Solon proposes Ombudsman skip investigation of cases probed by Congress
A lawyer-turned-lawmaker is seeking to empower the Ombudsman to skip preliminary investigations on criminal cases if congressional inquiries have unearthed enough evidence.
Kabayan Party-list Rep. Harry Roque recently filed House Bill No. 5966, which seeks to allow the Office of the Ombudsman to immediately file the appropriate charges and prosecute officials before the court “upon recommendation by either the Senate or the House of Representatives.”
Under the proposal, the Ombudsman may resort to the shortcut upon determining that the House or Senate’s recommendation is “supported by evidence sufficient to prosecute the case as provided in its rules.”
The bill would require the Ombudsman to determine if it would adopt the results of the congressional inquiry within 30 days of receipt.
The Congress chamber concerned would be mandated to transmit all evidence gathered during the inquiry.
If the evidence is insufficient for a court case, the Ombudsman could then conduct a separate preliminary investigation, where the respondent would be directed to rebut the allegations in a counter-affidavit.
But, the Ombudsman would have to inform the House or the Senate of such an action.
Roque’s bill also seeks to ensure “the cases covered by congressional recommendations are given priority.”
In his explanatory note, Roque cited the Ombudsman’s “failure… to promptly act on cases imbued with public interest,” such as the Euro Generals scandal, the fertilizer fund scam, the misuse of the road users’ tax, and the botched national broadband network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.
“Such inaction of the Office of the Ombudsman, whose office is constitutionally mandated to fight corruption, weakens our government’s anti-corruption program as a whole,” Roque stated.
He said the preliminary investigation is redundant when “a prima facie evidence of guilt has been established” already by Congress, adding that the said stage is “not a constitutional right.”
Preliminary investigation is the stage where the prosecutorial agency, such as the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice, determines if there is “probable cause” for a common man to believe that the accused is probably guilty and thus should be held for trial before the court.
“It is not a trial of the case on the merits and has no purpose except that of determining whether a crime has been committed,” Roque said. “The purpose is, however, satisfied if the accused is given all the opportunity to submit countervailing evidence.”
The bill was filed on July 12 and referred to the House committee on justice on July 25.
Some cases investigated by Congress, such as the P723-million fertilizer fund scam and the Philippine National Construction Corp.’s disadvantageous P6.185-billion debt settlement in 2006 with Radstock Securities Ltd., did not even reach the trial stage at the Sandiganbayan.
Such cases, despite all the findings unearthed by Congress and the Ombudsman, were dismissed because of the years-long length of the preliminary investigation stage before they reached the court./rga
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