Ombudsman Gutierrez's resignation allegedly due to panel's plan to tap her staff to testify against her

(SPOT.ph) Merceditas Gutierrez allegedly resigned from her post as Ombudsman on Friday because at least seven senior officials and employees of her office were being considered to testify at her impeachment trial, reports Inquirer.net. The impeachment trial was set to start on May 9, 2011.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., chair of the 11-member impeachment prosecution panel, told Inquirer.net, "They (the officials and employees) felt that it is the right time for them to come out and tell the truth. They have vital insider information that could have been explosive... The senior official could have been a surprise witness because of the official’s rank."

Tupas declined to identify the potential witnesses for security reasons. He said their testimonies could have helped prove Gutierrez’ "deliberate inaction" and direct orders to block the inquiry into the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, the money said to have been diverted to the election campaign of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, member of the prosecution panel, told Inquirer.net that they will still hold Gutierrez accountable even though she has resigned. "As it is, she can be charged with various violations of the Anti-Graft Law including obstruction of justice. I expect farmers to be among the first to file a case against her for the fertilizer fund scam."

Last week, Newsbreak reported that as Ombudsman, Gutierrez supposedly centralized decision making in her office, causing cases to take months or years to be resolved. This was in contrast to an earlier statement by Senior State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco who credited Gutierrez for reducing backlog by 90 percent when she assumed the post of Acting Justice Secretary.

Newsbreak added that Gutierrez was out of the country for about 179 days, equivalent to approximately six months, in her five years as Ombudsman. The record obtained from the Bureau of Immigration excludes her trips to provinces. Former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio, one of Gutierrez’ critics according to Inquirer.net, said her trips abroad for foreign conferences contributed to the clog in cases in her former office.

For more on this story, log on to Inquirer.net and Newsbreak.

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