Case Digest: Carabeo v. Sandiganbayan & People

G.R. Nos. 190580-81 : February 21, 2011




Pursuant to E.O. 259, investigators of the Department of Finance (DOF) Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS) made lifestyles check of DOF officials and employees. As a result of these investigations, the DOF charged petitioner Liberato Carabeo, Paraque City Treasurer, before the Office of the Ombudsman for violations of R.A. 3019 and Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code. The informations filed with the Sandiganbayan totaled eight in all. These, in essence, accused Carabeo of failing to disclose several items in his sworn SALN filed over the years.

They charged Carabeo with failing to disclose personal properties consisting of three motor vehicles, misdeclaring the acquisition cost of a real property in Laguna, and falsely declaring his net worth in his SALN for 2003.

At the pre-trial of these cases, Carabeo submitted his Pre-Trial Brief, proposing the following issues for trial:
1. Whether or not the accused was allowed to previously exercise his right to be informed beforehand and to take the necessary corrective action on questions concerning his SALN as provided in RA No. 6713 before the instant charges were filed against him; 
2. Whether or not the accused committed the crime of falsification of Public Documents under Paragraph 4, Article 171, Revised Penal Code, as amended; 
3. Whether or not the accused committed a violation of RA No. 3019 in relation to RA No. 6713; and 
4. Whether or not the filing of the instant case is premature in the light of the pending Petition for Certiorari before the Supreme Court questioning: (1) the legality, validity and constitutionality of Executive Order 259, upon which the present charges arose; and (2) whether the accused's right to be informed "beforehand" and to take the "necessary corrective action" on questions regarding his SALN, as clearly mandated under Section 10 of RA 6713, was blatantly disregarded and set aside during the course of the investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Fourth Division issued a Resolution, stating that the issues in the pre-trial order already covered Carabeos second and third proposed issues. As to the first and fourth issues, the Sandiganbayan said that Carabeos head offices review was irrelevant and cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from conducting an independent investigation of his alleged offenses. Carabeo filed a motion for reconsideration with respect to his first and fourth issues but the Sandiganbayan denied this on October 29, 2009, hence, this special civil action of certiorari.


Whether or not the Sandiganbayan may hear the criminal action against Carabeo pending this Courts resolution of his petition to annul E.O. 259 under which the DOF-RIPS filed the pertinent complaint against him before the Office of the Ombudsman; and

Whether or not the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion in excluding from the trial his proposed issues 1 and 4.

HELD: The decision of the Sandiganbayan is affirmed.

POLITICAL LAW propriety of the charges

Carabeo claims that the Office of the Ombudsman prematurely filed the criminal cases against him considering that a question was pending before this Court in G.R. 178000 concerning the validity of E.O. 259, which authorized the conduct of lifestyles check on official and employees of the executive department.

But such issue has since been rendered moot and academic when the Court held that the validity of E.O. 259 is immaterial to the question of the propriety of the charges filed against Carabeo. Indeed, the Court pointed out that any concerned citizen may file charges of corruption or illegal conduct against any government official or employee if the evidence warrants. Thus, the DOF-RIPS investigators were within their right to charge Carabeo before the Office of the Ombudsman regarding his case with or without E.O. 259.

POLITICAL LAW right to notice on the SALN

Carabeo claims that his head office, the DOF, should have alerted him on the deficiency in his SALN and given him the chance to correct the same before any charge is filed against him in connection with the same. But, the Sandiganbayan, citing Pleyto v. Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG), G.R. No. 169982, November 23, 2007 held that the review of the SALN by the head of office is irrelevant and cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from conducting an independent investigation for criminal violations committed by the public official or employee.

True, Section 10 of R.A. 6713 provides that when the head of office finds the SALN of a subordinate incomplete or not in the proper form such head of office must call the subordinates attention to such omission and give him the chance to rectify the same. But this procedure is an internal office matter. Whether or not the head of office has taken such step with respect to a particular subordinate cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from investigating the latter. Pleyto v. PNP-CIDG, G.R. No. 169982, November 23, 2007. Its power to investigate and prosecute erring government officials cannot be made dependent on the prior action of another office. To hold otherwise would be to diminish its constitutionally guarded independence.

Further, Carabeos reliance on his supposed right to notice regarding errors in his SALNs and to be told to correct the same is misplaced. The notice and correction referred to in Section 10 are intended merely to ensure that SALN's are "submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form." Obviously, these refer to formal defects in the SALN's. The charges against Carabeo, however, are for falsification of the assets side of his SALNs and for declaring a false net worth. These are substantive, not formal defects. Indeed, while the Court said in Pleyto that heads of offices have the duty to review their subordinates SALN's, it would be absurd to require such heads to run a check on the truth of what the SALN's state and require their subordinates to correct whatever lies these contain. The responsibility for truth in those SALN's belongs to the subordinates who prepared them, not to the heads of their offices.

Thus, the Sandiganbayan did not gravely abuse its discretion in excluding from its pre-trial order the first and fourth issues that Carabeo proposed.