G.R. No. 120223 March 13, 1996
DR. RAMON Y. ALBA, Petitioner, v. THE HONORABLE DEPUTY OMBUDSMAN CESAR Y. NITORREDA, ET AL., Respondents.
The instant motion for reconsideration has its origin in an administrative case (OBM-MIN-ADM-94-059) filed with the Office of the Ombudsman for Mindanao by private respondents Jesiela Antiporta and Aida Salmeo against petitioner Dr. Ramon Y. Alba in his capacity as Director III of the Department of Education Culture and Sports (DECS) accusing the latter of violating certain provisions of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards For Public Officials and Employees (R.A. 6713).
The facts are as follows:
Private respondents were among the twenty five (25) graduating students of the Arriesgado Institute of Medical Sciences Foundation, Inc. (AIMSFI) in Tagum, Davao who sought the intervention of petitioner in settling a dispute with the said school arising from the implementation of certain school policies. Acting on the request for intervention, petitioner scheduled a meeting with the students on March 20, 1994 at 8:30 in the morning. Thus, on the said date, private respondents and the other complaining students travelled all the way from Tagum, Davao to the DECS Office in Davao City. Their presence in the said office was duly noted by DECS Administrative Officer V, Aquilina Granada who advised them that petitioner will forthwith meet with them. However, instead of conferring with the aggrieved students, petitioner instead met with the Arriesgado spouses-owners of AIMSFI-who admittedly did not even have a previous appointment with petitioner with the result that the students were left waiting at the anteroom for several hours. In view of this apparent discrimination, the students contacted respondent Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao, Cesar E. Nitorreda who was impelled to proceed to the DECS Office to admonish petitioner for not conferring with both parties at the same time in order to hear both sides of the controversy. Thereafter, petitioner presided over the conference between the Arriesgados and the aggrieved students. On March 29, 1994, petitioner submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman for Mindanao (Office of the Ombudsman), a report on the said conference wherein he claimed that he had succeeded in facilitating an amicable settlement between the parties. However, petitioner's claim of having settled the dispute between the Arriesgados and the complaining students is belied by private respondents' affidavit-complaint
attesting to the fact that as a result of the said dispute, they were barred from taking the, final examinations and participating. in the graduation rites. In the same affidavit-complaint, private respondents pointed out petitioner's evident bias and partiality in favor of the Arriesgados in the conduct of the conference held on March 20, 1994. Petitioner denied the said charges in his counter-affidavit
and justified his actuations by posturing that the reason why he decided to talk to the school owner first was "to thresh out the complaints of the students in order to have a complete view of the situation before talking jointly with the student and the owner of the
After both parties failed to attend the preliminary conference scheduled by the Graft Investigating Officer assigned to the case, a resolution dated April 28, 1995 was rendered by the Office of the Ombudsman finding petitioner guilty of violating Section 4(b), (c) and (e) of R.A. 6713 6 and holding as follows:
For such gross misconduct, petitioner was meted a suspension of thirty (30) days without pay and warned that any other instance of non-observance of the Code of Conduct will result in graver punishment. 8
When petitioner's motion for reconsideration of the foregoing resolution was denied, he filed an "Appeal Petition for Certiorari and/or Prohibition With Prayer for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Prohibitory Injunction" (petition) with this Court. In a Resolution dated June 27, 1995, the said petition was dismissed on the ground that it was moot and academic because the questioned suspension of petition a which was effective from May 26, 1995 to June 24, 1995 had already expired or become functus oficio on June 28, 1995 when the petition was filed. Alleging, first and foremost, a misreading of the correct date of filing of the petition, petitioner filed the instant motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of the said petition. A closer scrutiny of the records shows that the petition was indeed filed on June 2, 1995 and not on June 28 as initially deciphered by this Court from the misleading sequence of numbers on the stamp of receipt, that is "JUN 2 8 28 PM 95". Thus, as correctly averred by petitioner, at the time of the filing of the petition on June 2, 1995, there were still a good twenty two (22) days left of the suspension imposed on him. Consequently, we set aside our original finding that the petition is moot and academic.
With that error rectified, it is now incumbent upon this Court to resolve the following issues raised in the petition to the end that the latter may be finally disposed of on its merits.
Petitioner assails the constitutionality of Section 27 of R.A. 6770 and Section 7, Rule III of Administrative Order No. 7 for their failure to provide for the right of appeal in certain cases from the decision of the Ombudsman, maintaining that the same is tantamount to a deprivation of property without due process of law. As regards this threshold matter, suffice it to say that this Court has consistently held that:
Apparently, therefore, the constitutional requirement of due process may be satisfied notwithstanding the denial of the right to appeal for the essence of due process is simply the opportunity to be heard and to present evidence in support of one's case. 12
The Office of the Ombudsman is vested by law with the power to promulgate its own rules of procedure, 13 and a perusal of the said rules of procedure in administrative cases manifest sufficient compliance with the requirements of due process. Thus,
Petitioner further assails the failure of the Graft Investigating Officer to call the parties to another preliminary conference after their failure to appear at the first one. He contends that the lack of any kind of hearing for evidence presentation resulted in "what may be termed, in the lingo of 'civil procedure', a 'judgment on the pleadings'" 14 . At the onset, it is worth pointing out that petitioner was afforded ample opportunity to present his side at the scheduled preliminary conference. His non-appearance thereat is attributable to no one else but himself and he cannot be allowed to now pass the buck to the Graft Investigating Officer who had complied strictly with the above quoted procedure in the conduct of administrative investigations. Furthermore, undisputed is the fact that not only did the Office of the Ombudsman give due course and consideration to petitioner's counter-affidavit, but it also entertained and resolved his motion for reconsideration which is not ordinarily allowed in the adjudication of administrative cases where the penalty imposed is suspension of not more than one month. Thus, contrary to petitioner's claim, he was in fact given all opportunity to be heard, albeit through pleadings.
In point is the case of Concerned Officials of the MWSS vs. Hon. Ombudsman Conrado Vasquez, 15 where this Court upheld the validity of an order issued by the Ombudsman without prior hearing, in this wise:
Hence, a formal or trial type hearing is not, at all times, necessary. So long as a party is afforded fair and reasonable opportunity to explain his side, the requirement of due process is complied with. 17
That the petitioner and all other public officials are deprived of a legal recourse in the event that the Ombudsman or his Deputy "hastily, arbitrarily, if not oppressively and/or inhumanly, acts to find him administratively liable for an imagined violation of Sec. 4 of R.A. 6713 . . ." 18 is belied by the fact that the remedy of filing a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court is always available to an aggrieved public officials in such a case. The Rules of Court which apply suppletorily to the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman 19 provides that in the absence of an appeal or any other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, a person aggrieved by any decision rendered in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion by a tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial functions, may file a petition for certiorari with this Court. 20
Petitioner's asseveration that his suspension is not substantiated by evidence is a mere desperate attempt to lure this Court into reviewing the factual findings of the Office of the Ombudsman. Squarely applicable to the findings of fact in the administrative proceedings against petitioner is the settled the rule that:
Nonetheless, even a review of the evidence against the petitioner does not warrant a reversal of the findings of fact of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Finally and as a last ditch effort, petitioner secured a joint-affidavit of desistance dated May 19, 1995 from private respondents in the hope that the Office of the Ombudsman will be persuaded into discontinuing the prosecution of the case against him. The joint-affidavit of desistance was executed by private respondents only after all evidence against petitioner had been documented and evaluated by the Office of the Ombudsman, and in fact, only after it had issued its resolution finding petitioner guilty of the administrative charges against him. The joint-affidavit of desistance is not binding on the Office of the Ombudsman and cannot prevail over the provision of law which categorically allows the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate and prosecute on its own any act or omission of a public officer or employee, office or agency which appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient. 22 Moreover, this Court has consistently refrained from interfering with the exercise by the Ombudsman of his constitutionally mandated investigatory and prosecutory powers. Otherwise stated, 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. 23 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.
WHEREFORE, in view of the aforegoing reasons, the motion for reconsideration of the Resolution of this Court dated June 27, 1995 is hereby denied.
Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Hermosisima, Jr. and Panganiban, JJ., concur.
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