Friday, October 28, 2011

the Ombudsman has the constitutional power to directly remove from government service an erring public official

whether or not the disciplinary power of the Ombudsman is indeed merely recommendatory in nature, as ruled by the CA.

The answer, as laid out by recent jurisprudence, is a resounding NO. As this Court has already held in Ledesma v. CA and Estarija v. Ranada, the so-called Tapiador “doctrine,” upon which the assailed CA decisions are based, is mere obiter.
Tapiador takes note of the following Section of the Constitution:

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

xxx xxx xxx

(3) Direct the officer concerned to take appropriate action against a public official or employee at fault, and recommend his removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution, and ensure compliance therewith. (Emphasis supplied)

The word “recommend” must be taken in conjunction with the phrase “and ensure compliance therewith.” In Ledesma v. CA, supra, we had this to say:

x x x [A] cursory reading of Tapiador reveals that the main point of the case was the failure of the complainant therein to present substantial evidence to prove the charges of the administrative case. The statement that made reference to the power of the Ombudsman is, at best, merely an obiter dictum and, as it is unsupported by sufficient explanation, is susceptible to varying interpretations, as what precisely is before us in this case. Hence, it cannot be cited as a doctrinal declaration of this Court nor is it safe from judicial examination. (Emphasis supplied)

In Estarija v. Ranada, we reiterated our pronouncements in Ledesma and went on to categorically state:

x x x [T]he Constitution does not restrict the powers of the Ombudsman in Section 13, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, but allows the Legislature to enact a law that would spell out the powers of the Ombudsman. Through the enactment of Rep. Act No. 6770, specifically Section 15, par. 3, the lawmakers gave the Ombudsman such powers to sanction erring officials and employees, except members of Congress, and the Judiciary. To conclude, we hold that Sections 15, 21, 22 and 25 of Republic Act No. 6770 are constitutionally sound. The powers of the Ombudsman are not merely recommendatory. His office was given teeth to render this constitutional body not merely functional but also effective. Thus, we hold that under Republic Act No. 6770 and the 1987 Constitution, the Ombudsman has the constitutional power to directly remove from government service an erring public official other than a member of Congress and the Judiciary. (Emphasis supplied)

In G.R. Nos. 160410 and 161099, the CA affirmed the findings of facts by the Ombudsman, relying only on the Tapiador obiter to reverse and set aside the Ombudsman's actions as being beyond the ambit of his authority. There is no question, therefore, that the assailed decisions in those cases should be annulled and the Ombudsman's decisions therein reinstated.

However, G.R. No. 158672 and G.R. Nos. 160605,160627 confront us with additional issues to tackle. We shall now specifically address these cases one at a time.

Re: G.R. No. 158672 -

In CA-G.R. SP No. 70137 (Hinampas case), the CA did not solely rely on the Tapiador obiter in reversing and setting aside the OOMB's decision. In arriving at its decision, the CA reasoned that reliance in good faith on the documents submitted to respondents by the contractors, coupled with lack of undue injury to the government, cannot give rise to administrative liability. Further, the CA found that res judicata bars the OOMB from exercising its administrative disciplinary authority since the allegedly same case had already been resolved and disposed of by the DPWH.

Res judicata cannot be made to apply in CA-G.R. SP No. 70137 (Hinampas case). It is apparent from the facts on record that the Ombudsman had already acquired jurisdiction over the case when the DPWH learned of it. DPWH was only furnished a copy of the complaint filed with the OOMB when it decided to conduct its own inquiry based on the same complaint. Furthermore, the DPWH’s investigation did not qualify as a quasi-judicial proceeding wherein necessarily respondents are named, offenses are charged, and parties are heard. The DPWH proceeding was just a fact-finding investigation and the resultant finding therein cannot act as a bar to the Ombudsman's decision.

In an administrative proceeding, the quantum of proof required for a finding of guilt is only substantial evidence, meaning that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion. Further, precedents teach us that the factual findings of the OOMB, when supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive, and such findings made by an administrative body which has acquired expertise are accorded not only respect but even finality.

Hence, the CA decision assailed in G.R. No. 158672 must also be reversed and set aside, and the decision of the Ombudsman finding respondents Hinampas and Cabanos guilty of grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, should be reinstated.

Re: G.R. Nos. 160605 and 160627 -

When there is substantial evidence in support of the Ombudsman's decision, that decision will not be overturned. However, the Danao cases present an instance where there is no substantial evidence to back up the OOMB's decision. Hence, in CA-G.R. SP No. 72790, the CA was correct in setting aside the OOMB decision in this case. As the appellate court elucidated:

But then, on the basis of the records, these PDS on which the [OOMB's] Decision dated September 19, 2000 (September 26, 2001) as well as the Order dated February 27, 2002 are based is being questioned by herein petitioner to be not the PDS that he has submitted to the Bureau of Customs and the Office of the Civil Service Commission. Hence, the entries appearing therein are doubtful.

That being the case, [the OOMB] cannot correctly make the PDS as a basis of its decision since the same is questionable there being no report yet made by the NBI as to whether the handwriting contained therein is genuine and belonging to petitioner especially in view of the report of the NBI dated May 16, 2002 regarding 2 of the 5 PDS submitted by [Rojas] to the [OOMB] to the effect that the thumbmarks appearing thereon are impressed by a different person which, in effect, support the stand of petitioner that the subject PDS herein were not submitted or filed by him with the Bureau of Customs and the Office of the CSC. In fact, the presumption of regularity in the performance of one's duty is not applicable in this case considering that being disputable it has been contradicted by the Partial Report of the NBI dated May 16, 2002. (Emphasis supplied)

OMBUDSMAN V. MONTEALTO, EN BANC, G.R. No. 160410, August 7, 2007

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