DOJ prosecutors eye endorsing Lapeña graft case to Ombudsman

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 13 2018 11:57 PM

MANILA - The Department of Justice (DOJ) National Prosecution Service on Tuesday said the Office of the Ombudsman might be the proper authority to investigate the graft complaint against former Customs Commissioner and now TESDA Director General Isidro Lapeña.

In a text message, Acting Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon said the DOJ may endorse the complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman.

That's because the DOJ's own memorandum of agreement with the Office of the Ombudsman gave the Ombudsman primary jurisdiction over graft cases involving public officials.

The MOA, signed on March 29, 2012 by then-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and then-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, clarified issues of jurisdictions between the two bodies.

“The Ombudsman has primary jurisdiction in the conduct of preliminary investigation and inquest proceedings over complaints for crimes cognizable by the Sandiganbayan,” read the MOA.

Under Republic Act No. 8249 as amended by Republic Act No. 10660, the Sandiganbayan has original exclusive jurisdiction over violations of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act if the official involved is an official of the executive with a salary grade 27 and up.

The MOA did not however require a salary grade and instead made all RA 3019 cases fall under the Sandiganbayan's jurisdiction.

Lapeña had a salary grade of 30 when he was Customs commissioner.

The MOA further provides:

“If, upon the filing of a complaint, the prosecution office of the DOJ determines that the same is for a crime falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, it shall advise the complainant to file it directly with the OMB: Provided, That in case a prosecution office of the DOJ receives a complaint that is cognizable by the Sandiganbayan, it shall immediately endorse the same to the OMB. Provided further, That in cases where there are multiple respondents in a single complaint and at least one respondent falls within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, the entire records of the complaint shall be endorsed to the OMB.”

Sought for comment, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed to reporters through a text message Tuesday that the “MOA has not been amended.”

However, he refused to confirm if DOJ prosecutors who will handle Lapeña's case will follow the provisions of the MOA.

“I will not pre-empt the state prosecutors who will look at the complaint,” he said.

ABS-CBN News reached out to NBI-NCR Director Cesar Bacani but he has yet to respond to our query as to why the NBI opted to file the case with the DOJ and not the Ombudsman.

The NBI-NCR lodged the graft and administrative complaints against Lapeña before the DOJ on Monday over his alleged lapses in handling shipments which led to the release of 105 vanishing containers worth P69 million.