OCTOBER 6, 2006 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Donít resign.

This was the unsolicited advice two allies of President Arroyo in the House of Representatives gave embattled Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez yesterday.

In a joint statement, Representatives Edwin Uy of Isabela and Eduardo Veloso of Leyte said Gutierrez, who is in Switzerland, should ignore calls for her to quit her job.

"Gutierrez and the Office of the Ombudsman should not be made a sacrificial lamb by individuals crying for blood. The problem with them is that they refuse to acknowledge the merits of the Ombudsmanís findings," they said.

Gutierrez, meanwhile, said she did not intend to hide as predicted by some critics after her office came out with a decision clearing officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and other individuals of criminal and administrative liability in connection with a P1.2-billion automated counting machine deal.

Gutierrez clarified she was abroad on an official trip and was considering if she should face the media upon her return.

Asked whether she was ready to be quizzed on the matter, she said, "Maybe when I am back."

Gutierrez urged people to study the ruling of the panel that looked into the case and see if it was fair.

Uy and Veloso urged Gutierrezís critics to study the case involving the procurement by the Comelec of 1,991 automated counting machines (ACMs) from the Mega Pacific consortium to better appreciate the Ombudsmanís decision to reverse itself on the controversy.

Last Monday, an Ombudsman panel set aside the previous findings of another team of investigators and cleared Comelec and Mega Pacific officials, claiming that there was nothing wrong with the deal.

Uy and Veloso said they support the Ombudsmanís ruling.

Gutierrezís critics denounced the ruling, saying it contradicted with the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) voiding the Mega Pacific contract for violating the law and even Comelecís own bidding rules.

They are urging the SC to revisit the case and to discipline the Ombudsman, whom some senators derisively called "Ombudsgirl."

Gutierrez is not expected to be back until Monday. She left last Saturday after approving the Ombudsman panelís controversial resolution on the Comelecís automation contract.

Gutierrez attended the Third Informal Seminar on the Return of Illicit Assets of Politically Exposed Persons on Oct. 1 to Oct. 3 in Lausanne.

MalacaŮang also branded as an outright lie reports saying it would also hide Gutierrez like former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to prevent her from coming out before the media.

Garcillano is believed to be the man whom Mrs. Arroyo admitted to have talked to during election time, thus the tag "Hello, Garci."

Critics said Garcillano was actually the one who helped Mrs. Arroyo cheat her way to victory in the 2004 elections.

Another accused in the fertilizer fund scam involving Mrs. Arroyo fled to the United States but was arrested by United States authorities based on a warrant issued by the Senate against him for refusing to appear in the hearings.

Secretary to the Cabinet Ricardo Saludo maintained MalacaŮang did not have a hand in the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman, which is an independent constitutional body like the Comelec.

After the controversy came out last year, Garcillano went into hiding and came out after the issue had subsided. Anti-Arroyo groups said only the government would have the capability to hide and even send him abroad.

They said the government could easily track him down if it wanted to.

"Have you asked those making this claim if they have any shred of proof? Please tell me what proof they have. You may also wish to ask those accusers if the Palace has also helped to hide the other officials who made the report that recommended to Ombudsman to

dismiss the case," Saludo said.

"We donít comment on insinuations and neither should media pay attention to them. We have better things to focus on," Saludo said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita earlier would not declare open support for the Ombudsmanís decision for fear of earning the ire of SC justices.

"I canít say whether the Ombudsman is right or wrong because its enemy here is the Supreme Court," he said.

Ermita said the case might go back to the SC after all, which had earlier ordered the Ombudsman to file a case against those responsible for the deal that was illegal due to lack of public bidding. ó With Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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