December 2005 to May 6, 2011
The fourth Ombudsman of the Republic of the Philippines, MA. MERCEDITAS N. GUTIERREZ, is a graduate of the Ateneo Law School having finished her law degree in 1972. She started her government service as Legal Officer of the Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation (PADC). After a brief stint with PADC, she was appointed Presidential Legal Officer, Office of the President, where she served in the Legal Staff before she moved to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as Legal Officer.
She started her 21-year career with the Department of Justice in December 1983, as State Counsel (SC), Legal Staff Office. From there, she steadily rose from the ranks within the DOJ, becoming, in succession, SC, SCII, SC III, SC IV, Senior State Counsel, Assistant Chief Counsel and Undersecretary. Finally, she was appointed as Acting Secretary from November 27, 2002 to January 15, 2003, and again from December 24, 2003 to August 31, 2004.
On September 1, 2004, she was appointed as chief Presidential Legal Counsel, Office of the President, and on November 25, 2005, she was designated the Acting Executive Secretary when the Executive Secretary went abroad on an official mission. She assumed her office as the very first female Ombudsman on December 1, 2005.
There had been many occasions when she represented the Philippines in high level international conferences and in the negotiations of bilateral agreements. These include the Afro-Asia Coordination Meeting on Refugee Determination held in India in 1996; the Conference on Juvenile Justice held in Florida in 2000; the World Conference Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Japan in 2002 and the Conference on Transfer of Sentenced Persons held in Canada in 2004; In 2003, she was Chair of the Experts Meeting on the Judicial Protection of Children held in Thailand.
As Undersecretary of Justice, she was also the Chairperson of numerous committees, like the Special Committee for the Protection of Children, the Presidential Human Rights Committee, the Inter-Agency Committee on the Remaining Vietnamese Nationals, the Dangerous Drugs Board, and the Technical Working Group to conduct Institutional and Performance Audit of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. She was also the Head of the Refugee Processing Unit of the Philippine Government, and member of various government committees and panels. As Acting Secretary of Justice, she chaired the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children.
For her exemplary performance in public service, Ombudsman Gutierrez received recognition as Outstanding Public Official (The Consumers’ Union of the Philippines), Outstanding Alumna for Public Service (College of the Holy Spirit), Award of Recognition for Public Service (IBP Bataan Chapter), Ulirang Ina Award for Law and Judiciary, Huwarang Ina for Government Service & Legal Affairs, Dangal ng Samal (Samal, Bataan), Woman of Distinction (Soroptimist International, Bataan Chapter). Certificate of Recognition from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Recently, she was the first recipient of a commendation awarded by the Ambassador of Japan for her vital role in the implementation of a pioneer project between the Philippine Government and Japan. Likewise, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) recognized her as one of the six (6) “key women personalities” for making a mark in Philippine governance.
Known to few, Ombudsman Gutierrez has a Diploma in International Law and Development at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, the Netherlands. She wrote a paper “ASEAN States and Their Attitude Towards Arbitration and Judicial Settlement of Disputes”. She, likewise, attended the International Law course at the prestigious The Hague Academy of International Law.
For all these achievements, she has remained one of the least recognizable public figures in recent years. This is owing to her work ethic of doing the best one is capable of, with the least fuzz, while ensuring that those affected by her decisions received the fullest protection of their rights. She is a firm believer of skills working together with the proper values, so that one’s work is carried out professionally, responsibly and humanely. She urges bureaucrats everywhere to be purposefully helpful to ordinary citizens, have a sense of the broad view, consciously contribute to strengthen institutions, develop an appreciation of one’s role in society, nurture courage and honor, and embrace a strong commitment to be an instrument for the common good.
Ombudsman Gutierrez had aimed to be a public school teacher in the younger days, but her desire to emulate her late father, who was a staunch anti-corruption and justice crusader in their native province of Bataan, made her shift to a career in law. In a recent issue of Philippine Graphic, she was aptly referred to as the graftbuster’s daughter. And so it will be for this courageous lady lawyer who declared upon her being named as the new Ombudsman; “I will be merciless to the grafters… no one can bribe me!”