THE Supreme Court has given the Office of the Ombudsman the green light to inquire into the bank accounts of former President Joseph Estrada, his alleged mistresses and several others with Allied Banking Corporation, now Philippine National Bank, in line with its continuing investigation into the alleged anomalies that happened during Estrada’s term.
In an 18-page decision, the Court’s First Division dismissed for lack of merit the petition filed by PNB seeking the reversal of the Court of Appeals (CA) decision of June 16, 2006 and resolution issued on September 20, 2006.
In its June 16, 2006 decision, the CA denied for lack of jurisdiction PNB’s petition seeking to stop the Ombudsman from compelling it to produce bank documents or records of Estrada, Laarni Enriquez, Guia Gomez, Joy Melendrez, Peachy Osorio, Rowena Lopez, Kevin or Kelvin Garcia and Jose Velarde.
The motion for reconsideration filed by PNB was also dismissed by the CA on September 20, 2006.
The CA stressed that its jurisdiction over orders or decisions of the Ombudsman extends only to those rendered in administrative disciplinary cases.
In its petition for review filed before the SC, the petitioner argued that the CA erred in holding that it has no jurisdiction over petitions seeking to question orders of the Ombudsman issued in the ordinary course of its investigatory powers.
It added that the CA erred in holding that such petitions should be filed before the SC.
The SC, in its decision made public on June 28, 2022, noted that Estrada had been found guilty of plunder and was imprisoned due to his conviction.
Although he received clemency and his civil and political rights had been restored, the SC disclosed that the investigation against him, his mistresses and several others are still ongoing with the Ombudsman.
In light of this, the SC said it is necessary to decide on the petition based on its merit.
“Notwithstanding, per records of this case, it was certified by the 0MB that ‘it appears that relative to G.R. No. 174755 entitled ‘Allied Banking Corporation vs. Office of the Ombudsman’, CPL No. 01-0247 docketed as OMB-C-C-02-0614-I is still active in the CCMS (Complaint and Case Monitoring System) database. It would seem that the investigation against Estrada, et. al. is still active. Hence, the need to resolve the instant case,” the SC explained.
In upholding the CA ruling, the SC held that the appellate court was correct in holding that it has no jurisdiction over the petition assailing the Ombudsman’s orders compelling it to submit bank documents.
“Established is the rule that the CA has jurisdiction over orders, directives, and decisions of the 0MB in administrative disciplinary cases only. It cannot, therefore, review the orders, directives or decisions of the 0MB in criminal or non-administrative cases,” the SC said.
Likewise, the SC ruled that the Ombudsman has the authority to inquire into bank deposits of public officials and employees under investigation.
The Court did not give weight to PNB’s argument that the said provision of the Ombudsman Act has been modified by the “Marquez case” where it ruled that although the Ombudsman has the power to inquire, examine and have access to bank accounts, such power is conditioned on pending litigation.
The SC noted that when the Ombudsman issued the subpoena to PNB on February 8, 2001, the Court had yet to promulgate the Marquez case.
It noted that the Marquez case was promulgated on June 27 or four months after and cannot be applied retroactively.
“Applied to the instant case, at the time of the issuance of subpoena duces tecum addressed to petitioner, the prevailing doctrine is that the 0MB may examine and access bank accounts and records in aid of their investigation, even without a pending litigation,” the SC pointed out.
“Without a doubt, the 0MB had the authority to issue the assailed subpoena duces tecum addressed to petitioner requiring it to produce the subject bank accounts of Estrada, et. al.,” it added.