CA can't review Ombudsman decisions in criminal cases – Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court clarified that the Court of Appeals (CA) has no jurisdiction over the Office of the Ombudsman insofar as reviewing its orders, directives, and decisions in criminal cases is concerned.

The Supreme Court said that if officials want to challenge an Ombudsman decision in criminal cases, they can do so before the High Court.

“An aggrieved party is not without recourse where the finding of the Ombudsman as to the existence of probable cause is tainted with grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. An aggrieved party may file a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure,” the en banc said in a decision penned by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa.

The Court added: “A petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court questioning the finding of the existence of probable cause – or the lack thereof – by the Ombudsman should be filed with the Supreme Court.”

What this effectively means is that there is now limited remedy for officials criminally charged with corruption. But the Supreme Court kept the CA’s power to review the administrative decisions of the Ombudsman.

So officials dismissed or suspended from office could still ask for a review or reversal by the CA. (READ: Cleared of corruption? Martires will no longer appeal to Supreme Court)

Gatchalian petition

The High Court reiterated this rule as the en banc denied the petition of Senator Sherwin Gatchalian. The senator wanted the CA to stop his graft charges related to the allegedly irregular sale of their family’s thrift bank to the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) in 2009. 

The appellate court denied Gatchalian’s petition for lack of jurisdiction, which prompted the senator to run to the SC to review the CA’s power.

In 2015, the Supreme Court declared Section 14 of the Ombudsman law unconstitutional. That provision used to prohibit any court to hear “any appeal or application for remedy against the decision or findings of the Ombudsman, except the Supreme Court." 

In essence, the Supreme Court gave the CA the power to review Ombudsman actions, which is what Gatchalian argued in his petition.

“A thorough reading of the 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 en banc said.

Gatchalian has already been cleared of criminal liability by the Sandiganbayan, which means the Supreme Court’s latest decision is moot insofar as the senator’s cases go, but it sets a precedent for future corruption cases. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.