G.R. No. 142030. April 21, 2005
ARTURO GALLARDO, PETER MELCHOR J. ARCHES, ALLAN B. AMPOLOQUIO, CIRILO N. BACQUIANO, JOSUE M. RODAJE, BENJAMIN R. MACASAET, JR., VICTORINA DELOS CIENTOS-MIRAL, RODOLFO M. CARTIN, QUIRINA T. SARTE, NORBERTO E. GOMEZ, GENEFREDO P. ESPINA, NOEL GUINITA, AND OFELIA NACIONAL, Petitioners,
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, SANDIGANBAYAN, HONORABLE ANIANO DESIERTO in his official capacity as OMBUDSMAN, AND OFFICE OF THE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Public Health Workers (PHWs) of Davao del Sur filed letter-complaint for alleged refusal to appropriate in the municipal budget the amount representing payment of their salaries by the Municipality of Bansalan headed by Mayor Arturo Gallardo, among others, with the Ombudsman. Probable cause was found and information was filed stating that Gallardo caused undue injury to PHW workers. Gallardo requested for reinvestigation. This was granted by Sandiganbayan, However Ombudsman Desierto recommended his disapproval writing a note “[l]et the court determine if indeed the evidence cannot stand the judicial scrutiny”.
Petitioner filed a motion to quash on the ground that they were not accorded equal protection of the law. They contend that similar cases were dismissed by Desierto previously and should be accorded the same to the case at bar.
Whether or not Ombudsman Desierto violated the equal protection rights of the petitioners on the ground of not uniformly deciding similar cases?
No. The equal protection clause requires that the law operates uniformly on all persons under similar circumstances or that all persons are treated in the same manner, the conditions not being different, both in privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed. It allows reasonable classification. If the classification is characterized by real and substantial differences, one class may be treated differently from another.
The Ombudsman, contrary to the investigating prosecutor’s conclusion, was of the conviction that petitioners are probably guilty of the offense charged, and for this, he is not required to conduct an investigation anew. He is merely determining the propriety and correctness of the recommendation by the investigating prosecutor, i.e., whether probable cause actually exists or not, on the basis of the findings of fact of the latter. He may agree, fully or partly, or disagree completely with the investigating prosecutor. Whatever course of action that the Ombudsman may take, whether to approve or to disapprove the recommendation of the investigating prosecutor, is but an exercise of his discretionary powers based upon constitutional mandate. Generally, courts should not interfere in such exercise. It is beyond the ambit of this Court to review the exercise of discretion of the Ombudsman in prosecuting or dismissing a complaint filed before it, save in cases where there is clear showing of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the Ombudsman which is absent in the case at hand. Such initiative and independence are inherent in the Ombudsman who, beholden to no one, acts as the champion of the people and preserver of the integrity of the public service.
In asseverating that petitioners were deprived the equal protection of law since the Ombudsman, in sixteen (16) previous cases which were similar to the case at bar, dismissed the same. The Ombudsman dismissed those cases because he believed there were no sufficient grounds for the accused therein to undergo trial. On the other hand, he recommended the filing of appropriate information against petitioners because there are ample grounds to hold them for trial. He was only exercising his power and discharging his duty based upon the constitutional mandate of his office.
These arguments are specious. Petitioners’ submission that they were deprived of due process hinges on the erroneous assumption that respondent Ombudsman failed to assess and consider the evidence presented by petitioners when he disapproved the recommendation by the investigating prosecutor to dismiss the case, and that his ruling was not supported by evidence on record.