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G.R. No. 147097 - Carmelo Lazatin, et al. v. Hon. Aniano A. Disierto, et al.

G.R. No. 147097 - Carmelo Lazatin, et al. v. Hon. Aniano A. Disierto, et al.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 147097 : June 5, 2009]

CARMELO F. LAZATIN, MARINO A. MORALES, TEODORO L. DAVID and ANGELITO A. PELAYO, Petitioner, v. HON. ANIANO A. DESIERTO as OMBUDSMAN, and SANDIGANBAYAN, THIRD DIVISION, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

PERALTA, J.:

This resolves the Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, praying that the Ombudsman's disapproval of the Office of the Special Prosecutor's (OSP) Resolution1 dated September 18, 2000, recommending dismissal of the criminal cases filed against herein petitioners, be reversed and set aside.

The antecedent facts are as follows.

On July 22, 1998, the Fact-Finding and Intelligence Bureau of the Office of the Ombudsman filed a Complaint-Affidavit docketed as OMB-0-98-1500, charging herein petitioners with Illegal Use of Public Funds as defined and penalized under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code and violation of Section 3, paragraphs (a) and (e) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019, as amended.

The complaint alleged that there were irregularities in the use by then Congressman Carmello F. Lazatin of his Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) for the calendar year 1996, i.e., he was both proponent and implementer of the projects funded from his CDF; he signed vouchers and supporting papers pertinent to the disbursement as Disbursing Officer; and he received, as claimant, eighteen (18) checks amounting to P4,868,277.08. Thus, petitioner Lazatin, with the help of petitioners Marino A. Morales, Angelito A. Pelayo and Teodoro L. David, was allegedly able to convert his CDF into cash.

A preliminary investigation was conducted and, thereafter, the Evaluation and Preliminary Investigation Bureau (EPIB) issued a Resolution2 dated May 29, 2000 recommending the filing against herein petitioners of fourteen (14) counts each of Malversation of Public Funds and violation of Section 3 (e) of R.A. No. 3019. Said Resolution was approved by the Ombudsman; hence, twenty-eight (28) Informations docketed as Criminal Case Nos. 26087 to 26114 were filed against herein petitioners before the Sandiganbayan.

Petitioner Lazatin and his co-petitioners then filed their respective Motions for Reconsideration/Reinvestigation, which motions were granted by the Sandiganbayan (Third Division). The Sandiganbayan also ordered the prosecution to re-evaluate the cases against petitioners.

Subsequently, the OSP submitted to the Ombudsman its Resolution3 dated September 18, 2000. It recommended the dismissal of the cases against petitioners for lack or insufficiency of evidence.

The Ombudsman, however, ordered the Office of the Legal Affairs (OLA) to review the OSP Resolution. In a Memorandum4 dated October 24, 2000, the OLA recommended that the OSP Resolution be disapproved and the OSP be directed to proceed with the trial of the cases against petitioners. On October 27, 2000, the Ombudsman adopted the OLA Memorandum, thereby disapproving the OSP Resolution dated September 18, 2000 and ordering the aggressive prosecution of the subject cases. The cases were then returned to the Sandiganbayan for continuation of criminal proceedings.

Thus, petitioners filed the instant petition.

Petitioners allege that:

I.

THE OMBUDSMAN ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION OR ACTED WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF HIS JURISDICTION.

II.

THE QUESTIONED RESOLUTION WAS BASED ON MISAPPREHENSION OF FACTS, SPECULATIONS, SURMISES AND CONJECTURES.5

Amplifying their arguments, petitioners asseverate that the Ombudsman had no authority to overturn the OSP's Resolution dismissing the cases against petitioners because, under Section 13, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, the Ombudsman is clothed only with the power to watch, investigate and recommend the filing of proper cases against erring officials, but it was not granted the power to prosecute. They point out that under the Constitution, the power to prosecute belongs to the OSP (formerly the Tanodbayan), which was intended by the framers to be a separate and distinct entity from the Office of the Ombudsman. Petitioners conclude that, as provided by the Constitution, the OSP being a separate and distinct entity, the Ombudsman should have no power and authority over the OSP. Thus, petitioners maintain that R.A. No. 6770 (The Ombudsman Act of 1989), which made the OSP an organic component of the Office of the Ombudsman, should be struck down for being unconstitutional.

Next, petitioners insist that they should be absolved from any liability because the checks were issued to petitioner Lazatin allegedly as reimbursement for the advances he made from his personal funds for expenses incurred to ensure the immediate implementation of projects that are badly needed by the Pinatubo victims.

The Court finds the petition unmeritorious.

Petitioners' attack against the constitutionality of R.A. No. 6770 is stale. It has long been settled that the provisions of R.A. No. 6770 granting the Office of the Ombudsman prosecutorial powers and placing the OSP under said office have no constitutional infirmity. The issue of whether said provisions of R.A. No. 6770 violated the Constitution had been fully dissected as far back as 1995 in Acop v. Office of the Ombudsman.6

Therein, the Court held that giving prosecutorial powers to the Ombudsman is in accordance with the Constitution as paragraph 8, Section 13, Article XI provides that the Ombudsman shall "exercise such other functions or duties as may be provided by law." Elucidating on this matter, the Court stated:

x x x While the intention to withhold prosecutorial powers from the Ombudsman was indeed present, the Commission [referring to the Constitutional Commission of 1986] did not hesitate to recommend that the Legislature could, through statute, prescribe such other powers, functions, and duties to the Ombudsman. x x x As finally approved by the Commission after several amendments, this is now embodied in paragraph 8, Section 13, Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) of the Constitution, which provides:

Sec.13. The Office of the Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions, and duties:

x x x

Promulgate its rules and procedure and exercise such other functions or duties as may be provided by law.

Expounding on this power of Congress to prescribe other powers, functions, and duties to the Ombudsman, we quote Commissioners Colayco and Monsod during interpellation by Commissioner Rodrigo:

x x x

MR. RODRIGO:

Precisely, I am coming to that. The last of the enumerated functions of the Ombudsman is: "to exercise such powers or perform such functions or duties as may be provided by law." So, the legislature may vest him with powers taken away from the Tanodbayan, may it not?cralawred

MR. COLAYCO:

Yes.

MR. MONSOD:

Yes.

x x x

MR. RODRIGO:

Madam President. Section 5 reads: "The Tanodbayan shall continue to function and exercise its powers as provided by law."

MR. COLAYCO:

That is correct, because it is under P.D. No. 1630.

MR. RODRIGO:

So, if it is provided by law, it can be taken away by law, I suppose.

MR. COLAYCO:

That is correct.

MR. RODRIGO:

And precisely, Section 12(6) says that among the functions that can be performed by the Ombudsman are "such functions or duties as may be provided by law." The sponsors admitted that the legislature later on might remove some powers from the Tanodbayan and transfer these to the Ombudsman.

MR. COLAYCO:

Madam President, that is correct.

x x x

MR. RODRIGO:

Madam President, what I am worried about is, if we create a constitutional body which has neither punitive nor prosecutory powers but only persuasive powers, we might be raising the hopes of our people too much and then disappoint them.

MR. MONSOD:

I agree with the Commissioner.

MR. RODRIGO:

Anyway, since we state that the powers of the Ombudsman can later on be implemented by the legislature, why not leave this to the legislature?

x x x

MR. MONSOD: (reacting to statements of Commissioner Blas Ople):

x x x

With respect to the argument that he is a toothless animal, we would like to say that we are promoting the concept in its form at the present, but we are also saying that he can exercise such powers and functions as may be provided by law in accordance with the direction of the thinking of Commissioner Rodrigo. We do not think that at this time we should prescribe this, but we leave it up to Congress at some future time if it feels that it may need to designate what powers the Ombudsman need in order that he be more effective.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

This is not foreclosed.

So, this is a reversible disability, unlike that of a eunuch; it is not an irreversible disability.7

The constitutionality of Section 3 of R.A. No. 6770, which subsumed the OSP under the Office of the Ombudsman, was likewise upheld by the Court in Acop. It was explained, thus:

x x x the petitioners conclude that the inclusion of the Office of the Special Prosecutor as among the offices under the Office of the Ombudsman in Section 3 of R.A. No. 6770 ("An Act Providing for the Functional and Structural Organization of the Office of the Ombudsman and for Other Purposes") is unconstitutional and void.

The contention is not impressed with merit. x x x

x    x    x

x x x Section 7 of Article XI expressly provides that the then existing Tanodbayan, to be henceforth known as the Office of the Special Prosecutor, "shall continue to function and exercise its powers as now or hereafter may be provided by law, except those conferred on the Office of the Ombudsman created under this Constitution." The underscored phrase evidently refers to the Tanodbayan's powers under P.D. No. 1630 or subsequent amendatory legislation. It follows then that Congress may remove any of the Tanodbayan's/Special Prosecutor's powers under P.D. No. 1630 or grant it other powers, except those powers conferred by the Constitution on the Office of the Ombudsman.

Pursuing the present line of reasoning, when one considers that by express mandate of paragraph 8, Section 13, Article XI of the Constitution, the Ombudsman may "exercise such other powers or perform functions or duties as may be provided by law," it is indubitable then that Congress has the power to place the Office of the Special Prosecutor under the Office of the Ombudsman. In the same vein, Congress may remove some of the powers granted to the Tanodbayan by P.D. No. 1630 and transfer them to the Ombudsman; or grant the Office of the Special Prosecutor such other powers and functions and duties as Congress may deem fit and wise. This Congress did through the passage of R.A. No. 6770.8

The foregoing ruling of the Court has been reiterated in Camanag v. Guerrero.9 More recently, in Office of the Ombudsman v. Valera,10 the Court, basing its ratio decidendi on its ruling in Acop and Camanag, declared that the OSP is "merely a component of the Office of the Ombudsman and may only act under the supervision and control, and upon authority of the Ombudsman" and ruled that under R.A. No. 6770, the power to preventively suspend is lodged only with the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman.11 The Court's ruling in Acop that the authority of the Ombudsman to prosecute based on R.A. No. 6770 was authorized by the Constitution was also made the foundation for the decision in Perez v. Sandiganbayan,12 where it was held that the power to prosecute carries with it the power to authorize the filing of informations, which power had not been delegated to the OSP. It is, therefore, beyond cavil that under the Constitution, Congress was not proscribed from legislating the grant of additional powers to the Ombudsman or placing the OSP under the Office of the Ombudsman.

Petitioners now assert that the Court's ruling on the constitutionality of the provisions of R.A. No. 6770 should be revisited and the principle of stare decisis set aside. Again, this contention deserves scant consideration.

The doctrine of stare decisis et non quieta movere (to adhere to precedents and not to unsettle things which are established) is embodied in Article 8 of the Civil Code of the Philippines which provides, thus:

ART. 8. Judicial decisions applying or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system of the Philippines.

It was further explained in Fermin v. People13 as follows:

The doctrine of stare decisis enjoins adherence to judicial precedents. It requires courts in a country to follow the rule established in a decision of the Supreme Court thereof. That decision becomes a judicial precedent to be followed in subsequent cases by all courts in the land. The doctrine of stare decisis is based on the principle that once a question of law has been examined and decided, it should be deemed settled and closed to further argument.14 ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

In Chinese Young Men's Christian Association of the Philippine Islands v. Remington Steel Corporation,15 the Court expounded on the importance of the foregoing doctrine, stating that:

The doctrine of stare decisis is one of policy grounded on the necessity for securing certainty and stability of judicial decisions, thus:

Time and again, the court has held that it is a very desirable and necessary judicial practice thatwhen a court has laid down a principle of law as applicable to a certain state of facts, it will adhere to that principle and apply it to all future cases in which the facts are substantially the same. Stare decisis et non quieta movere. Stand by the decisions and disturb not what is settled. Stare decisis simply means that for the sake of certainty, a conclusion reached in one case should be applied to those that follow if the facts are substantially the same, even though the parties may be different. It proceeds from the first principle of justice that, absent any powerful countervailing considerations, like cases ought to be decided alike. Thus, where the same questions relating to the same event have been put forward by the parties similarly situated as in a previous case litigated and decided by a competent court, the rule of stare decisis is a bar to any attempt to relitigate the same issue.16

The doctrine has assumed such value in our judicial system that the Court has ruled that "[a]bandonment thereof must be based only on strong and compelling reasons, otherwise, the becoming virtue of predictability which is expected from this Court would be immeasurably affected and the public's confidence in the stability of the solemn pronouncements diminished."17 Verily, only upon showing that circumstances attendant in a particular case override the great benefits derived by our judicial system from the doctrine of stare decisis, can the courts be justified in setting aside the same.

In this case, petitioners have not shown any strong, compelling reason to convince the Court that the doctrine of stare decisis should not be applied to this case. They have not successfully demonstrated how or why it would be grave abuse of discretion for the Ombudsman, who has been validly conferred by law with the power of control and supervision over the OSP, to disapprove or overturn any resolution issued by the latter.

The second issue advanced by petitioners is that the Ombudsman's disapproval of the OSP Resolution recommending dismissal of the cases is based on misapprehension of facts, speculations, surmises and conjectures. The question is really whether the Ombudsman correctly ruled that there was enough evidence to support a finding of probable cause. That issue, however, pertains to a mere error of judgment. It must be stressed that certiorari is a remedy meant to correct only errors of jurisdiction, not errors of judgment. This has been emphasized in First Corporation v. Former Sixth Division of the Court of Appeals,18 to wit:

It is a fundamental aphorism in law that a review of facts and evidence is not the province of the extraordinary remedy of certiorari, which is extra ordinem - beyond the ambit of appeal. In certiorari proceedings, judicial review does not go as far as to examine and assess the evidence of the parties and to weigh the probative value thereof. It does not include an inquiry as to the correctness of the evaluation of evidence. Any error committed in the evaluation of evidence is merely an error of judgment that cannot be remedied by certiorari . An error of judgment is one which the court may commit in the exercise of its jurisdiction. An error of jurisdiction is one where the act complained of was issued by the court without or in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion, which is tantamount to lack or in excess of jurisdiction and which error is correctible only by the extraordinary writ of certiorari . Certiorari will not be issued to cure errors of the trial court in its appreciation of the evidence of the parties, or its conclusions anchored on the said findings and its conclusions of law. It is not for this Court to re-examine conflicting evidence, re-evaluate the credibility of the witnesses or substitute the findings of fact of the court a quo.19

Evidently, the issue of whether the evidence indeed supports a finding of probable cause would necessitate an examination and re-evaluation of the evidence upon which the Ombudsman based its disapproval of the OSP Resolution. Hence, the Petition for Certiorari should not be given due course.

Likewise noteworthy is the holding of the Court in Presidential Ad Hoc Fact-Finding Committee on Behest Loans v. Desierto,20 imparting the value of the Ombudsman's independence, stating thus:

Under Sections 12 and 13, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution and RA 6770 (The Ombudsman Act of 1989), the Ombudsman has the power to investigate and prosecute any act or omission of a public officer or employee when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient. It has been the consistent ruling of the Court not to interfere with the Ombudsman's exercise of his investigatory and prosecutory powers as long as his rulings are supported by substantial evidence. Envisioned as the champion of the people and preserver of the integrity of public service, he has wide latitude in exercising his powers and is free from intervention from the three branches of government. This is to ensure that his Office is insulated from any outside pressure and improper influence.21

Indeed, for the Court to overturn the Ombudsman's finding of probable cause, it is imperative for petitioners to clearly prove that said public official acted with grave abuse of discretion. In Presidential Commission on Good Government v. Desierto,22 the Court elaborated on what constitutes such abuse, to wit:

Grave abuse of discretion implies a capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment tantamount to lack of jurisdiction. The Ombudsman's exercise of power must have been done in an arbitrary or despotic manner which must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law. x x x23

In this case, petitioners failed to demonstrate that the Ombudsman acted in a manner described above. Clearly, the Ombudsman was acting in accordance with R.A. No. 6770 and properly exercised its power of control and supervision over the OSP when it disapproved the Resolution dated September 18, 2000.

It should also be noted that the petition does not question any order or action of the Sandiganbayan Third Division; hence, it should not have been included as a respondent in this petition.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the petition is DISMISSED for lack of merit. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Endnotes:


* Designated to sit as an additional member, per Special Order No. 646 dated May 15, 2009.

** Designated to sit as an additional member, per Special Order No. 631 dated April 29, 2009.

1 Rollo, pp. 48-57.

2 Id. at 58-70.

3 Supra note 1.

4 Rollo, pp. 114-117.

5 Id. at 13.

6 G.R. No. 120422, September 27, 1995, 248 SCRA 566.

7 Id. at 575-579.

8 Id. at 580-582.

9 G.R. No. 164250, September 30, 2005, 268 SCRA 473.

10 G.R. No. 121017, February 17, 1997, 471 SCRA 715.

11 Id. at 743

12 G.R. No. 166062, September 26, 2006, 503 SCRA 252.

13 G.R. No. 157643, March 28, 2008, 550 SCRA 132.

14 Id. at 145, citing Castillo v. Sandiganbayan, 427 Phil. 785, 793 (2002). (Emphasis supplied).

15 G.R. No. 159422, March 28, 2008, 550 SCRA 180.

16 Id. at 197-198. (Emphasis supplied).

17 Pepsi-Cola Products, Phil., Inc. v. Pagdanganan, G.R. No. 167866, October 12, 2006, 504 SCRA 549, 564.

18 G.R. No. 171989, July 4, 2007, 526 SCRA 564.

19 Id. at 578. (Emphasis supplied).

20 G.R. No. 138142, September 19, 2007, 533 SCRA 571.

21 Id. at 581-582. (Emphasis supplied).

22 G.R. No. 139296, November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA 207.

23 Id. at 216.

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