MANILA - Only the Supreme Court can review the findings of the Ombudsman in criminal cases.
The Supreme Court reiterated this ruling as it junked Senator Sherwin Gatchalian’s plea for the high court to overturn the Court of Appeals’ (CA) denial of his petition questioning the Ombudsman’s finding of probable cause to charge him with graft.
The Ombudsman charged Gatchalian and some of his family members with graft and violation of the banking law before the Sandiganbayan in 2016 after they allegedly profited from the Local Water Utilities Administration’s acquisition of local thrift bank Express Savings Bank, Inc.
The Gatchalians were stockholders of ESBI, which the LWUA bought for P80 million without regulatory approvals from relevant government agencies.
Gatchalian appealed the findings of the Ombudsman before the CA through a petition for certiorari. But the CA dismissed his petition due to lack of jurisdiction.
In 2017, the senator went to the SC to question the resolutions of the CA.
But before the high court could rule on his appeal, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the cases against the Gatchalians in November of the same year.
SUPREME COURT DECISION
In a decision dated August 1, 2018 penned by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, the SC upheld the procedural rule, differentiating the process of contesting findings of the Ombudsman in administrative and criminal cases.
The rule, as laid out in several cases decided by the SC, allows a party to file an appeal with the CA to question the “orders, directives, and decisions of the Office of the Ombudsman in administrative disciplinary cases only.”
That appeal is done through a petition for review under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court, where the factual findings and legal interpretations of the Ombudsman may be reviewed by the CA.
In contrast, in criminal cases decided by the Ombudsman, appeal to the CA is not allowed.
The only possible remedy is to file a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court before the SC, where the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman is being questioned on the ground that the Ombudsman acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.
Thus, the SC ruled, the senator mistakenly filed his petition for certiorari with the CA instead of the high court.
Gatchalian had relied on the 2015 ruling of Morales versus CA declaring the second paragraph of section 14 of the Ombudsman Act as unconstitutional.
That provision limited appeals to decisions or findings of the Ombudsman to the Supreme Court on “pure question of law.”
With this provision struck down, Gatchalian argued that any incident of an administrative or criminal case can now be reviewed by the CA.
But the SC said the rule has not changed and that the Morales ruling is limited in scope.
“A thorough reading of the Morales decision... would reveal that it was limited in its application - that it was meant to cover only decisions or orders of the Ombudsman in administrative cases,” the SC said.
It added that “the unconstitutionality of Section 14 of R.A. 6770 was immaterial insofar as the appellate procedure for orders and decisions by the Ombudsman in criminal cases is concerned.”