Ombudsman should junk baseless raps vs justices, says SC ruling

Edu Punay, Philippine Star

Posted at May 13 2012 10:57 AM | Updated as of May 14 2012 01:22 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Has Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales already forgotten a Supreme Court (SC) decision that she signed in 2010 when she was still associate justice, which held that criminal complaints against impeachable officials not supported by ample proof should have no place for investigation in the anti-graft office?

In the ruling promulgated on March 2, 2010, the high court had laid down the limits of the power of the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate impeachable officers under section 22 of Republic Act No. 6770 (Ombudsman Act).

“If a complaint against an impeachable officer is unwarranted for lack of legal basis and for clear misapplication of law and jurisprudence, the Ombudsman should spare these officers from the harassment of an unjustified investigation,” stated the ruling obtained by The STAR.

The high court stressed that the anti-graft office should dismiss outright criminal complaints against justices that fail to allege prima facie case or those filed without supporting proof.

It cited a July 31, 2003 memorandum by then Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, who directed that all complaints against judges and other members of the judiciary be immediately dismissed and referred to the high tribunal for appropriate action.

The SC was ruling on the graft charges filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano against former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and former Associate Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, which the Ombudsman eventually dismissed.

“For the criminal complaint’s fatal omissions and resultant failure to allege a prima facie case, it rightfully deserves immediate dismissal,” it held then.

The court also stressed: “Only after removal can they (justices) be criminally proceeded against for their transgressions. While in office and thereafter, and for their official acts that do not constitute impeachable offenses, recourses against them and their liabilities therefore are as defined in the above rulings.”

In this case, the SC turned the tables on Lozano and started administrative investigation against him for “open disregard of the plain terms of the Constitution and the applicable laws and jurisprudence, and their misuse and misrepresentation of constitutional provisions in their criminal complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman.”

Morales concurred in this per curiam ruling (jointly written by justices during deliberations).

Now as ombudsman, Morales recently started an investigation on complaints filed by several groups accusing embattled Chief Justice Renato Corona of owning $10-million deposits even without ample evidence.

“Has Justice Morales already forgotten about this decision? The Senate should review her on this when she testifies in the impeachment trial,” commented an SC official who refused to be named.

The complainants – Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello, former Rep. Risa Hontiveros, Emmanuel Tiu Santos, and Harvey Keh – already reportedly denied specifying the amount alleged against Corona.

They said they never mentioned $10 million in their complaints.

The Chief Justice already denied the allegation and even dared Morales to explain where she got the amount.

SC spokesman Midas Marquez also said earlier that the high court may act on the issue and rule on the legality of the Ombudsman’s order should a petition be filed before it.

“That (order) can always be questioned before the SC on ground of grave abuse of discretion,” he stressed.

With this, he said there is a possibility that the high court might stop the investigation of the anti-graft body against Corona.

Morales was the only justice of the SC who opposed the appointment of Chief Justice Corona by former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo during the 2010 election period. She was chosen by President Aquino to administer his inaugural oath and was appointed ombudsman last year.

She is the first cousin of Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, closest rival of Corona for the top judicial post in May 2010.

She has been summoned to appear in the impeachment trial of Corona before the Senate to explain her action.