(Article published in the Jan 11, 2006
issue of Manila Standard Today)
planning for most government employees, particularly those in the career
service, is fairly straightforward. Asset
inventory is a yearly ritual since they are required by law to file their
annual Statement of Assets and Liabilities.
Yearly accretions to wealth, if any, are easily forecasted because
increase in net worth is mostly due to compensation and compensation for
their services hardly change except for intermittent salary adjustments
which come few and far between. And
the gratuity upon retirement is tax-free.
Hence, very little attention is given to the subject by estate
neglected therefore is the risk unique to the estate of government
employees, except for those who may be removed from office only through
impeachment, namely, the risk of being hailed unjustifiably before the
Office of the Ombudsman. The
Ombudsman was conceived initially as an office that will assist in cutting
through bureaucratic red tape in order to expedite the delivery of public
services. Local usage,
however, inordinately focused on the prosecutory function of the Office
and, in the hands of many, it was often turned into a fearsome instrument
of harassment. With Philippine-style media almost invariably portraying
respondents as wrong-doers, the mere fact of being asked to answer
charges, no matter how baseless, promptly damages the government
employee’s reputation and invariably prejudices his career
the Supreme Court recently came out with a decision that hopefully would
temper the risk of being without sufficient reason made to answer
accusations before the Ombudsman. In the case of Principio v. Barrientos,
G.R. No. 167025, promulgated on 19 December 2005, the Supreme Court,
through Justice Ynares-Santiago, laid out clearly how the Ombudsman ought
to exercise his prosecutory discretion.
If law is a prediction of what the courts would say, then this
decision ought to deter harassment-minded accusers from further engaging
in the malicious mischief of bringing to the Office of the Ombudsman every
government action that is not to their liking.
C. Principio is a bank examiner at the Supervisions and Examination
Department IV of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). On June 25, 2001,
Hilario P. Soriano, president and stockholder of the Rural Bank of San
Miguel, Inc. (RBSMI) accused him at the Office of the Ombudsman of
violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019. Principio
allegedly, through manifest partiality, evident bad faith and gross
inexcusable negligence, caused undue injury to RBSMI by reporting that the
bank incurred legal reserve deficiencies of P18 million from December 31,
1995 up to August 21, 1996 and P13 million from August 22, 1996 up to
September 1, 1996, and by recommending the imposition of a fine in the
amount of P2,538,000.00. The
recommendation was adopted by the Monetary Board in its Resolution No. 724
dated June 13, 1997.
Ombudsman was of the opinion that sufficient probable cause existed to
warrant the filing of the appropriate information (which is legalese for a
formal written accusation) in court.
Principio did not agree and the case went upwards through the
judicial maze. When it reached the Supreme Court, the justices seized the
opportunity exercise both their adjudicatory and teaching functions.
teacher, for the guidance of bench and bar, the court laid out the
principle that while it prefers to leave the Ombudsman to its own
discretion in the exercise of its power to determine whether to prosecute
or not, it will nevertheless not hesitate, in the exercise of its
constitutionally defined “judicial power”, to make its presence felt
on certain defined instances.
court then proceeded to restate the instances it had already set out in
Brocka v. Enrile (192
SCRA 183): (a) to afford adequate protection to the constitutional
rights of the accused; (b) when necessary for the orderly administration
of justice or to avoid oppression or multiplicity of actions; (c) when
there is a pre-judicial question which is sub judice; (d) when the acts of
the officer are without or in excess of authority; (e) where the
prosecution is under an invalid law, ordinance or regulation; (f) when
double jeopardy is clearly apparent; (g) where the court has no
jurisdiction over the offense; (h) where it is a case of persecution
rather than prosecution; (i) where the charges are manifestly false and
motivated by the lust for vengeance; (j) when there is clearly no prima
facie case against the accused and a motion to quash on that ground has
been denied; and (k) when preliminary injunction has been issued by the
Supreme Court to prevent the threatened unlawful arrest of petitioners.
what is already obvious to courts and lawyers, the Supreme Court cited the
cases of Cabahug
v. People (426 Phil. 490),
Venus v. Hon. Desierto (358 Phil. 675), and Fernando v. Sandiganbayan (212
SCRA 680), where the court in fact substituted its judgment for that of
the Ombudsman and ordered the dismissal of the cases that the Ombudsman
had filed. The clear message
is that the court, aware of the harrowing experience that persons accused
of crimes undergo during trial, think it is unjust to proceed with an
the specific case of Principio, the court found that he performed his
duties well, in good faith and in accordance with law, in fact vindicated
by the acts of his superiors and eventually upheld by the court itself.
Hence, his going through the process of further prosecution made no
sense at all.
It is opportune that the Supreme Court once again took a strong stand against making the prosecutorial and judicial process, regardless of eventual merit of the case, instruments of harassment. Government personnel, particularly employees and officers of regulatory agencies like the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, whose job it is to protect the public and not bend to the wishes of disgruntled and losing parties, ought to be shielded from malicious prosecution. They are people too, with legitimate and sacred rights to their good reputation built over time and to the security of their future and their estates meager as they already are.