MANILA – The Philippines’ top anti-corruption prosecutor on Wednesday defied an order by President Rodrigo Duterte to suspend her deputy on suspicion of leaking his bank records, accusing the Filipino leader of breaching the Constitution with the demand.
Duterte has been accused by an opposition politician of unlawfully failing to disclose 211 million Philippine pesos ($4.1 million) in secret bank accounts back when he was a presidential candidate.
The 2016 complaint, which Duterte denies, was lodged with the ombudsman, the country’s anti-graft prosecutor, which is independent of the executive.
On Monday Duterte ordered a 90 day suspension for Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang for “misuse of confidential information and disclosing false information.”
Carandang had previously confirmed to media that the ombudsman had been quietly investigating Duterte and his family’s bank transactions.
Duterte’s suspension order has sparked an open clash with the country’s anti-graft watchdog.
On Wednesday, Ombudsman Conchita Morales said she would not suspend her deputy, calling Duterte’s order a violation of the constitution.
“Like any government official, the ombudsman has sworn to uphold the constitution and the laws of the land,” Morales said in a statement.
“The ombudsman will thus not allow herself to betray her sworn duty to uphold the constitution by recognizing what is patently unconstitutional,” she said, adding her decision was backed by legal precedent.
Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque brushed off Morales’ comment, saying administrative charges would also be filed against Carandang.
The president’s legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, also hinted that they would take the suspension dispute to court.
The row is the latest development in a growing conflict between the ombudsman and the controversial Duterte who took office in mid-2016.
Morales and Carandang are seen by Duterte critics as among the few public figures standing up to the firebrand populist who has been accused of eroding the country’s democracy through his declaring martial law in the southern Philippines and his bloody anti-drug campaign that has left thousands dead.
Last year Duterte repeatedly threatened to have the ombudsman ousted and pro-Duterte groups later filed an impeachment complaint against Morales in Congress.
Other public figures who have resisted Duterte, such as Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, are also facing impeachment complaints or been forced out of office.