The Ombudsman served on Sen. Estrada copies of the two criminal complaints for plunder against him. Eighteen of Sen. Estrada’s co-respondents in the two complaints filed their counter-affidavits.
On 20 March 2014, Sen. Estrada filed his “Request to be Furnished with Copies of Counter-Affidavits of the Other Respondents, Affidavits of New Witnesses and Other Filings” (“Request”).
Sen. Estrada’s request was made “[p]ursuant to the right of a respondent ‘to examine the evidence submitted by the complainant which he may not have been furnished’ (Section 3[b], Rule 112 of the Rules of Court) and to ‘have access to the evidence on record’ (Section 4[c], Rule II of the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman).”
The Ombudsman issued a Joint Resolution which found probable cause to indict Sen. Estrada and his co-respondents with plunder and violation of Sec. 3(e) of RA No. 3019.
Sen. Estrada filed a Motion for Reconsideration praying for the issuance of a new resolution dismissing the charges against him. Without filing a Motion for Reconsideration of the Ombudsman’s Order denying his Request, Sen. Estrada filed the present Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 and sought to annul and set aside the latter Order.
What is the quantum of evidence necessary during preliminary investigation?
First, there is no law or rule which requires the Ombudsman to furnish a respondent with copies of the counter-affidavits of his co-respondents. The Rules of Criminal Procedure, as well as the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman do not provide for the relief sought by Sen. Estrada in his Request.
It should be underscored that the conduct of a preliminary investigation is only for the determination of probable cause, and “probable cause merely implies probability of guilt and should be determined in a summary manner. A preliminary investigation is not a part of the trial and it is only in a trial where an accused can demand the full exercise of his rights, such as the right to confront and cross-examine his accusers to establish his innocence.” Thus, the rights of a respondent in a preliminary investigation are limited to those granted by procedural law.
A preliminary investigation is defined as an inquiry or proceeding for the purpose of determining whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime cognizable by the Regional Trial Court has been committed and that the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial. The quantum of evidence now required in preliminary investigation is such evidence sufficient to “engender a well-founded belief” as to the fact of the commission of a crime and the respondent’s probable guilt thereof.
A preliminary investigation is not the occasion for the full and exhaustive display of the parties’ evidence; it is for the presentation of such evidence only as may engender a well-grounded belief that an offense has been committed and that the accused is probably guilty thereof.
Futhermore, the technical rules on evidence are not binding on the fiscal who has jurisdiction and control over the conduct of a preliminary investigation.
Thus, probable cause can be established with hearsay evidence, as long as there is substantial basis for crediting the hearsay. Hearsay evidence is admissible in determining probable cause in a preliminary investigation because such investigation is merely preliminary, and does not finally adjudicate rights and obligations of parties.