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THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. No. 129978. May 12, 1999]

FELICIDAD M. ROQUE and PRUDENCIO N. MABANGLO, Petitioners, v. OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN; HON. OMBUDSMAN ANIANO DESIERTO; and HON. MARGARITO P. GERVACIO, JR., Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

Consistent with the rights of all persons to due process of law and to speedy trial, the Constitution commands the Office of the Ombudsman to act promptly on complaints filed against public officials. Thus, the failure of said office to resolve a complaint that has been pending for six years is clearly violative of this mandate and the public officials rights. In such event, the aggrieved party is entitled to the dismissal of the complaint.

The Case

Filed before this Court is a Petition for Mandamus praying that the respondent public officers be directed to dismiss Ombudsman Case Nos. OMB-MIN-91-0201 and OMB-MIN-91-0203 and subsequently to issue the necessary clearance in petitioners favor.

The Facts

The undisputed facts are narrated in respondents Memorandum1as follows:

Petitioner Felicidad M. Roque was a Schools Division Superintendent of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS), assigned in Koronadal, South Cotabato, until her compulsory retirement on May 17, 1991 (pp. 2-3, Petition).

Petitioner Prudencio N. Mabanglo was likewise a Schools Division Superintendent of the DECS, assigned in Tagum, Davao Province, until his compulsory retirement on May 8, 1997 (ibid.)

On January 14, 1991, Laura S. Soriano and Carmencita Eden T. Enriquez of the COA, by virtue of COA Regional Office Assignment Order No. 91-174 dated January 8, 1991, conducted an audit on the P9.36 million allotment released by the DECS Regional Office No. XI to its division offices (Annexes M and N, Petition).

As a result of the audit, auditors Soriano and Enriquez found some major deficiencies and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019), violations of COA Circular Nos. 78-84 and 85-55A, DECS Order No. 100 and Section 88 of Presidential Decree No. 1445 (ibid.).

Consequently, affidavits of complaint were filed before the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao against several persons, including petitioner Mabanglo on May 7, 1991, and against petitioner Roque on May 16, 1991 (ibid.).

In an Order dated June 11, 1991, the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao found the complaints proper for a preliminary investigation. The case involving petitioner Mabanglo was docketed as OMB-MIN-91-0201 while that involving petitioner Roque was docketed as OMB-MIN-91-0203 (Annex O, Petition).

Thereafter, petitioners filed their respective counter-affidavits (p. 4, Petition).

On March 18, 1997, OMB-MIN-91-0201, which involved petitioner Mabanglo, was resolved by the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao, finding that all the respondents [were] probably guilty of violation of Section 3 (e) and (g) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act 3019). The same was approved by respondent Ombudsman Desierto on September 19, 1997.

An Information dated March 18, 1997, for Violation of Section 3 (g) of Republic Act 3019, as amended, was filed before the Sandiganbayan, Manila, against several respondents, among them, petitioner Prudencio N. Mabanglo. The same was docketed as Criminal Case No. 24229.

On April 30, 1997, OMB-MIN-91-0203, which involved petitioner Roque, was resolved by the Office of the Ombudsman-MIndanao, recommending the filing [of cases] and prosecution of all the respondents for violation of Section 3 (e) and (g) of Republic Act 3019. The same was approved by respondent Ombudsman Desierto on August 22, 1997.

Two Informations similarly dated April 30, 1997, for violation of Section 3 (g) of Republic Act 3019, as amended, and for Violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic 3019, as amended, were filed before the Sandiganbayan, Manila. The Informations charged several respondents, among whom was petitioner Roque. The cases were docketed as Criminal Case No. 24105 and Criminal Case No. 24106, respectively.

On August 14, 1997, petitioners instituted the instant petition for mandamus premised on the allegation that [a]fter the initial Orders finding the cases proper for preliminary investigation were issued on June[,] 1991 and the subsequent submission of their counter-affidavits, until the present[,] or more than six (6) years, no resolution has been issued by the Public Respondent [and no] case [has] been filed with the appropriate court against the herein Petitioner (par. 3, p. 4, Petition).

On November 24, 1997, this Honorable Court issued a temporary restraining order directing respondents to cease and desist from further proceeding with the cases filed against petitioners.2

On August 21, 1998, petitioners asked the Court to cite respondents in contempt, contending that a criminal information was filed in violation of the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). In compliance with this Courts Resolution dated October 21, 1998,3 the respondents filed their Comment to the Petition for Contempt.4

Issues

In their Memorandum,5 petitioners present before this Court the following issues:

Whether or not there was undue and unjustifiable delay in resolving [the] complaints against petitioners (respondents therein) which violated their constitutional right to [a] speedy disposition of cases[; and]

Whether or not, such undue and unjustifiable delay in resolving the complaints against petitioners, would warrant dismissal of said complaints.6

In addition, we shall also discuss (1) the propriety of mandamus as a remedy and (2) the respondents liability for contempt for allegedly violating the Temporary Restraining Order issued by this Court on November 24, 1997.

The Courts Ruling

The Court grants the Petition for Mandamus, but denies the prayer to cite respondents in contempt of court.

Preliminary Issue: Propriety of Mandamus

Respondents argue that petitioners cannot, by this special action for mandamus, compel the ombudsman to dismiss the criminal charges filed against them, since such dismissal involves a discretionary, not a ministerial, duty.

The argument is not meritorious. As a general rule, the performance of an official act or duty, which necessarily involves the exercise of discretion or judgment, cannot be compelled by mandamus. This Court, however, has held that the rule does not apply in cases where there is gross abuse of discretion, manifest injustice, or palpable excess of authority.7 In First Philippine Holdings Corporation v. Sandiganbayan, the Court explained:

Ordinarily, mandamus will not prosper to compel a discretionary act. But where there is gross abuse of discretion, manifest injustice or palpable excess of authority equivalent to denial of a settled right to which petitioner is entitled, and there is no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy, the writ shall issue.8

The Court gave a similar ruling in Kant Kwong v. Presidential Commission on Good Government:9

Although as averred by respondents, the recognized rule is that, in the performance of an official duty or act involving discretion, the corresponding official can only be directed by Mandamus to act but not to act one way or another, yet it is not accurate to say that the writ will never issue to control his discretion. There is an exception to the rule if the case is otherwise proper, as in cases of gross abuse of discretion, manifest injustice, or palpable excess of authority.

In Angchangco, Jr. v. Ombudsman,10 this Court likewise held:

It is correct, as averred in the comment, that in the performance of an official duty or act involving discretion, the corresponding official can only be directed by mandamus to act, but not to act one way or the other. However, this rule admits of exceptions such as in cases where there is gross abuse of discretion, manifest injustice, or palpable excess of authority.11

The exceptions cited apply to this case. It is undisputed that there has already been a long and unwarranted delay in the resolution of the graft charges against the two petitioners. The Complaint against Petitioner Mabanglo was filed with the Office of the Ombudsman in Mindanao way back on May 7, 1991, and that against Petitioner Roque on May 16, 1991. On June 11, 1991, the said Office found the Complaints sufficient for preliminary investigation. Significantly, no action was taken until after the lapse of almost six years. For violation of Section 3 (g) of RA 3019, the same Office recommended the filing of an Information against Petitioner Mabanglo only on March 18, 1997, and against Petitioner Roque only on April 30, 1997.

Main Issue: Violation of Petitioners

Constitutional Rights

Clearly, the delay of almost six years disregarded the ombudsmans duty, as mandated by the Constitution12 and Republic Act No. 6770,13 to act promptly on complaints before him. More important, it violated the petitioners rights to due process and to a speedy disposition of the cases filed against them. Although respondents attempted to justify the six months needed by Ombudsman Desierto to review the recommendation of Deputy Ombudsman Gervasio, no explanation was given why it took almost six years for the latter to resolve the Complaints.14 Thus, in Angchangco, Jr. v. Ombudsman, this Court dismissed a Complaint that had been pending before the Office of the Ombudsman for more than six years, ruling as follows:

After a careful review of the facts and circumstances of the present case, the Court finds the inordinate delay of more than six years by the Ombudsman in resolving the criminal complaints against petitioner to be violative of his constitutionally guaranteed right to due process and a speedy disposition of the cases against him, thus warranting the dismissal of said criminal cases...15cräläwvirtualibräry

Similarly, in Tatad v. Sandiganbayan,16 this Court dismissed the Complaints, which the then tanodbayan was able to resolve only after the lapse of three years since the cases had been submitted for disposition, viz.:

We find the long delay in the termination of the preliminary investigation by the Tanodbayan in the instant case to be violative of the constitutional right of the accused to due process. Substantial adherence to the requirements of the law governing the conduct of preliminary investigation, including substantial compliance with the time limitation prescribed by the law for the resolution of the case by the prosecutor, is part of the procedural due process constitutionally guaranteed by the fundamental law. Not only under the broad umbrella of the due process clause, but under the constitutional guarantee of speedy disposition of cases as embodied in Section 16 of the Bill of Rights (both in the 1973 and the 1987 Constitutions), the inordinate delay is violative of the petitioners constitutional rights. A delay of close to three (3) years cannot be deemed reasonable or justifiable in the light of the circumstances obtaining in the case at bar. We are not impressed by the attempt of the Sandiganbayan to sanitize the long delay by indulging in the speculative assumption that delay may be due to a painstaking and grueling scrutiny by the Tanodbayan as to whether the evidence presented during the preliminary investigation merited prosecution of a former high-ranking government official. In the first place, such a statement suggests a double standard of treatment, which must be emphatically rejected. Secondly, three out of the five charges against the petitioner were for his alleged failure to file his sworn statement of assets and liabilities required by Republc Act 3019, which certainly did not involve complicated legal and factual issues necessitating such painstaking and grueling scrutiny as would justify a delay of almost three years in terminating the preliminary investigation. The other two charges relating to alleged bribery and alleged giving [of] unwarranted benefits to a relative, while presenting more substantial legal and factual issues, certainly do not warrant or justify the period of three years, which it took the Tanodbayan to resolve the case. (Emphasis supplied.)

We are not persuaded by respondents argument that the Petition for Mandamus became moot and academic when the Complaints were resolved by the Office of the Ombudsman for Mindanao and the Informations were filed. The same contention was rejected in Tatad v. Sandiganbayan, wherein the Court declared that the long and unexplained delay in the resolution of the criminal complaints against petitioners was not corrected by the eventual filing of the Informations. The Court ruled:

It has been suggested that the long delay in terminating the preliminary investigation should not be deemed fatal, for even the complete absence of a preliminary investigation does not warrant dismissal of the information. True --- [for] the absence of a preliminary investigation can be corrected by giving the accused such investigation. But an undue delay in the conduct of a preliminary investigation cannot be corrected, for until now, man has not yet invented a device for setting back time.

x x x the inordinate delay in terminating the preliminary investigation and filing the information in the instant case is violative of the constitutionally guaranteed right of the petitioner to due process and the speedy disposition of cases against him. Accordingly, the informations x x x should be dismissed x x x.17

Although petitioners prayed only for the issuance of a ruling directing the dismissal of Ombudsman Case Nos. OMB-MIN-91-0201 and OMB-MIN-91-0203, this Court, in the interest of the speedy disposition of cases, resolves to dismiss the above cases directly. This ruling is in line with Angchangco, in which the Court dismissed the complaints outright, although petitioner therein sought merely to compel the ombudsman to do so.

Additional Issue: No Contempt of Court

Petitioner Mabanglo moves to have respondents and their agents cited in contempt of court for allegedly filing an Information against him in violation of the November 24, 1997 TRO issued by the Court, which ordered them to cease and desist from proceeding with the cases.

The Petition to cite respondents in contempt is patently devoid of merit. In the first place, the Information against Petitioner Mabanglo was filed on September 25, 1997, before the issuance of the TRO on November 24, 1997. Hence, the TRO could not have been violated. In the second place, the said Petition for Contempt was filed in contravention of Section 4 (2), Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Court,18 which states that if a petition for contempt arises from or is related to a principal action pending in court, it shall be docketed, heard and decided separately unless the court orders that both the principal action and the petition for contempt be consolidated for joint hearing and decision. In the instant case, the Petition for Contempt, which arose from the Petition for Mandamus, was filed as an integral part of the latter and under the same docket or case number. There is no showing that this Court has ordered their consolidation.

WHEREFORE, the Petition for Mandamus is GRANTEDand Ombudsman Case Nos. OMB-91-0201 and OMB-91-0203 are accordingly DISMISSED. The Petition to declare respondents in contempt is hereby DENIED. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Romero, (Chairman), Vitug, Purisima, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 176-188. This was filed with the Court on November 18, 1998, and signed by Solicitor General Ricardo P. Galvez, Assistant Solicitor General Mariano M. Martinez and Solicitor Fay L. Garcia.

2 Memorandum of public respondents, pp. 2-6; rollo, pp. 177-181.

3 Rollo, p. 173.

4 The case was deemed submitted for resolution on January 26, 1999, when the Court received a copy of the Comment of the Office of the Solicitor General.

5 Memorandum for the petitioners, pp. 1-11; rollo pp. 138-148.

6 Memorandum for the petitioners, p. 4; rollo, p. 141.

7 Angchangco Jr. v. Ombudsman, 268 SCRA 301, 306, February 17, 1997, per Melo, J.

8 First Philippine Holdings Corporation v. Sandiganbayan, 253 SCRA 30, February 1, 1996, per Panganiban, J.

9 156 SCRA 222, December 7, 1987, per Melencio-Herrera, J.

10 Supra.

11 See also D.M. Consunji, Inc. v. Esguerra, 260 SCRA 74, July 30, 1996.

12 The Ombudsman and his deputies, as protectors of the people, shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against public officials or employees of the Government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and shall, in appropriate cases, notify the complainants of the action taken and the results thereof. (Section 12, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution)

13 The ombudsman and his deputies, as protectors of the people, shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against officers or employees of the Government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and enforce their administrative, civil and criminal liability in every case where the evidence warrants in order to promote efficient service by the government to the people. (Section 13, Republic Act No. 6770)

14 Respondents Memorandum, p. 11; rollo, p. 186.

15 Angchangco, Jr. v. Ombudsman, 268 SCRA 301, 304, February 17, 1997, per Melo, J.

16 159 SCRA 70, 82, March 21, 1988, per Yap, J.

17 Ibid., p. 83.

18 SEC. 4. How proceeding commenced. Proceedings for indirect contempt may be initiated motu propio by the court against which the contempt was committed by an order or any other formal charge requiring the respondent to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt.

In all other cases, charges for indirect contempt shall be commenced by a verified petition with supporting particulars and certified true copies of documents or papers involved therein, and upon full compliance with the requirements for filing initiatory pleadings for civil actions in the court concerned. If the contempt charges arose out of or are related to a principal action pending in the court, the petition for contempt shall allege that fact but said petition shall be docketed, heard and decided separately, unless the court in its discretion orders the consolidation of the contempt charge and the principal action for joint hearing and decision. (Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Court)




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