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The IBP has no jurisdiction over government lawyers who are charged with administrative offenses involving their official duties…

Karen M. Silverio-Buffe was appointed as Asst. Provincial Prosecutor of Romblon and took her oath of office before an MTC Judge.  She then turnished the Office of the President, the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Justice with a letter informing them that she was reporting for work.  Provincial Prosecutor Arsenio Almadin, however, sought clarification from the Department of Justice to confirm the appointment of Buffe.  In a Memorandum dated August 26, 2008, DOJ Secretary Ramon Gonzales ordered Buffe to “cease and desist from performing the duties of a prosecutor considering that she has no appointment to act as such.”  Buffe and her husband thus filed a complaint-affidavit against Gonzales, Congressman Eleandro Jesus Madrona, and Undersecretary of the Budget Fidel Exconde, charging them with committing an unethical act in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, and the Lawyer’s Oath, particularly the willful violation of Republic Act Nos. (RA) 6713, 3019, and civil service law and rules..  In their complaint-affidavit, the two narrated that the Malacanang Records Office transmitted her appointment to the DOJ, which the latter received; she was informed by a certain Cora that her her appointment papers are being withheld at the Office of the Secretary by Exconde.  Buffe was then introduced to Gonzales, who told her that her appointment is being opposed by Madrona, and advised her to work it out with him.  Because Gonzales refused to administer her oath, she took her oath before the MTC Judge, and wrote to Gonzales pleading for her transmittal of her appointment.  On November 13, 2008, they met Exconde at the DOJ, who advised them to work out their problem with Madrona.  When asked why Madrona opposes her appointment, Exconde replied that she supported Madrona’s rival in the election, Eduardo Firmalo.  She however insisted on not approaching Madrona out of principles, and also refused their suggestion to write a letter.

When required to comment, the respondents denied the allegations, Exconde and Gonzales claimed that the compliant is unfounded; the Court has no jurisdiction over the complaint because a case for violation of RA 6713 and civil service rules should be filed with the Civil Service Commission and a case for violation of RA 3019 should be filed with the Sandiganbayan.  Aside from denying the allegations of the complaint, Madrona later on filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of forum shopping, as he received an order from the Office of the Ombudsman requiring him to submit a counter-affidavit based on the same administrative complaint.

The Investigating Commissioner found the complaint impressed with merit, and recommended the penalty of censure against the respondents. The Investigating Commissioner found respondents’ united action of stopping the appointment of Silverio-Buffe unethical.

The IBP Board of Governors, however, reversed the recommendation for lack of merit.  In the interim, Gonzlaes died.

The Issue:

Whether or not the IBP has jurisdiction over the complaints.

The Ruling:

We dismiss the administrative case against Exconde and Madrona for lack of jurisdiction. The present administrative case should be resolved by the Office of the Ombudsman, considering that complainants have filed a complaint before it on 12 February 2009.⁠1 In the case of Gonzalez, his death on 7 September 2014 forecloses any administrative case against him.⁠2 

The authority of the Ombudsman to act on complainants’ administrative complaint is anchored on Section 13(1), Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that: “[t]he Office of the Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions, and duties: (1) investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient.”

Under Section 16⁠3 of RA 6770, otherwise known as the Ombudsman Act of 1989, the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman encompasses all kinds of malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance committed by any public officer or employee during his or her tenure.⁠4  Section 1⁠59  of RA 6770 also states that the Ombudsman shall act on all complaints relating, but not limited, to acts or omissions which are unreasonable, unfair, oppressive, or discriminatory.

Considering that both Exconde and Madrona are public officers being charged for actions, which are allegedly unfair and discriminatory, involving their official functions during their tenure, the present case should be resolved by the Office of the Ombudsman as the appropriate government agency. Indeed, the IBP has no jurisdiction over government lawyers who are charged with administrative offenses involving their official duties. For such acts, government lawyers fall under the disciplinary authority of either their superior⁠6  or the Ombudsman.⁠7  Moreover, an anomalous situation will arise if the IBP asserts jurisdiction and decides against a government lawyer, while the disciplinary authority finds in favor of the government lawyer.

WHEREFORE, we DISMISS the administrative complaint against now deceased Secretary of Justice Raul M. Gonzalez for being moot. We also DISMISS the administrative complaint against respondents, former Undersecretary of Justice Fidel J. Exconde, Jr. and former Congressman Eleandro Jesus F. Madrona, for lack of jurisdiction.

Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the Office of the Ombudsman for whatever appropriate action the Ombudsman may wish to take with respect to the possible administrative and criminal liability of respondents Fidel J. Exconde, Jr. and Eleandro Jesus F. Madrona.

SO ORDERED.

CARPIO, ACTING CJ.:

Brion, Del Castillo, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.

Leonen, J., on official business.

SECOND DIVISION, A.C. No. 8168, October 12, 2016, SPOUSES EDWIN B. BUFFE AND KAREN M. SILVERIO-BUFFE, COMPLAINANTS, VS. SEC. RAUL M. GONZALEZ, USEC. FIDEL J. EXCONDE, JR., AND CONGRESSMAN ELEANDRO JESUS F. MADRONA, RESPONDENTS.

 

1 Id. at 183.

2 In Caoile v. Atty. Macaraeg, A.C. No. 720, 17 June 2015, citing Apiag v. Cantero, 335 Phil. 511 (1997), the Court dismissed the administrative case against respondent and no longer imposed any sanction against him in view of his death during the pendency of the case.

3 Republic Act No. 6770, Section 16. Applicability. – The provisions of this Act shall apply to all kinds of malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance that have been committed by any officer or employee as mentioned in Section 13 hereof, during his tenure of office.

4 Samson v. Restrivera, 662 Phil. 45 (2011).

5 Republic Act No. 6770, Section 19. Administrative Complaints. – The Ombudsman shall act on all complaints relating, but not limited to acts or omissions which:

(1) Are contrary to law or regulation;

(2) Are unreasonable, unfair, oppressive or discriminatory;

(3) Are inconsistent with the general course of an agency’s functions, though in accordance with law;

(4) Proceed from a mistake of law or an arbitrary ascertainment of facts;

(5) Are in the exercise of discretionary powers but for an improper purpose; or

(6) Are otherwise irregular, immoral or devoid of justification.

6 Executive Order No. 292, or “Administrative Code of 1987,” Book V, Title I, Chapter 7, Section 47. Disciplinary Jurisdiction. – (1) The Commission shall decide upon appeal all administrative disciplinary cases involving the imposition of a penalty of suspension for more than thirty days, or fine in an amount exceeding thirty days’ salary, demotion in rank or salary or transfer, removal or dismissal from office. A complaint may be filed directly with the Commission by a private citizen against a government official or employee in which case it may hear and decide the case or it may deputize any department or agency or official or group of officials to conduct the investigation. The results of the investigation shall be submitted to the Commission with recommendation as to the penalty to be imposed or other action to be taken.

(2) The Secretaries and heads of agencies and instrumentalities, provinces, cities and municipalities shall have jurisdiction to investigate and decide matters involving disciplinary action against officers and employees under their jurisdiction. Their decisions shall be final in case the penalty imposed is suspension for not more than thirty days or fine in an amount not exceeding thirty days’ salary. In case the decision rendered by a bureau or office head is appealable to the Commission, the same may be initially appealed to the department and finally to the Commission and pending appeal, the same shall be executory except when the penalty is removal, in which case the same shall be executory only after confirmation by the Secretary concerned.

x x x x (Emphasis supplied)

7 Republic Act No. 6770, Section 21. Officials Subject to Disciplinary Authority; Exceptions. – The Office of the Ombudsman shall have disciplinary authority over all elective and appointive officials of the Government and its subdivisions, instrumentalities and agencies, including Members of the Cabinet, local government, government-owned or controlled corporations and their subsidiaries, except over officials who may be removed only by impeachment or over Members of Congress, and the Judiciary.

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