SC junks SALN charges vs revenue officer due to OMB’s ‘inordinate delay’ to resolve the case

Published May 28, 2022, 1:20 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

It took the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) 10 years to resolve the complaints and indict a revenue officer of the tax fraud division of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in connection with her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) for the years 1997 to 2002.

The complaints against Revenue Officer 1 Lilybeth R. Perez were filed on Dec. 5, 2005 by the OMB’s general investigation bureau.

On June 8, 2007, the OMB dismissed the complaint in relation to Perez’s 1999 SALN. On Dec. 15, 2015, the OMB issued a joint resolution to charged Perez with six counts of violations of Section 8 in relation to Section 11 of Republic Act No 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, for her 1997 to 2002 SALNs.

In her motion for reconsideration filed, albeit, belatedly, Perez sought the dismissal of the charges and invoked her right to speedy disposition of cases. When denied by the OMB, she elevated the case to the Supreme Court (SC).

Due to “unexplained and ordinate delay” in the preliminary investigation conducted by the OMB, the SC – in a decision written by Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo — ordered the dismissal of the charges filed against Perez.

The SC said the Constitution, under Section 16 of Article III, mandates the persons’ “right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.”

It pointed out that the administrative order issued by the OMB, itself, gives its investigators and prosecutors at most 12 months for simple cases, or 24 months for complex cases, to complete the preliminary investigation.

“Even assuming that the one-year extension is applied to the 24-month period for complex cases, there is still an inordinate delay of seven years from the time the complaints were filed against petitioner (Perez) in 2005, until the joint resolution was issued in 2015,” the SC stressed.

Thus, it said, the “unexplained and inordinate delay” in the OMB’s investigation of the complaints “violated petitioner’s constitutional right to speedy disposition of cases and right to procedural due process of law.”

“Such delay rendered void the assailed joint resolution and joint order,” the SC ruled.

The dispositive portion of the SC decision stated:

“WHEREFORE, the instant petition for certiorari is GRANTED. The December 15, 2015 Joint Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman in OMB-C-C-05-0681-L, OMB-C-C-05-0686-L, and OMB-C-C-05-0687-L, and its April 12, 2016 Joint Order, finding probable cause to indict Lilybeth R. Perez for six (6) counts of the offense under Section 8, in relation to Section 11 of Republic Act No. 6713, are hereby ANNULLED and SET ASIDE.

“The Ombudsman is hereby ORDERED to DISMISS the complaints filed against petitioner Lilybeth R. Perez for violating her constitutional right to speedy disposition of cases. SO ORDERED.”

The complaints against Perez alleged that she “failed to file her 1999 SALN; acquired properties manifestly out of proportion to her lawful income…; falsely declared in her 1997 SALN that she bought a parcel of land in Limay, Bataan, but which transaction was consummated in 1998; increased the acquisition cost of her Bataan property in her 2001 and 2002 SALNs; declared a false market value in her 1994 to 2000 SALNs for the parcel of land located in Valenzuela City; made over declarations of her liabilities with Fatima Credit Cooperative (FCC) in her 1997 and 1998 SALNs; and failed to disclose that she had a child in her SALNs for the years 1995 to 1998.”

In her counter-affidavits, Perez said that all her properties were legitimately acquired and that the increase in her assets can be explained by the loans she made from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and FCC to acquire some properties from 1994 to 1998.

She said she also earned additional income from the rentals of her seven small apartment units in Valenzuela City, which she acquired from her parents through donation.

She pointed out that the fair market value of her jewelry and her Valenzuela City lot had increased as reflected in her SALNs for the years 1995 to 1998.

In her 2001 and 2002 SALNs, she said she declared her time deposits with FCC and placed it under the heading “Cash and cash substitutes, investments, furniture and fixtures, jewelries, legal and accounting books and references, motor vehicles, appliances.”

Finally, she said her 1999 SALN was not submitted to the BIR national office because she was then assigned to another district office.

In her SC petition against the OMB’s ruling, Perez reiterated the OMB’s violation of her constitutional right to a speedy disposition of the complaints filed against her.

The OMB, on the other hand, told the SC that the joint resolution for the indictment of Perez “is final and immutable given petitioner’s failure to timely file her motion for reconsideration.”

It also said it had sufficient evidence to indict Perez for violations of RA 6713.

The SC said:

“The Ombudsman correctly pointed out that petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of its joint resolution was belatedly filed. Petitioner also admitted the late filing….

“Time and again, the Court has relaxed the observance of procedural rules to advance substantial justice. Where a rigid application of the rules will result in a manifest failure or miscarriage of justice, technicalities should be disregarded in order to resolve the case.

“Indeed, the Court has the discretion to dismiss or not to dismiss an appellant’s appeal. It is a power conferred on the Court, not a duty. The ‘discretion’ must be a sound one, to be exercised in accordance with the tenets of justice and fair play, having in mind the circumstances obtaining in each case.

“The Court has held that where there is an apparent denial of the fundamental right to due process, a decision that is issued in disregard of that right is void for lack of jurisdiction, in view of the cardinal precept that in cases of violations of basic constitutional rights, courts are ousted from their jurisdiction.

“In the present case, the Ombudsman manifestly failed to explain in its comment before the Court, the 10-year delay of its December 15, 2015 Joint Resolution. There is even dearth of allegation or proof that the case involves complex issues or that the voluminous records could have caused the inordinate delay.

“Considering the inordinate delay of 10 years by the Ombudsman in the conduct of its preliminary investigation and the apparent lack of sufficient justification, petitioner’s right to speedy disposition of cases and right to procedural due process of law have been patently disregarded.

“On this point alone, the complaints against petitioner should be dismissed for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction on the part of the Ombudsman.

“All told, the Court finds that the Ombudsman gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in issuing the assailed joint dismissed in view of the inordinate delay in the termination of the preliminary investigation, which violated petitioner’s rights to speedy disposition of cases and to procedural due process of law.”