Constitutional Law, Political Law

OMBUDSMAN vs. CA G.R. No. 167844 November 22, 2006 Office of the Ombudsman, Administrative Case, Powers, Functions and Duties of the Office of the Ombudsman, Dishonesty

FACTS:

Respondent belonged to the clerical staff of the Director of LTFRB Cebu. Respondent was designated as concurrent acting “Special Collection/Disbursing Officer.”

The Commission on Audit (COA) audited respondent’s cash and accounts. After inspecting respondent’s records, the COA’s examining auditors noted a shortage in respondent’s accounts. Respondent remitted the missing amount. The COA required respondent to explain the discrepancy. Instead of explaining, respondent merely confirmed the cash shortage.

The COA charged respondent in the Ombudsman Visayas with Dishonesty.

In her counter-affidavit, respondent claimed that the missing funds comprised her collections for 11 June 1999. Respondent stated that during the auditing on 21 June 1999, she kept the collections, which allegedly included two fake ₱500 bills, in her vault. Respondent explained, for the first time, that she did not turn over the collections to the COA auditors because of the fake bills. Respondent added that had the COA auditors asked, she would have produced the funds.

The Ombudsman Visayas found respondent guilty as charged and dismissed her from service.

After the respondent’s motion for reconsideration was denied, she filed a petition for review in the CA.

The Court of Appeals sustained respondent’s contention on the Ombudsman’s powers and held that the latter’s “jurisdiction and authority in administrative cases is only recommendatory.” Thus, the CA “recommended” to the LTFRB respondent’s suspension from service for six months.

ISSUE:

Whether petitioner has the power to impose penalties in administrative cases under its jurisdiction.

RULING:

The petition has merit.

Petitioner has the Power to Impose, and not only Recommend, Penalties in Administrative Cases.

The CA ruled that in administrative cases against officials subject to petitioner’s disciplinary authority, petitioner could only recommend but not impose penalties. The Court of Appeals based its ruling on a literal interpretation of Section 13 (3), Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, which provides:

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

x x x x

(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.

Section 15 (3) of RA 6770 substantially reiterates this constitutional provision, thus:

Sec. 15. Powers, Functions and Duties. – The Office of the Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions and duties:

x x x x

(3) Direct the officer concerned to take appropriate action against a public officer or employee at fault or who neglects to perform an act or discharge a duty required by law, and recommend his removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution, and ensure compliance therewith; or enforce its disciplinary authority as provided in Section 21 of this Act: Provided, That the refusal by any officer without just cause to comply with an order of the Ombudsman to remove, suspend, demote, fine, censure or prosecute an officer or employee who is at fault or who neglects to perform an act or discharge a duty required by law shall be a ground for disciplinary action against said officer[.]

Giving a literal interpretation to the word “recommend” in these provisions, the CA concluded that petitioner could do no more.

This is error.

In Ledesma v. Court of Appeals, we rejected such interpretation as unduly restrictive and not “consistent with the wisdom and spirit behind the creation of the Office of the Ombudsman.” Instead, we held that “[b]y stating x x x that the Ombudsman [‘]recommends[’] the action to be taken against an erring officer or employee, the provisions in the Constitution and in RA 6770 intended [only] that the implementation of the order be coursed through the proper officer x x x [,]” thus:

Section 15 is substantially the same as Section 13, Article XI of the Constitution which provides for the powers, functions and duties of the Ombudsman. We draw attention to subparagraph 3, to wit:

SEC. 15. Powers, Functions and Duties. – The Office of the Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions and duties:

[x x x x]

(3) Direct the officer concerned to take appropriate action against a public officer or employee at fault or who neglects to perform an act or discharge a duty required by law, and recommend his removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution, and ensure compliance therewith; or enforce its disciplinary authority as provided in Section 21 of this Act: Provided, That the refusal by any officer without just cause to comply with an order of the Ombudsman to remove, suspend, demote, fine, censure, or prosecute an officer or employee who is at fault or who neglects to perform an act or discharge a duty required by law shall be a ground for disciplinary action against said officer;

We note that the proviso above qualifies the “order” “to remove, suspend, demote, fine, censure, or prosecute” an officer or employee x x x.

That the refusal, without just cause, of any officer to comply with such an order of the Ombudsman to penalize an erring officer or employee is a ground for disciplinary action, is a strong indication that the Ombudsman’s “recommendation” is not merely advisory in nature but is actually mandatory within the bounds of law. This should not be interpreted as usurpation by the Ombudsman of the authority of the head of office or any officer concerned.

It has long been settled that the power of the Ombudsman to investigate and prosecute any illegal act or omission of any public official is not an exclusive authority but a shared or concurrent authority in respect of the offense charged. By stating therefore that the Ombudsman “recommends” the action to be taken against an erring officer or employee, the provisions in the Constitution and in RA 6770 intended that the implementation of the order be coursed through the proper officer x x x.

In our recent ruling in Office of the Ombudsman v. Court of Appeals, we reiterated Ledesma and expounded that taken together, the relevant provisions of RA 6770 vested petitioner with “full administrative disciplinary authority” including the power to “determine the appropriate penalty imposable on erring public officers or employees as warranted by the evidence, and, necessarily, impose the said penalty,” thus:

[The] provisions in Republic Act No. 6770 taken together reveal the manifest intent of the lawmakers to bestow on the Office of the Ombudsman full administrative disciplinary authority. These provisions cover the entire gamut of administrative adjudication which entails the authority to, inter alia, receive complaints, conduct investigations, hold hearings in accordance with its rules of procedure, summon witnesses and require the production of documents, place under preventive suspension public officers and employees pending an investigation, determine the appropriate penalty imposable on erring public officers or employees as warranted by the evidence, and, necessarily, impose the said penalty.

We see no reason to deviate from these rulings. They are consistent with our earlier observation that unlike the “classical Ombudsman model” whose function is merely to “receive and process the people’s complaints against corrupt and abusive government personnel,” the Philippine Ombudsman —
as protector of the people, is armed with the power to prosecute erring public officers and employees, giving him an active role in the enforcement of laws on anti-graft and corrupt practices and such other offenses that may be committed by such officers and employees. The legislature has vested him with broad powers to enable him to implement his own actions.

The Court sustains petitioner’s finding that respondent is guilty of Dishonesty.

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