Office of the Ombudsman agree with him? Let's wait and see.