Philippine graft agency chief defies Duterte's suspension order

MANILA (Reuters) - The head of the Philippine anti-corruption agency on Wednesday said she would defy an order from President Rodrigo Duterte’s office suspending a deputy, saying the constitution guaranteed independence for the agency.

FILE PHOTO - Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales gestures as she presents a power point presentation of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report on Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona's alleged U.S. dollar accounts during the impeachment trial at the Senate in Manila May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Jay Directo/Pool

Duterte’s office on Monday ordered the 90-day suspension of the deputy, Melchor Arthur Carandang, after he revealed confidential information last September about the agency’s inquiry into the unexplained wealth of the president.

Conchita Carpio-Morales expressed “concern” over the order, describing it as “an impairment of the constitutionally enshrined independence” of the agency.

“The ombudsman cannot seriously place at risk the independence of the very office which she has pledged to protect, on the strength of the constitutional guarantees which the High Court has upheld,” she said in a statement.

Duterte has threatened to file an impeachment complaint against Carpio-Morales after her office launched an inquiry into allegations that he had billions of pesos in undeclared funds in bank accounts.

Last year, Carandang revealed to the media Duterte’s bank accounts, which showed discrepancies with his official statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, a potential violation of the law.

The inquiry followed a complaint by Senator Antonio Trillanes that Duterte had amassed 2.2 billion pesos ($43 million) in three bank accounts between 2006 and 2015, when he was mayor of the southern city of Davao, committing a criminal offence by failing to include them in an official declaration.

Duterte has denied the allegations.

A lawyer for Duterte, Salvador Panelo, said Carpio-Morales must comply with the order or risk facing administrative and criminal sanctions.

“Until a competent court declares that such official act is in violation of the law and the constitution, President Rodrigo Duterte’s order of preventive suspension for office of Deputy Ombudsmaan Carangdang is presumed to be valid and legal,” Panelo told reporters.

The firebrand leader won the presidency in May 2016 on the platform of fighting corruption, crime and drugs. He has fired a cabinet member and a dozen senior officials over allegations of corruption, but no cases have been filed against them.

($1=51.2740 Philippine pesos)

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez