Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Up Close And Personal: Ombudsman Conchita Morales-Carpio in Seoul

Her visit to Seoul, South Korea, was very timely. This is the height of the biggest scam-slash-corruption-slash-thievery in the Philippine government in the 21st century, and most Filipinos like me want to know more about what’s going to happen next.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales flew into Seoul last Sunday, and straight from the Incheon International Airport, Ombudsman Morales and Assistant Ombudsman Evelyn Baliton went straight to the Philippine Embassy in Seoul for a short forum with the Filipino community in Korea.

Before the forum started, Ambassador Luis Cruz and the Philippine Embassy staff welcomed Ombudsman Morales and Atty. Baliton with a Filipino merienda of pancit canton, empanada, and fried lumpia.  (Thanks, by the way, to Mila of Western Union for hosting the Pinoy merienda that afternoon).
          (A Filipino merienda sponsored by Western Union 
                              and prepared by Daniel!)

Ambassador Cruz told me that the original idea of the forum was broached by the Filipino scholars in Seoul. They, too, had a lot of questions about this pork barrel scam and wanted some answers. So, it was just perfect timing since the Ombudsman was visiting Seoul to speak at an international symposium on anti-corruption practices.

Almost everyone submitted questions, which were read out to be answered by the Ombudsman. I recognized her name years ago when she was appointed to the Supreme Court and I heard it again during President Aquino’s presidential inauguration, where she administered his oath of office. She was the first female justice to administer such an oath to a Philippine president.  She also figured prominently during the impeachment trial of the former Chief Justice Renato Corona, when she testified about his dollar accounts. She held her own against Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who found her match in the person of Conchita Morales-Carpio.  Their exchange was interesting and was like an excerpt from a courtroom drama.
(Ombudsman Morales-Carpio and Ambassador Cruz)
      (Consul General Iric Arribas presiding over the forum)

During the forum last Sunday, the Ombudsman's responses and comments were direct to the point and very clear. Smart and intelligent - the obvious characteristics of an experienced magistrate. Her voice was low-toned and solid, and her sentences were succinct and diction excellent.  I could almost imagine her sitting at a judge’s chair handing out a sentence or presiding over a hearing.  She reminds me of Holland Taylor, who usually plays a law professor or a judge in films and TV series.  Miss Taylor’s lines are usually crisp and direct, and her voice modulated low and always had an air of authority. Ombudsman Morales’s voice has such authority and presence.

Listening to her, I can only think of one other person, whom I personally heard here in Seoul and who could speak with such clarity and diction: Angelina Jolie.  But Angelina is a trained actor and is used to press conferences. Perhaps, Ombudsman Morales, in her years as a lawyer and a judge, has also perfected such skill.

During the forum, the Ombudsman told everyone that her office could not get affidavits from the whistleblowers of the ‘pork barrel scam’, who are under the custody of the NBI, and because of this, she has subpoenaed them to get their statements. For her office to move on with the case, the Ombudsman needs documentary evidence and testimonies, which she needs from the whistleblowers.

I trust this lady. I trust her to bring those ‘kawatans’ to justice for stealing our money. She also echoed everyone's sentiment about the scam, that everyone's angry; she added that everyone is a victim. She said that, with her untarnished record of more than 40 years in government service, she said she would never give in to any pressure from anyone.

Answers to most of the questions discussed at the forum were already in the news, but for me, it was more interesting to know more about this feisty lady. She even quoted a line we hear usually to describe dishonest government and elected officials:  “So young, yet so corrupt.”  She said she felt insulted because no one ever said anything to describe her as:  “So old, yet so upright!”  With that, everyone in the hall laughed.

During the forum, Attorney Evelyn Baliton, the Assistant Ombudsman, shared with everyone a few notes as to what the Ombudsman would talk about in her speech at the anti-corrupt practices symposium. I am glad that her office has in place a system to curb corruption in government. I would have wanted to listen to her speech at that symposium.

         (With the Assistant Ombudsman Evelyn Baliton)

She shared with everyone that at the end of a working day, she’s usually burned out. Starting her day early at the office by 6:30AM and ending it around 6 at night, she usually had to skip dinner with her family because she was too tired. And to make up for the time not spent with her family, they left for a vacation in Taiwan during the typhoon last month and bonded together.  I can relate to that. Not about the Taiwan vacation, but long days at work that leave you exhausted physically and mentally.

With these trustworthy, hardworking, and very competent government officials like Ombudsman Conchita Morales-Carpio, I am willing to pay my taxes because it goes to help stop corruption in a very corruptible system.  I wish there would be more people like her who are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the common good.

I wish the Ombudsman and her office succeed in finding justice to this whole scam and bring those thieves to jail. Jeeez. I still shake my head thinking about the billions these senators, congressmen, government officials and their partners in crime skimmed from the kaban ng bayan.  How can they go to sleep at night when they know the money they feed their families with was stolen? Ang kakapal at walanghiya talaga.

So, to the Philippine Embassy staff and to Ambassador Cruz, thanks again for organizing the forum and for giving us the opportunity to learn more about the pork barrel scam and to get to know the Ombudsman Morales-Carpio...up close and personal.

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