CASE DIGEST: De Guzman v. Gonzalez III (G.R. No. 158104: March 26, 2010)

CASE DIGEST: ANGELITA DE GUZMAN, Petitioner, v. EMILIO A. GONZALEZ III, then Officer-In-Charge, Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, ADORACION A. AGBADA, Graft Investigator, and Commission on Audit Region II Cagayan, represented by ERLINDA F. LANGCAY, HON. LEO REYES, Presiding Judge of Regional Trial Court of Sanchez Mira, Cagayan, Respondents. G.R. No. 158104: March 26, 2010.

FACTS: Petitioner Angelita de Guzman, in her official capacity as the Municipal Treasurer of Claveria, Cagayan, was audited of her cash and accounts covering the period from January 26, 1999 to May 25, 2000. In a letter dated October 30, 2000, the audit team demanded petitioner to produce the missing funds and submit her written explanation about the occurrence of the shortage within 72 hours.

Prosecutor Bayag, Jr. submitted his Report dated November 15, 2002 recommending the dismissal of the case for insufficiency of evidence to establish a probable cause. Pertinent portions of the Report read:

The defenses pieces of evidence negate the existence of a shortage. The audit conducted was not yet completed or terminated for the reason that the requisite certification on the accuseds cash book was not yet accomplished, thereby leaving the cash book open. The deposits made in November 2000 and January 2001 which correspond to the amount of the alleged missing funds were duly recorded and reflected on the cash book as adjusting entries.

Upon review of Bayag, Jrs report, Adoracion A. Agbada (Agbada) recommended instead, to proceed with the prosecution of the case. Emilio A. Gonzalez III (Gonzalez), the Officer-in Charge of the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon approved on January 6, 2003 the recommendation of Agbada. Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied. Hence, petitioner files the instant petition for certiorari.

ISSUE: Did Agbada commit grave abuse of discretion when it recommended the continuation of the prosecution?
HELD: No, he did not. The Constitution and Republic Act (RA) No. 6770 (the Ombudsman Act of 1989) confer on the Office of the Ombudsman the power to investigate and prosecute on its own or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust or improper.

A finding of probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that more likely than not a crime has been committed and was committed by the suspect. Probable cause need not be based on clear and convincing evidence of guilt, neither on evidence establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and definitely not on evidence establishing absolute certainty of guilt.

In disapproving the recommendation of Prosecutor Bayag, Jr. and adopting instead that of Agbada, respondent Gonzalez as Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon was merely exercising his power and discharging his duty as mandated by the Constitution and by laws. It is discretionary upon him whether or not he would rely mainly on the findings of fact of Prosecutor Bayag, Jr. in making a review of the latters report and recommendation. He can very well make his own findings of fact.

Thus, given this vast power and authority, he can conduct a preliminary investigation with or without the report from COA. The findings in the COA report or the finality or lack of finality of such report is irrelevant to the investigation of the Office of the Ombudsman in its determination of probable cause, as we declared in Dimayuga v. Office of the Ombudsman. Thus, the filing of the Information against petitioner notwithstanding the lack of certification on her cashbook examination could not in any manner be said to be premature much less whimsical or arbitrary. Public respondents cannot be said to have gravely abused their discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.

To recapitulate, the discretion to determine whether a case should be filed or not lies with the Ombudsman. Unless grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction is shown, judicial review is uncalled for as a policy of non-interference by the courts in the exercise of the Ombudsman's constitutionally mandated powers. DISMISSED.
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