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Friday, July 19, 2024

Ombudsman’s dismissal of a criminal complaint

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The office of the Ombudsman is an investigative body tasked to “investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient” (Tranquil G.S. Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing Section 13 (1), Article XI, 1987 Constitution).

It has investigatory and disciplinary powers over “all kinds of malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance that have been committed by any officer or employee… during his tenure of office”. Its investigatory and prosecutorial powers are plenary and unqualified (Tranquil G.S. Salvador III Criminal Procedure citing Section 16, Ombudsman Act of 1989 and Castro v. Deloria).

For this particular issue, the author will discuss whether a dismissal of a criminal complaint by the Ombudsman is immutable.

The Supreme Court “has consistently adopted a policy of non-interference in the Ombudsman’s exercise of its constitutionally mandated powers” (De la Cruz v. Office of the Ombudsman, G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

The Supreme Court declared that ‘[t]he determination of whether probable cause exists is a function that belongs to the Ombudsman’

“In line with the policy of non-interference, courts shall not interfere in the Ombudsman’s exercise of discretion in determining probable cause. The Ombudsman’s finding of probable cause, or lack of it, is entitled to great respect if there is no showing of grave abuse of discretion” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

“However, this Court (Supreme Court) may review the acts of the Ombudsman if a party invoking Rule 65 (Petition of Certiorari) of the Rules of Court substantiates, not merely alleges, that there was grave abuse of discretion in the exercise of the powers of the Ombudsman” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

In the case of De la Cruz v. Office of the Ombudsman, “Dela Cruz was assigned to conduct the inquest investigation of a Homicide case filed against the following children in conflict with the law (CICL): AAA, BBB, CCC, DDD, and EEE. The case involved the death of the 14-year-old son of Lilia M. Abequiebel (Abequiebel)…” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

Dela Cruz dismissed the case against AAA, CCC, DDD, and EEE because their guardians allegedly paid to Abequiebel their respective monetary obligations.

Consequently, Abequiebel executed Affidavits of Desistance in their favor. The case against BBB, however, was dismissed because he was found to have “Acted Without Discernment” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

In a notarized Complaint, Abequiebel alleged that Dela Cruz received the amounts of P35,000.00 and P25,000.00 from the guardians of AAA and CCC, respectively, and also took P10,000.00 from each amount.

Thus, Abequiebel only received the amounts of P25,000.00 and P15,000.00 (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

Abequiebel also stated she went to the office of Dela Cruz to inform him of the receipt of the amounts of P25,000.00 each from the guardians of EEE and DDD.

Dela Cruz allegedly asked for his share of such payments, but Abequiebel told Dela Cruz she only had P2,000.00 left.

However, Dela Cruz still insisted to be paid P1,500.00 (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

In a Resolution dated July 26, 2018, the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict Dela Cruz for three counts of violation of Sec. 7 (d), in relation to Sec. l l(a) last paragraph of RA 6713, also known as the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.”

It was hinged on Dela Cruz’s alleged solicitation of the amount of P21,500.00 on three separate instances (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

On October 15, 2018, Dela Cruz filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the July 26, 2018 Resolution.

In an Order dated November 27, 2019, the Ombudsman granted the Motion for Reconsideration because there is “no single piece of evidence point[ing] to [Dela Cruz’s] solicitation” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

However, in an Ombudsman’s Order dated February 13, 2020, two months thereafter, the July 26, 2018 Resolution was reinstated, finding probable cause to indict Dela Cruz for three counts of violation of Sec. 7(d), in relation to Sec. 11 (a) of RA 6713.

The Ombudsman relied on the statement of AAA’s guardian “that Dela Cruz told him to leave the office upon payment of the settlement amount” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

“Dela Cruz claims that the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of discretion… in motu proprio reversing itself more than two months after it issued its previous Order dismissing the criminal complaint against [him].”

Dela Cruz further claims the provisions on finality and execution of decision in administrative cases should also apply to criminal cases (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

“Dela Cruz [also] claims that the Order dated November 27, 2019 must take precedence over the subsequent Order dated February 13, 2020 as the former had already reached [or lapsed to] finality by operation of law.”

He invoked the doctrine of finality of judgment or immutability of judgment (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

The Supreme Court declared “[t]he determination of whether probable cause exists is a function that belongs to the Ombudsman.”

“[T]his Court has held that the executive determination of probable cause is a highly factual matter… We shall defer to the findings of the Ombudsman absent any showing of grave abuse of discretion…” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023)

“… Sec. 7, Rule III of the Ombudsman Rules, particularly refers to procedures in administrative cases and provides when an administrative case shall be considered final and executory or unappealable… It is thus apparent… that the provision pertaining to the finality and execution of a decision of the Ombudsman and the appropriate remedies available to aggrieved parties in administrative charges do not apply to criminal cases” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

“In order to apply the doctrine of finality of judgment or immutability of judgment invoked by Dela Cruz, it is first necessary to determine if there is indeed a final judgment.”

In Imingan v. The Office of the Honorable Ombudsman, the Court emphasized the results of preliminary investigations cannot be considered as valid and final judgments (cited in G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

“[T]he [questioned] Orders pertain to the results of preliminary investigations and, as such, cannot be considered as valid and final judgment.”

Hence, the doctrine of finality of judgment or immutability of judgment cannot be applied to the De la Cruz case (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023).

“[T]he Ombudsman may motu proprio conduct a reinvestigation as the same is ‘consistent with its independence as protector of the people and as prosecutor to ensure accountability of public officers, the Ombudsman is not and should not be limited in its review by the action or inaction of complainants’.” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023)

“[T]he Court upholds the policy of noninterference in the Ombudsman’s exercise of its constitutionally mandated powers including its power to motu proprio initiate a reinvestigation or reconsideration of a case within its jurisdiction… as with all constitutionally mandated powers, [it] must be wielded cautiously as to not frustrate the ends of justice.” (G.R. 256337, February 13, 2023)

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