Case Digest: Cabalit v. COA

G.R. No. 180236 : January 17, 2012



Philippine Star News, a local newspaper in Cebu City, reported that employees of the LTO in Jagna, Bohol, are shortchanging the government by tampering with their income reports.Accordingly, Regional Director Ildefonso T. Deloria of the Commission on Audit (COA) directed State Auditors Teodocio D. Cabalit and Emmanuel L. Coloma of the Provincial Revenue Audit Group to conduct a fact-finding investigation. A widespread tampering of official receipts of Motor Vehicle Registration during the years 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 was then discovered by the investigators.

In a Joint Evaluation Report, Graft Investigators Pio R. Dargantes and Virginia Palanca-Santiago found grounds to conduct a preliminary investigation.Hence, a formal charge for dishonesty was filed against Olaivar, Cabalit, Apit and Alabat before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas.

Olaivar, Cabalit, Apit and Alabat submitted separate counter-affidavits, all essentially denying knowledge and responsibility for the anomalies.

Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas rendered judgment finding petitioners liable for dishonesty for tampering the official receipts to make it appear that they collected lesser amounts than they actually collected.

Petitioners sought reconsideration of the decision, but their motions were denied by the Ombudsman.Thus, they separately sought recourse from the CA.

CA promulgated the assailed Decision DISMISSING the instant consolidated petitions.

ISSUE: Whether or not there was a violation of the right to due process when the hearing officer at the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas adopted the procedure under A.O. No. 17 notwithstanding the fact that the said amendatory order took effect after the hearings had started? Whether or not Cabalit, Apit and Olaivar are administratively liable?

HELD: Court of Appeals decision is sustained.

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: due process; ombudsman

Suffice to say, petitioners were not denied due process of law when the investigating lawyer proceeded to resolve the case based on the affidavits and other evidence on record. Section 5(b)(1) Rule 3, of t heRules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman, as amended by A.O. No. 17, plainly provides that the hearing officer may issue an order directing the parties to file, within ten days from receipt of the order, their respective verified position papers on the basis of which, along with the attachments thereto, the hearing officer may consider the case submitted for decision. It is only when the hearing officer determines that based on the evidence, there is a need to conduct clarificatory hearings or formal investigations under Section 5(b)(2) and Section 5(b)(3) that such further proceedings will be conducted. But the determination of the necessity for further proceedings rests on the sound discretion of the hearing officer. As the petitioners have utterly failed to show any cogent reason why the hearing officer's determination should be overturned, the determination will not be disturbed by this Court. We likewise find no merit in their contention that the new procedures under A.O. No. 17, which took effect while the case was already undergoing trial before the hearing officer, should not have been applied.

Since petitioners have been afforded the right to be heard and to defend themselves, they cannot rightfully complain that they were denied due process of law. Well to remember, due process, as a constitutional precept, does not always and in all situations require a trial-type proceeding. It is satisfied when a person is notified of the charge against him and given an opportunity to explain or defend himself. In administrative proceedings, the filing of charges and giving reasonable opportunity for the person so charged to answer the accusations against him constitute the minimum requirements of due process. More often, this opportunity is conferred through written pleadings that the parties submit to present their charges and defenses.But as long as a party is given the opportunity to defend his or her interests in due course, said party is not denied due process.

REMEDIAL LAW: ombudsman

Now, superior courts are not triers of facts. When the findings of fact of the Ombudsman are supported by substantial evidence, it should be considered as conclusive. This Court recognizes the expertise and independence of the Ombudsman and will avoid interfering with its findings absent a finding of grave abuse of discretion. Hence, being supported by substantial evidence, we find no reason to disturb the factual findings of the Ombudsman which are affirmed by the CA.

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: public officers; neglect of duty

Neglect of duty implies only the failure to give proper attention to a task expected of an employee arising from either carelessness or indifference.However, the facts of this case show more than a failure to mind one's task. Rather, they manifest that Olaivar committed acts of dishonesty, which is defined as the concealment or distortion of truth in a matter of fact relevant to one's office or connected with the performance of his duty. It implies a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity, or integrity in principle.Hence, the CA should have found Olaivar liable for dishonesty.

Under Section 52, Rule IV of theUniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, dishonesty, like gross neglect of duty, is classified as a grave offense punishable by dismissal even if committed for the first time.Under Section 58,such penalty likewise carries with it the accessory penalties of cancellation of civil service eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits and disqualification from re-employment in the government service.

The duty and privilege of the Ombudsman to act as protector of the people against the illegal and unjust acts of those who are in the public service emanate from no less than the 1987 Constitution. Section 12 of Article XI thereof states:

Section 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 result thereof.

In the exercise of his duties, the Ombudsman is given full administrative disciplinary authority. His power is not limited merely to receiving, processing complaints, or recommending penalties. He is to conduct investigations, hold hearings, summon witnesses and require production of evidence and place respondents under preventive suspension. This includes the power to impose the penalty of removal, suspension, demotion, fine, or censure of a public officer or employee.

The provisions in R.A. No. 6770 taken together reveal the manifest intent of the lawmakers to bestow on the Office of the Ombudsman full administrative disciplinary authority. These provisions cover the entire gamut of administrative adjudication which entails the authority to,inter alia, receive complaints, conduct investigations, hold hearings in accordance with its rules of procedure, summon witnesses and require the production of documents, place under preventive suspension public officers and employees pending an investigation, determine the appropriate penalty imposable on erring public officers or employees as warranted by the evidence, and, necessarily, impose the said penalty.Thus, it is settled that the Office of the Ombudsman can directly impose administrative sanctions.