Ombudsman given power to investigate, determine whether crime exists

In Ramos vs. Aquino, 39 SCRA 641 (1971) this Court ruled that the fact that petitioners' accounts and vouchers had been passed in audit is not a ground for enjoining the provincial fiscal from conducting a preliminary investigation for the purpose of determining the criminal liability of petitioners for malversation of public funds through falsification of public documents. COA's approval of petitioner's disbursements only relates to the administrative aspect of the matter of his accountability but it does not foreclose the Ombudsman's authority to investigate and determine whether there is a crime to be prosecuted for which petitioner is answerable. Therefore, as correctly stated by the Sandiganbayan in its order of April 12, 1996, while the COA may assist in gathering evidence to substantiate a charge of malversation, any determination made by it will not be conclusive as to whether adequate cause exists to prosecute a case. This is so because the Ombudsman is given the power to investigate on its own an illegal act or omission of a public official. Indeed, while the COA may regard petitioner to have substantially complied with its accounting rules, this fact is not sufficient to dismiss the criminal cases. Beyond compliance with COA rules and regulations, the question is whether there was a misappropriation of public funds by petitioner. This is a question of fact to be established by evidence. All that petitioner's failure to submit the documents required in the COA circulars in question means is that there is a presumption of malversation sufficient to justify the filing of a case in court. Petitioner may still prove his innocence. Until he does this, however, the presumption that public funds were put to personal use stands. [G.R. No. 124471. November 28, 1996]