Sunday, September 25, 2011

whether the People's Law Enforcement Board (PLEB) has jurisdiction over complaints filed by PNP personnel against their superiors.

Sec. 43 reads, in part:

"Sec. 43. People's Law Enforcement Board (PLEB). - (a) Creation and Functions. – Within thirty (30) days from the issuance of the implementing rules and regulations by the Commission, there shall be created by the sangguniang panglunsod/bayan in every city and municipality such number of People's Law Enforcement Boards (PLEBs) as may be necessary: Provided, That there shall be at least one (1) PLEB for every municipality and for each of the legislative districts in a city. The PLEB shall have jurisdiction to hear and decide citizen's complaints or cases filed before it against erring officers and members of the PNP. There shall be at least one (1) PLEB for every five hundred (500) city or municipal police personnel.

x x x x x x x x x.”

(Underscoring supplied)

Each PLEB is composed of a member of the sangguniang panglunsod/bayan chosen by his respective sanggunian; barangay captain of the city or municipality concerned chosen by the association of barangay captains; and three other members who shall be chosen by the peace and order council from among the respected members of the community known for their probity and integrity. Membership in the PLEB is a civic duty; however PLEB members may be paid per diem as may be determined by the city or municipal council from city or municipal funds.[20]

For emphasis, the abovecited provision of law states that the PLEB has jurisdiction to hear and decide citizen's complaints or cases against erring officers and members of the PNP.

Petitioners, PNP Superintendents Fianza and Cordoviz, are in effect asking us to rule that the complaints against them are not covered by the PLEB's jurisdiction because they cannot be considered as citizen's complaints.

Under Sec. 41 (a) of the PNP's enabling act, a citizen's complaint is "any complaint by an individual person against any member of the PNP." Penalties imposable include withholding of privileges, restriction to specified limits, suspension or forfeiture of salary, any combination thereof or dismissal. When the penalties imposable do not exceed fifteen days, the citizen's complaint should be brought before the Chief of Police; and if for a period not less than sixteen but not exceeding thirty days, before the city or municipal mayors. It is when the offense is punishable by the abovementioned penalties and for a period exceeding thirty days or by dismissal, that the complaint should be brought before the PLEB.

Section 41 paragraph (b) provides:

"(b) Internal Discipline. - In dealing with minor offenses involving internal discipline found to have been committed by any regular member of their respective commands, the duly designated supervisors and equivalent officers of the PNP shall, after due notice and summary hearing, exercise disciplinary powers as follows:

(1) Chiefs of police or equivalent supervisors x x x;

(2) Provincial directors or equivalent supervisors x x x;

(3) Police regional directors or equivalent supervisors x x x;

(4) The Chief of the PNP x x x."

Nowhere in the aforecited provision is the PLEB granted jurisdiction over offenses concerning internal discipline.

Rule II, section 1 of the PLEB Rules defines a citizen's complaint as pertaining to "any complaint initiated by a private citizen or his duly authorized representative on account of an injury, damage or disturbance sustained due to an irregular or illegal act committed by a member of the PNP."

A citizen's complaint, then, is one filed by a private citizen against a member of the PNP for the redress of injury, damage or disturbance caused by the latter's illegal or irregular acts.

Petitioner contends that since the complainants are PNP policemen, they cannot be classified as "private citizens" for purposes of filing a "citizen's complaint." Public respondents disagree and claim that respondent policemen, notwithstanding their uniforms, do not cease to be citizens.

On this point, we rule that although respondent policemen continue to be citizens, as public respondents contend, they are not the "private citizens" referred to in the laws cited above. Clearly, the term "private citizens" does not ordinarily include men in uniform, such as the respondent PNP men. This is particularly evident in the PNP law which uses the term "members of the PNP" as well as "private citizens" to refer to different groups of persons and not interchangeably. The "plain meaning rule" or verba legis in statutory construction is applicable in this situation. When the words of a statute are clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation.[21] The term "private citizen" in the PNP Law and PLEB Rules is used in its common signification and was not meant to refer to the members of the PNP, such as respondent policemen.

One of the avowed objectives of the PLEB is to enhance civilian participation in the disciplinary process of errant PNP members.[22] The PLEB is part of the system of coordination and cooperation among the citizenry, local executives and PNP provided for in the law creating the Philippine National Police.[23]

The citizen's complaint envisioned under Republic Act No. 6975 normally pertains to complaints by private individuals against PNP men and not by PNP men against their co-members or officers in a professional capacity. An example used in the Bicameral Conference Committee hearings is that of a policeman who takes fish from the market without paying for it.[24] Aside from the criminal liability attaching to the act of the policeman cognizable by the courts, the private party prejudiced can sue him before the PLEB.

However, respondent policemen are not absolutely excluded from bringing citizen's complaints with the PLEB. PNP members can file suit as private citizens only when they do so in their private capacity and not as members of the PNP. This means that the complaining PNP personnel can sue on matters of private concern and not on matters properly cognizable by the PNP chain of command. If a policeman complains against another colleague before the PLEB, he can do so when the subject matter of the complaint is one that can similarly be raised by a private individual or citizen.

But if the subject of the complaint bears a direct relation to the office of the complainant-policeman as member of the PNP, it can hardly be considered as a citizen's complaint and is, therefore, neither cognizable nor triable by the PLEB.

This conclusion is ineluctable as the PNP is the proper venue for matters involving its internal organization or discipline. The PNP hierarchy possesses the power and responsibility over its men in these matters. Section 81 of Republic Act No. 6975 reads:

"SEC. 81. Complaints and Grievances. – Uniformed personnel shall have the right to present complaints and grievances to their superiors or commanders and have them heard and adjudicated as expeditiously as possible in the best interest of the service, with due regard to due process in every case. Such complaints or grievances shall be resolved at the lowest possible level in the unit of command and the respondent shall have the right to appeal from an adverse decision to higher authorities."[25]

No better forum for the resolution of internal discipline and administrative matters can be found than the organization (PNP) itself, particularly in the enforcement of its professional code of conduct.

In matters pertaining to their job or office, PNP men are afforded the proper channel for their complaints against colleagues, superiors or commanding officers. The Chief of Police, Provincial Director, Police Regional Director and PNP Chief are the proper conduits for offenses involving internal discipline, such as simple misconduct or negligence, insubordination, frequent absences or tardiness, habitual drunkenness and gambling prohibited by law.[26] Even the PLEB Rules provide that jurisdiction over offenses involving breach of internal discipline (or any offense committed by a member of the PNP involving and affecting order and discipline within the ranks of the police organization) belongs to the duly designated supervisors and equivalent officers of the PNP. The Chiefs of Police, Provincial Directors, Police Regional Directors or their equivalent supervisors and the PNP Chief exercise disciplinary powers for breaches of internal discipline committed by any regular member of their respective commands.[27]

Having dealt with the areas over which the PLEB exercises jurisdiction, the next step is to determine whether the cases at bench fall within the ambit of said jurisdiction.

Respondent policemen in the first petition accuse petitioner Fianza of issuing illegal orders pertaining to transfers of assignment and dropping from the rolls without any formal investigation. They accuse him of issuing these orders in retaliation for their raids on jueteng operations protected by him.

The merits of the case are not disputed in the instant petition. What is at issue is where the case should be adjudicated.

Though the policemen impute ill motives to petitioner for issuing illegal orders, there is no question that the principal and basic issue is the wrongful issuance of such order. In other words, accusations of "coddling" or protecting jueteng operators do not alter the fact that the main dispute refers to the ensuing transfer and dismissal orders issued by respondent policemen's superiors in the PNP.

We pointed out earlier that the Chief of the PNP and his subordinates have the power to transfer and utilize PNP personnel in accordance with their strategy.[28] The issuance of the questioned orders comes within the purview of the abovementioned power. Hence, the propriety or illegality of the orders should be raised before the proper superiors or commanding officers[29] and not before a civilian body like the PLEB. To repeat, nowhere in the law creating the PLEB is this power or function mentioned.[30]

For the foregoing reasons, we rule that the PLEB has no jurisdiction over the complaint lodged against petitioner Fianza by respondent

[ G.R. No. 109638, March 31, 1995 ]

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