SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 159922. April 28, 2005]

ARMANDO F. CHAN, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS, HON. SIMEON V. MARCELO, in his capacity as OMBUDSMAN, ANTONIO A. ODEJERTE, Borongan, Eastern Samar, SERAFIN V. PEREZ, JR., DAVID P. ADONGAY, JR. and VIRGILIO G. ALERIA all from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Engineering District, Catarman, Northern Samar, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

CALLEJO, SR., J.:

Petitioner Armando F. Chan, then incumbent Municipal Vice-Mayor of Lavezares, Northern Samar, filed an Affidavit-Complaint[1] with the Office of the Ombudsman charging the following officials of the province (the private respondents) with illegal use of public funds, violation of Republic Act No. 3019 and other laws:

Engr. ANTONIO A. ODEJERTE - District Engineer

Engr. SERAFIN V. PEREZ, JR. - Asst. District Engineer

Engr. DAVID P. ADONGAY, JR. - Chief, Construction Section

Engr. VIRGILIO G. ALERIA - Asst. Construction Engineer[2]

The petitioner made the following allegations in his Affidavit-Complaint:

On January 19, 1998, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Office of the District Engineer, Catarman, Northern Samar, issued a Notice of Award, through Odejerte, to Tuscan Structures and Supplies for the construction of a five-seater public toilet at Sitio Barikig, Barangay San Miguel, Lavezares, Northern Samar. The contract price was P239,126.95. However, the project was realigned; instead, barangay sports facilities were constructed on private property owned by Nonilon Ebdane and Moises Parane (the said property was declared for taxation purposes in the names of the owners under Tax Declaration Nos. 29013 and 28159).

On February 3, 1998, the DPWH, through Perez and Tuscan Structures and Supplies, executed a contract in which the scope of the work to be undertaken was described as excavation: (a) cut; and (b) fill (not sports facilities), and at an exorbitant cost of P239,126.95. The project was supposed to be completed in 30 days, but the contractor finished the same in only 15 days. The project was accepted on March 18, 1998 by Bienvenido Cagsawa, the Barangay Captain of Barangay Enriqueta, and not by the chairman of Barangay Urdaneta where the project was implemented.

The petitioner further alleged that the re-alignment of the project was made without observing the rules and guidelines for the re-alignment of government-funded projects. Despite the anomalies and irregularities attendant to the project and the implementation thereof, the contractor was paid the contract price of P239,126.95, less taxes, via a disbursement voucher approved by Adongay and Odejerte. [3]

Adongay and Aleria denied the charges in their Joint Counter-Affidavit.[4] They alleged that the property on which the project was accomplished was donated by Raymundo A. Daza to Barangay Urdaneta in a Deed of Donation[5] dated October 15, 1997. The acceptance was made by Barangay Captain Donato Parina on October 31, 1997 per Resolution No. 04, Series of 1997[6] of the Sangguniang Barangay of Urdaneta; hence, the property was barangay-owned. As evidenced by the documents duly executed by then Senior Deputy Speaker Raul A. Daza and concurred in by the Municipal Mayor of Lavezares, and by communications between the Department of Budget Management (DBM) and the DPWH secretary, the re-alignment of the fund was in order. They further explained that the contract was only a site development, a playground, and an initial phase of future sports facilities/projects that would be implemented by the local government and other government agencies on the property based on the plan and specifications. Furthermore, the completion of the project ahead of schedule was advantageous on the part of the government since it reduced engineering supervision and administrative overhead expenses. Moreover, the project for the construction of a five-seater public toilet was accepted by Barangay Captain Parina of Barangay Urdaneta on March 18, 1998. And under Presidential Decree No. 1594, the contractor is even granted incentive bonus for completing government projects ahead of schedule. It was further alleged that:

The sports facilities being questioned by the complainant served as playground of Day Care school children in their sports activities. At present, there is a newly-constructed Day Care Center on the said lot which was also implemented by the DPWH. In relation to the former, attached are authenticated copies of Pre-construction activities documents and pictures of ongoing sports facilities (Phases II and III) projects implemented by the Municipal government of Lavezares marked Annexes 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13,

Additionally, the project being questioned has already been completed and turned-over to the barangay as shown by a Certificate of Acceptance duly signed by the Barangay Captain of Barangay Urdaneta, Lavezares, Northern Samar, [7]

It was also reiterated that the municipality had already entered into a contract for the construction of the barangay sports facility on July 19, 1999 for P446,825.76. Appended to their affidavit were copies of the documents and pictures as Annexes 1 to 14.[8]

Odejerte, for his part, submitted a Counter-Affidavit[9] in which he adopted the allegations contained in the Joint Counter-Affidavit of Aleria and Adongay.

The petitioner submitted a reply-affidavit with supplemental Complaint against Raymundo A. Daza, Donato Parina and Bienvenido Cagsawa in which he alleged that the deed of donation on file in the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court of Allen, Northern Samar, was one in favor of Barangay Captain of Barangay Enriqueta, Municipality of Lavezares, and not to Barangay Urdaneta of the same town; hence, the acceptance made by the barangay captain of Barangay Urdaneta had no legal effect. As per Tax Declaration No. 28159 covering the property donated, the owner of the property is Moises Parane, and not Raymundo Daza. There is, furthermore, no showing that the Sangguniang Bayan authorized the barangay captain to accept the donation on October 15, 1997 as required by the Local Government Code, because it was only on August 1, 1998 that the donation was accepted via a resolution of the Sangguniang Bayan. Moreover, the re-alignment approved by the DBM was for the construction of sports facilities and not merely for site purposes; such realignment is contrary to DBM Circular No. 445, Series of 1995.[10]

In his supplemental complaint, the petitioner charged Daza, Parina and Cagsawa with conspiring with the original respondents in committing the crimes charged falsification of documents and the use of falsified documents under Section 3(e) of Rep. Act No. 3019.

In their rejoinder-affidavit, Aleria and Adongay alleged that Parane sold the property to Raymundo Daza as early as 1997, as evidenced by the Deed of Absolute Sale of Coconut Land dated July 8, 1997. As further shown by the affidavit of witness Lourdelyn Villegas (the clerk-typist of Notary Public Serafin L. Clutario), the Deed of Donation dated October 31, 1997 executed by Daza in favor of Barangay Enriqueta had been withdrawn, and was replaced by the deed executed in favor of Barangay Urdaneta. The latter document had been submitted to the DPWH, and it was this document that was implemented. They pointed out that the project still exists and is being enjoyed by the residents of Barangay Urdaneta. Aleria and Adongay appended the documents referred to as Annexes 1-RA to 16-RA in their pleading.[11]

On October 27, 2001, without requiring the additional respondents to submit their counter-affidavits, Graft Investigation Officer I Alvin Butch E. Caares came out with a Resolution,[12] duly approved by the Deputy Ombudsman of the Visayas, recommending that the complaint be dismissed for lack of probable cause for the filing of any Information against the private respondents on the following ratiocination:

The allegation of non-existent projects has been sufficiently rebutted by documentary evidence and photographs submitted by the respondents. What remains to be resolved is whether the cost of the project of excavation and filling is proper and whether or not the realignment of the project from a five (5)-seater public toilet to that of sports facilities is proper under existing rules and regulations.

There is complete disagreement as to the proper cost of the project. The complainant avers that it should have cost only P37,500.00 but the respondents insist that the valuation of the project was proper considering the scope of works. It appears that the computation submitted by the complainant was done by himself and thus can be considered as self-serving in as much as he is the one who has made the accusation. Except for this submission, there is nothing on record to overcome the presumption that the respondents enjoy by law, on the regularity of their performance of their official functions, and this includes their valuation on the project cost. It must be emphasized here that the project in question necessarily goes through all the safeguards put in place by existing rules and regulations, including proper audit procedures and thus cannot simply be disregarded on the strength of a personal disagreement as to the projects cost.

As to whether or not the projects realignment complied with existing rules and regulations on the matter, the respondents have presented proof of the approval of the realignment by the Department of Budget and Management. A personal interpretation of the applicable rules and regulations by the complainant is insufficient to overcome the presumption that the documentary evidence submitted by the respondents conferred upon them the authority to carry out the realignment in question.[13]

The petitioner filed a motion for the reconsideration of the Resolution alleging that the Graft Investigation Officer failed to consider the evidence and to resolve the other issues raised by the parties in their respective affidavits. However, the said motion was denied per the Resolution[14] dated February 19, 2002.

On June 11, 2002, the petitioner filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals (CA), assailing the resolutions of the Office of the Ombudsman. He contended that:

I. THE PUBLIC RESPONDENTS ERRED IN DISMISSING THE COMPLAINT AND WHEN IT DID NOT DISCUSS NOR CONSIDER AND RESOLVE OTHER VITAL ISSUES IN THE COMPLAINT, SUCH AS, ILLEGAL USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS, FALSIFICATION OF PUBLIC DOCUMENTS AND USE OF FALSIFIED DOCUMENTS.

II. PUBLIC RESPONDENTS ERRED WHEN IT PREMATURELY DISMISSED THE CASE WITHOUT ISSUING SUMMONS OR SUBPOENA TO RAYMUNDO DAZA, DONATO PARINA AND BIENVENIDO CAGSAWA DESPITE THEIR INCLUSION AS RESPONDENTS, THEIR PARTICIPATION BEING INDISPENSABLE AS CO-CONSPIRATORS WITH THE PRIVATE RESPONDENTS.

III. THE PUBLIC RESPONDENTS ERRED WHEN IT DID NOT CONSIDER THE EXTENSION OF THE QUESTIONED PROJECT TO THE ADJACENT RESIDENTIAL LOT OF RAYMUNDO DAZA THEREBY GIVING UNWARRANTED BENEFIT TO HIM.

IV. PUBLIC RESPONDENTS ERRED IN DECLARING THAT THERE WAS NO EXCESSIVE PAYMENT ON THE QUESTIONED PROJECT.

V. PUBLIC RESPONDENTS ERRED IN DECLARING THAT THERE WAS PROPER COMPLIANCE [WITH] THE RULES AND GUIDELINES ON THE REALIGNMENT OF GOVERNMENT PROJECT.

VI. PUBLIC RESPONDENTS ERRED IN DECLARING THAT THERE WAS NO PROBABLE CAUSE TO INDICT PRIVATE RESPONDENTS FOR VIOLATION OF THE ANTI-GRAFT LAW.[15]

On September 4, 2003, the CA rendered judgment denying due course and dismissing the petition.[16] It ruled that the petitioner failed to establish that the Ombudsman had committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the complaint against the respondents. It further held that the errors ascribed by the petitioner to the Ombudsman were mere errors of judgment not correctible by a cert writ; and the issues raised by the petitioner are factual; hence, improper in a petition for certiorari.

The petitioner forthwith filed a petition for review on certiorari with this Court of the Resolution of the CA, contending that:

I

WHETHER OR NOT THE ASSAILED DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS ADHERES TO THE REQUIREMENTS OF SECTION 14, ARTICLE VIII OF THE CONSTITUTION.

II

WHETHER OR NOT THE REQUISITE OF GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION [IN] PETITION[S] FOR CERTIORARI UNDER RULE 65 OF THE RULES OF COURT HAS BEEN PROPERLY ESTABLISHED BY THE PETITIONER.

III

WHETHER OR NOT THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED ERROR IN DISMISSING THE PETITION BY DECLARING THAT THERE WAS NO GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION COMMITTED BY PUBLIC RESPONDENT OMBUDSMAN AND UPHELD THAT THERE EXISTS NO PROBABLE CAUSE TO INDICT PRIVATE RESPONDENTS FOR VIOLATION OF REPUBLIC ACT 3019.[17]

On the first issue, the petitioner asserts that the CA failed in perusing and discerning each and every assignment of error in his petition, and that it highlighted the grave abuse of discretion committed by the Office of the Ombudsman. He maintains that he was left in the dark as to factual and legal issues considered by the appellate court, and as to how it resolved the assignment of errors in his petition. He further contends that, as such, the decision of the CA is void.

On the merits of the petition, the petitioner avers that the Office of the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing his complaint against the private respondents for lack of probable cause. This, according to the petitioner, despite the clear presence of probable cause against the private respondents for violation of Rep. Act No. 3019 for illegal use of public funds as defined and penalized in Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code; falsification of public documents defined and penalized in Article 171 of the same Code; the use of falsified documents defined and penalized under Article 172 in relation to Article 171; and other criminal charges as may be warranted in his complaint.

The petition is denied due course.

Except for the first issue, the rest of the issues raised by the petitioner are factual in nature. Under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, only questions of law may be raised in and be the subject of a petition for review on certiorari. The Court is not a trier of facts, and as such cannot review the evidence adduced by the parties before the Office of the Ombudsman on the issue of the absence or presence of probable cause for the filing of any criminal charges against the private respondents. Although in exceptional cases,[18] the Court may delve into and resolve factual issues, we find no such exceptional circumstance in this case as to warrant such review.

On the first issue, we agree with the petitioner that under Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution, no decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based. This provision applies to quasi-judicial bodies, which are similarly required to give basis for all their decisions, rulings or judgments. Due process demands that the parties to a litigation be informed of how it was decided with an explanation of the factual and legal issues that led to the conclusions of the court.[19] The losing party is entitled to know why he lost, so that he may appeal to a higher court, if permitted, should he believe that a reversal or a modification of the decision is in order.[20] A decision need not be a complete recital of the evidence presented. So long as the factual and legal basis are clearly and distinctly set forth supporting the conclusions drawn therefrom, the decision arrived at is valid.[21]

In this case, even a cursory reading of the CA decision will readily show that it contains (a) a summary of the antecedental facts and proceedings in the Office of the Ombudsman,[22] (b) an elucidation on how the threshold issues were resolved,[23] and (c) the factual and legal bases for its holding, to wit:

Petition has no merit.

The determination of the existence of probable cause lies within the sound discretion of the Office of the Ombudsman (Odin Security Agency, Inc. vs. Sandiganbayan, 365 SCRA 351). It is well-settled that in the absence of a clear abuse of discretion, courts will not interfere with the discretion of the Ombudsman (Yu vs. Sandiganbayan, 358 SCRA 353). The Ombudsman has the discretion to determine whether a criminal case given its facts and circumstances should be filed or not (PCGG vs. Desierto, 347 SCRA 561)

A careful reading of the six (6) assigned errors made by Petitioner fails to show or indicate that the Ombudsman is faulted with grave abuse of discretion. They all alleged mere errors in judgments or errors in appreciation of facts. Under such circumstances, the instant Petition must fail. Absent any grave abuse of discretion tainting it, the courts will not interfere with [the] Ombudsmans supervision and control over the preliminary investigation conducted by him. In fact, the Ombudsman has the power to dismiss a complaint outright without going through a preliminary investigation. (Mamburao, Inc. vs. Office of the Ombudsman, 344 SCRA 805)

Besides, Petitioner has raised factual issues which are not proper subject for certiorari which is limited to the issue of jurisdiction and grave abuse of discretion. (Negros Oriental Electric Cooperative I vs. Sec. of DOLE, 357 SCRA 668) The sole office of a writ of certiorari is the correction of errors of jurisdiction and does not include a review of public respondents evaluation of the evidence and factual findings. (Oro vs. Diaz, 361 SCRA 108) (Underscoring for emphasis.)

Finally, grave abuse of discretion means such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction, or in other words, where the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, and it must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law. It is not sufficient that a tribunal, in the exercise of its power, abused its discretion; such abuse must be grave (Benito vs. Comelec, 349 SCRA 705) There is no such showing in the case at bench.[24]

The CA no longer delved into the issue of whether the Office of the Ombudsman erred in not requiring the additional respondents to submit their respective counter-affidavits, and whether there was probable cause to warrant the institution of criminal charges against the private respondents in the trial court. However, it cannot be faulted for doing so, in view of its pronouncement that the determination of the presence or absence of probable cause lies in the sound discretion of the Office of the Ombudsman. Even if the said office erred in not finding probable cause against the respondents, such error is one of mere judgment, not of jurisdiction.

The Court notes that in the instant petition, the petitioner was able to assign the errors committed by the CA in upholding the Office of the Ombudsman. This is proof in itself that the assailed decision contains findings of facts and the conclusions of law on which the said decision was based.[25]

We agree with the ruling of the CA that in an action for certiorari, the primordial task of the Court is to ascertain whether the lower court as a quasi-judicial body acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction in the exercise of its judgment, such that the act was done in a capricious, whimsical, arbitrary or despotic manner. In a petition for certiorari, the jurisdiction of the appellate court is narrow in scope. It is limited to resolving only errors of jurisdiction. It is not to stray at will and resolve questions or issues beyond its competence, such as an error of judgment which is defined as one in which the court or quasi-judicial body may commit in the exercise of its jurisdiction. An error of jurisdiction is one where the acts complained of were issued without or in excess of jurisdiction. There is excess of jurisdiction where the court or quasi-judicial body, being clothed with the power to determine the case, oversteps its authority as declared by law.[26] This principle equally applies to the resolutions of the Office of the Ombudsman in the exercise of its authority to conduct preliminary investigations of criminal complaints filed before it:

Deliberating upon the issues raised in the present petition for certiorari, the arguments in support thereof, as well as the comments of the respondents thereon and the reply thereto, we find that the petition fails to show a grave abuse of discretion or any act without or in excess of jurisdiction on the part of the respondent Ombudsman. The said respondents act of disapproving the recommendation of the special prosecutors to dismiss the information filed in Crim. Case Nos. 16801 and 16804 against Gov. Mariano U. Ocampo III and his son, Mariano F. Ocampo IV, is not whimsical nor (sic) capricious. Neither is it tainted with vindictiveness or arbitrariness. He disapproved the recommendation of the special prosecutors because he sincerely believed that there is sufficient evidence to indict both accused. This is an exercise of the Ombudsmans powers based upon constitutional mandate and the courts should not interfere in such exercise. The rule is based not only upon respect for the investigatory and prosecutory powers granted by the Constitution to the Office of the Ombudsman but upon practicality as well. Otherwise, the functions of the courts will be grievously hampered by innumerable petitions assailing the dismissal of investigatory proceedings conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman with regard to complaints filed before it, in much the same way that the courts would be extremely swamped if they could be compelled to review the exercise of discretion on the part of the fiscals or prosecuting attorneys each time they decide to file an information in court or dismiss a complaint by a private complainant.[27]

In Alba v. Nitorreda,[28] the Court held that it is beyond the ambit of this Court to review the exercise of jurisdiction of the Ombudsman in prosecuting or dismissing a complaint filed before it. Such initiative and independence are inherent in the Ombudsman who, beholden to no one, acts as the champion of the people and the preserver of the integrity of the public service.

We agree with the CA that the petitioner failed to show that the Office of the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of its discretion in dismissing his complaint for lack of probable cause for violation of Rep. Act No. 3019.

Inexplicably, the petitioner maintains in this case that the Office of the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of its discretion in ruling that there was no probable cause for charging the respondents with violation of Rep. Act No. 3019, and that the CA erred in upholding the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman. The petitioner, likewise, averred in the present petition that the Office of the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of its discretion in not finding probable cause to indict the private respondents also for illegal use of public funds and falsification of public documents and use of public documents; this is an entirely new matter which was not raised by the petitioner in the CA. The petitioner is, thus, proscribed from raising the said issue in the present petition.

The petitioners insistence that the project was implemented on private property is belied by the deed of donation executed by Daza in favor of Barangay Urdaneta, which was duly accepted by the latter as donee. The deed was submitted to the DPWH in connection with the application of the realignment of the property. Whether or not the deed of sale of coconut land executed in favor of Daza is fictitious; whether the deed of donation is a fabricated deed; or whether the pictures submitted by the respondents to the Office of the Ombudsman pertaining to another government property with separate funds, are issues of fact which cannot be raised in a petition for certiorari in the CA, and, consequently, cannot likewise be raised in a petition for review in this Court.

IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is DENIED DUE COURSE. Costs against the petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 48-60.

[2] Id. at 48.

[3] Id at 49.

[4] CA Rollo, pp. 46-49.

[5] Id. at 50.

[6] Id. at 51.

[7] Id. at 48.

[8] Id. at 51.

[9] Id. at 65-66.

[10] Id. at 67-86.

[11] Id. at 87-111.

[12] Id. at 26-30.

[13] Id. at 29-30.

[14] Id. at 31-32.

[15] Id. at 10-11.

[16] Rollo, pp. 23-30.

[17] Id. at 8.

[18] (1) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (2) when there is grave abuse of discretion; (3) when the findings are grounded entirely on speculations, surmises or conjectures; (4) when the judgment of the Court of Appeals is based on misapprehension of facts; (5) when the findings, of facts are conflicting; (6) when the Court of Appeals, in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same is contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee; (7) when the findings of the Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court; (8) when the findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (9) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties and which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion; and (10) when the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are premised on the absence of evidence and are contradicted by the evidence on record. (Manufacturers Building, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 116847, 16 March 2001, 354 SCRA 521).

[19] Insular Life Assurance Company, Ltd. v. Young, G.R. No. 140964, 16 January 2002, 373 SCRA 626.

[20] People v. Orbita, G.R. No. 136591, 11 July 2002, 344 SCRA 393.

[21] People v. Baring, Jr., G.R. No. 137933, 28 January 2002, 374 SCRA 696.

[22] Rollo, pp. 24-27.

[23] Id. at 27-28.

[24] Id. at 28-29.

[25] People v. Macoy, G.R. No. 96649-50, 1 July 1997, 275 SCRA 1.

[26] Ocampo IV v. Ombudsman, G.R. Nos. 103446-47, 30 August 1993, 225 SCRA 725.

[27] Id. at 730.

[28] G.R. No. 120223, 13 March 1996, 254 SCRA 753.