The OMBUDSMAN is a time-tested institution which evolved in the Scandinavian countries. It was aimed at giving the common people a tribunal to which they can readily ventilate their grievances against the government. King Charles XII of Sweden is generally credited with initiating the office of the ombudsman. An official with the title of Hogsta Ombudsman (Supreme Royal Ombudsman) was appointed in 1713. He was assigned to “keep an eye on royal officials” and supervise observance of the laws. Sometimes he was even commissioned to represent the king in some official functions. Introduced in the Constitution of 1809, an Ombudsman was appointed by Swedish Parliament, making the office independent from the King. Ombudsman comes from the Norwegian word Umbodhsmadhr, meaning Administration Man or King’s Representative. As a Swedish word, it literally means one who represents another.
The Dictionary generally defines Ombudsman as a government official who investigates complaints against the government or its functionaries. On the basis of his functions, the Ombudsman has also been described as a public defender, a grievance man, a watchman over the law’s watchmen, voice of the citizen, and citizen’s counselor. Essentially, the Ombudsman protects citizens against injustices committed by civil officials.
The Permanent Commission
In the Philippines, the Permanent Commission in the Revolutionary Government may be considered a precursor of the present Office of the Ombudsman. Article 21 of the Decree of June 23, 1898 creating the Revolutionary Government of the Philippines provided for a Permanent Commission, presided over by the Vice President, that shall decide on appeal all criminal cases decided by provincial councils. These cases were those filed against Department Secretaries and provincial and municipal officials.
The Permanent Commission continued its existence after the ratification of the Constitution of 1899, popularly known as the Malolos Constitution. Under No. 1, Article 55 of said Constitution, one of the powers of the Commission was to “declare if there is sufficient cause to proceed against the President of the Republic, the Representatives, Department Secretaries, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Solicitor General in the cases provided by the Constitution.
In Previous Administrations
Succeeding administrations likewise provided for the creation of agencies to handle cases of corruption in the government service. An Integrity Board was created by President Quirino in 1950. President Magsaysay immediately upon assumption to office created the Presidential Complaints and Action Commission in 1957. President Garcia created the Presidential Committee on Administration Performance Efficiency in 1958 and President Macapagal created a Presidential Anti-Graft Committee in 1962. President Marcos in 1966 created a Presidential Agency on Reforms and Government Operations.
In 1969, the Office of the Citizen’s Counselor was created by Republic Act No. 6028. However, like the previous agencies created by past administrations, the functions of the Citizen’s counselor were mainly to conduct fact-finding investigations and to make recommendations to Congress and the President. Moreover, RA No. 6028 was not at all implemented. Subsequently, President Marcos created a Complaints and Investigation Office in 1970 and the Presidential Administrative Assistance Committee in the following year.
The 1973 Constitution (Sections 5 and 6, Article XIII) provided for the establishment of a special court known as the Sandiganbayan and an Office of the Ombudsman known as the Tanodbayan. Presidential Decree Nos. 1486 and 1487 created the Sandiganbayan and Tanodbayan, respectively, on June 11, 1978. Subsequent amendments were made to both decrees.
The Tanodbayan shall receive and investigate complaints relative to public office, including those in government-owned or controlled corporations, make appropriate recommendations, and in appropriate cases, file and prosecute criminal, civil or administrative cases before the proper court or body. On the other hand, the Sandiganbayan shall have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases involving graft and corrupt practices and such other offenses committed by public officers and employees, including those in government-owned or controlled corporations.
The framers of the 1987 Constitution envisioned the Ombudsman as an official critic who studies the laws, procedures and practices in government, a mobilizer who ensures that the steady flow of services is accorded the citizens, and a watchdog who looks at the general and specific performance of all government officials and employees. (cf. Journal No. 40, July 26, 1986, p. 432). To further strengthen and insulate the Office of the Ombudsman from politics and pressure forces, the Constitution made it a fiscally autonomous body, (cf. Sec. 14, Art. XI, 1987 Constitution) independent from any other branch of government, and headed by an Ombudsman with a fixed term of seven years, who could be removed from office only by way of impeachment. (cf. Sec. 2, Art. XI, 1987 Constitution). The Ombudsman and his Deputies enjoy the rank of Chairman and members, respectively, of a Constitutional Commission whose appointments require no Congressional confirmation. (cf. Secs. 9 and 10, Art. XI, 1987 Constitution).
The clear intent is to give full and unimpeded play to the exercise by said Office of its extraordinary range of oversight and investigative authority over the actions of all public officials and employees, offices and agencies. Not only can it investigate on its own or on complaint any official act or omission that appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient; it can prod officials into performing or expediting any act or duty required by law; stop, prevent and control any abuse or impropriety in the performance of such duties; require the submission of documents relative to contracts, disbursements, and financial transactions of government officials for the purpose of ferreting out any irregularities therein. (cf. Sec. 13, Art. XI, 1987 Constitution). The conferment of this extensive authority is prefaced in the Constitution with the bestowal upon the Ombudsman and his deputies of the appealing title of “Protectors of the People” (cf. Sec. 12, Art. XI).
On July 24, 1987, Executive Order No. 243 was issued by President Corazon C. Aquino declaring the effectivity of the creation of the Office and restating its composition, powers and functions. On May 12, 1988, the Office of the Ombudsman became operational upon the appointment of the Ombudsman and his Overall Deputy Ombudsman. Immediately thereafter, one Deputy Ombudsman each for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were likewise appointed by the President. This date became the basis for celebrating the anniversary of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Congress enacted on November 17, 1989 Republic Act No. 6770, otherwise known as the Ombudsman Act of 1989, providing for the functional and structural organization of the Office of the Ombudsman and delineating its powers functions and duties. Indeed, Congress, in enacting Republic Act 6770, sought to have an Ombudsman who would be an effective and an activist watchman vesting the Ombudsman with adequate authority that would prevent the Ombudsman from being a “toothless tiger”. (cf. Journal, Session No. 15, August 17, 1988)
National Historical Institute, Letter dated July 28, 1998 to Special Prosecutor Leonardo P. Tamayo from Hon. Samuel K. Tan, NHI Chairman and Executive Director
Office of the Ombudsman, Ombudsman’s Journal Anniversary Issue, Vol. 1, No. 1, May 9, 1996
Office of the Tanodbayan “Primer on the Tanodbayan” September 21, 1980
Tanglao-Dacanay, Corazon, D.L.P., Case Notes on RA 6770, July 26, 2000