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G.R. No. 159139

EN BANC

[ G.R. NO. 159139, May 03, 2006 ]

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY FOUNDATION OF THE PHILIPPINES ET AL. V. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS ET AL.

SIRS/MESDAMES:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated MAY 3, 2006

G.R. No. 159139 (INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY FOUNDATION OF THE PHILIPPINES et al. v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS et al.)

On March 28; 2006, this Court issued a Resolution directing the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB), “under pain of contempt, to report on a regular basis - once every three months -- the steps it has taken and the corresponding results of those actions to ‘determine the criminal liability, if any, of the public officials (and conspiring private individuals, if any,) involved in the subject Resolution and Contract.’  Accordingly, the OMB shall render its reports on or before June 30, 2006, and every three months thereafter, on September 30, 2006, December 31, 2006, and so on, till the matter is finally disposed of.”

On April 19, 2006, petitioners filed a Motion for Clarification, inquiring about the following issues: (1) “how long [can] the Office of the Ombudsman x x x sit on this case without making a determination on the criminal liability, if any, of the public officials involved”; and (2) “whether the failure of the Ombudsman to make a determination on the aforementioned Complaints, one (1) year and four (4) months after the case was deemed submitted (with the filing of the Joint Comment of the Comelec Commissioners with the Office of the Ombudsman), can be considered as acting promptly on a complaint, within the letter and spirit of the Constitution.”

Petitioner-movants aver that the March 28, 2006 Resolution of this Court does not provide a closure as to when the OMB should make a determination of criminal liability.  They contend that apparently, the OMB can even “sit on this case indefinitely,” because “their only obligation under the “Resolution x x x is to submit a report every three months.”

They, thus, seek an Order from the Court “directing the Office of the Ombudsman to complete its determination of the criminal liability, if any, of the public officials involved in Comelec Resolution No. 6074 awarding the contract for Phase II of AES to Mega Pacific Consortium, as well as the subject Contract between Comelec and Mega Pacific eSolutions (MPEI), within a deadline x x x.”

The pertinent provision of the Constitution reads as follows:

"Sec. 12[, Article XI].  The Ombudsman and his Deputies, as protectors of the people, shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against public officials or employees of the Government x x x."

Accordingly, the OMB is duty-bound to resolve promptly all complaints, motions and related matters before it.  Promptly means “to act at once or without delay.”[1]  It may also mean “within a reasonable period of time.”  Thus, OMB certainly does not have the luxury of sitting on cases for an indefinite period.  Nor even this Court’s directive for it to render every three months a report on steps it has undertaken relative to a case authorizes it to simply do just that and nothing more.

The OMB is fully aware of its duty to dispose of cases within a definite period.  The time limits are spelled out in its very own Rules of Procedure (Administrative Order No. 7) as follows:

“Sec. 4[, Rule II].  Procedure [in criminal cases]. - The preliminary investigation of cases falling under the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan and Regional Trial Courts shall be conducted in the manner prescribed in Section 3, Rule 112 of the Rules of Court x x x.

x x x              x x x                 x x x”

“Sec. 6[, Rule III.  Procedure in Administrative Cases].  Rendition of decision. - Not later than thirty (30) days after the termination of the hearing, the investigating officer shall submit a resolution containing his findings and recommendation for the approval of the Ombudsman.  Once approved, the said resolution shall constitute the decision in the case.  x x x.”

The aforementioned Section 3, Rule 112 of the Rules of Court, provides:

"Sec. 3. Procedure. - The preliminary investigation shall be conducted in the following manner:

x x x              x xx                  x x x

"(b) Within ten (10) days after the filing of the complaint, the investigating officer shall either dismiss it if he finds no ground to continue with the investigation, or issue a subpoena to the respondent attaching to it a copy of the complaint and its supporting affidavits and documents.

x x x              x x x                 x x x

"(c) Within ten (10) days from receipt of the subpoena with the complaint and supporting affidavits and documents, the respondent shall submit his counter-affidavit and that of his witnesses and other supporting documents relied upon for his defense.

"(d) If the respondent cannot be subpoenaed, or if subpoenaed, does not submit counter-affidavits within the ten (10) day period, the investigating officer shall resolve the complaint based on the evidence presented by the complainant.

"(e) The investigating officer may set a hearing if there are facts and issues to be clarified from a party or a witness.  The parties can be present at the hearing but without the right to examine or cross-examine.  They may, however, submit to the investigating officer questions which may be asked to the party or witness concerned.

"The hearing shall be held within ten (10) days from submission of the counter-affidavits and other documents or from the expiration of the period for their submission.  It shall be terminated within five (5) days.

"(f) Within ten (10) days after the investigation, the investigating officer shall determine whether or not there is sufficient ground lo hold the respondent for trial."

In brief, as regards the question in the present Motion for Clarification, after the termination of the hearing of an administrative case, the OMB investigating officers have 30 days within which to submit a resolution containing their findings and recommendation for the approval of the Ombudsman.  In criminal complaints, on the other hand, they have 10 days after the investigation within which to determine whether there is sufficient ground to hold the respondent for trial.  In other words, the OMB has only 10 days within which to determine whether there exists a prima facie case against the respondent in a criminal complaint.

In the present case, according to petitioner-movants, after the Comelec Commissioners’ Joint Comment was filed with the OMB, one (1) year and four (4) months have lapsed since the case was deemed submitted for resolution.  Under the Rules of Court as adopted bv the OMB, this period is definitely beyond that prescribed for a determination of criminal culpability, if any, in a given case.

Pertinently, for the disposition of cases by the courts, the Constitution provides:

“Sec. 15[, Article VIII].  (1) All cases or matters filed after the effectivity of this Constitution must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts.

(2) A case or matter shall be deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself.”

x x x              x x x                 x x x.

The Court's March 28, 2006 Resolution must perforce be read in conjunction with the Constitution, the law and the pertinent rules.  Accordingly, the OMB should have resolved the subject Complaint within 10 days from investigation, at the very least, pursuant to its own Rules of Procedure and the Rules of Court; or within three months, at most, from the submission of the last required pleading.  The submission by the Comelec commissioners of their Joint Comment should be deemed the last pleading required by the OMB.  Its non-setting of a hearing could only mean that no facts or issues needed to be clarified.  Hence, it must be deemed to have dispensed with the hearing.  Its remaining duty is to resolve the case based on the evidence at hand.

If the OMB has indeed sat on the case for more than one year and four months, then it has surely incurred undue delay in the resolution of the case and failed to abide by its constitutional mandate “to act promptly” on cases filed before it.  The OMB certainly cannot promulgate rules that it can ignore at its pleasure, to the prejudice of the parties,

In fine, the Court's disposition in its March 28, 2006 Resolution directs the OMB to make, within the period provided, a final finding on whether a prima facie case exists against the respondents in the investigation it conducted, pursuant to this Court's directive in its January 13, 2004 Decision in the instant case and in related Complaints filed before it.  It has to report, on pain of contempt, its final determination to this Court on or before June 30, 2006.

If it finds no probable cause to hold any of the respondents for trial, then its duty to render a report on this case ceases.  Otherwise, it shall continue to render a report every three months on the progress of the prosecution (trial) stage until the final disposition o the case by the proper courts.

WHEREFORE, the Motion for Clarification of petitioners is NOTED.

The disposition of the Court in its March 28, 2006 Resolution is hereby CLARIFIED, consistent with the above disquisition, as follows: The Office of the Ombudsman shall, under pain of contempt, report to this Court by June 30, 2006, its final determination of whether a probable cause exists against any of the public officials (and conspiring private individuals, if any) involved in the subject Resolution and Contract.  If it finds that probable cause exists, it shall continue to render its reports every three months thereafter, until the matter is finally disposed of by the proper courts.

Puno, J., on leave.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) MA. LUISA D. VILLARAMA
Clerk of Court

[1] Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.

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