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DE LIMA V. REYES (779 SCRA)
Dr. Gerardo Ortega (Dr. Ortega) was shot dead inside the Baguio Wagwagan Ukay-ukay in San Pedro, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. After a brief chase with police officers, Marlon B. Recamata was arrested. On the same day, he made an extrajudicial confession admitting that he shot Dr. Ortega. He also implicated Rodolfo "Bumar" O. Edrad (Edrad), Dennis C. Aranas, and Armando "Salbakotah" R. Noel, Jr. On February 6, 2011, Edrad executed a Sinumpaang Salaysay before the Counter-Terrorism Division of the National Bureau of Investigation where he alleged that it was former Palawan Governor Mario Joel T. Reyes (former Governor Reyes) who ordered the killing of Dr. Ortega.
On February 7, 2011, Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima issued Department Order No. 091 creating a special panel of prosecutors (First Panel) to conduct preliminary investigation.
On June 8, 2011, the First Panel concluded its preliminary investigation and issued the Resolution dismissing the Affidavit-Complaint. On June 28, 2011, Dr. Inocencio-Ortega filed a Motion to Re-Open Preliminary Investigation. On July 7, 2011, while the Motion to Re-Open was still pending, Dr. Inocencio-Ortega filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration Ad Cautelam of the Resolution dated June 8, 2011. Both Motions were denied by the First Panel in the Resolution dated September 2, 2011.
On September 7, 2011, the Secretary of Justice issued Department Order No. 710 creating a new panel of investigators (Second Panel) to conduct a reinvestigation of the case.
On September 29, 2011, Dr. Inocencio-Ortega filed before the Secretary of Justice a Petition for Review (Ad Cautelam) assailing the First Panel's Resolution dated September 2, 2011.
On October 3, 2011, former Governor Reyes filed before the Court of Appeals a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for a Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order assailing the creation of the Second Panel. In his Petition, he argued that the Secretary of Justice gravely abused her discretion when she constituted a new panel. He also argued that the parties were already afforded due process and that the evidence to be addressed by the reinvestigation was neither new nor material to the case.
On March 12, 2012, the Second Panel issued the Resolution finding probable cause and recommending the filing of informations on all accused,including former Governor Reyes. Branch 52 of the Regional Trial Court of Palawan subsequently issued warrants of arrest on March 27, 2012. However, the warrants against former Governor Reyes and his brother were ineffective since the two allegedly left the country days before the warrants could be served.
On March 29, 2012, former Governor Reyes filed before the Secretary of Justice a Petition for Review Ad Cautelam assailing the Second Panel's Resolution dated March 12, 2012.
On April 2, 2012, he also filed before the Court of Appeals a Supplemental Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order impleading Branch 52 of the Regional Trial Court of Palawan.
In his Supplemental Petition, former Governor Reyes argued that the Regional Trial Court could not enforce the Second Panel's Resolution dated March 12, 2012 and proceed with the prosecution of his case since this Resolution was void.
On March 19, 2013, the Court of Appeals, in a Special Division of Five, rendered the Decision declaring Department Order No. 710 null and void and reinstating the First Panel's Resolutions dated June 8, 2011 and September 2, 2011.
According to the Court of Appeals, the Secretary of Justice committed grave abuse of discretion when she issued Department Order No. 710 and created the Second Panel.
The Court of Appeals also found that the Secretary of Justice's admission that the issuance of Department Order No. 710 did not set aside the First Panel's Resolution dated June 8, 2011 and September 2, 2011 "[compounded] the already anomalous situation." It also stated that Department Order No. 710 did not give the Second Panel the power to reverse, affirm, or modify the Resolutions of the First Panel; therefore, the Second Panel did not have the authority to assess the admissibility and weight of any existing or additional evidence.
The Secretary of Justice, the Second Panel, and Dr. Inocencio-Ortega filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the Decision dated March 19, 2013. The Motion, however, was denied by the Court of Appeals in the Resolution dated September 27, 2013.
Aggrieved, the Secretary of-Justice and the Second Panel filed the present Petition for Review on Certiorari assailing the Decision dated March 19, 2013 and Resolution dated September 27, 2013 of the Court of Appeals.
First, whether the Court of Appeals erred in ruling that the Secretary of Justice committed grave abuse of discretion when she issued Department Order No. 710, and with regard to this:
Whether the issuance of Department Order No. 710 was an executive function beyond the scope of a petition for certiorari or prohibition; and
Whether the Secretary of Justice is authorized to create motu proprio another panel of prosecutors in order to conduct a reinvestigation of the case.
Lastly, whether this Petition for Certiorari has already been rendered moot by the filing of the information in court, pursuant to Crespo v. Mogul.
When an administrative agency does not perform a judicial, quasi-judicial, or ministerial function, the Constitution mandates the exercise of judicial review when there is an allegation of grave abuse of discretion. In Auto Prominence Corporation v. Winterkorn:
In ascertaining whether the Secretary of Justice committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in his determination of the existence of probable cause, the party seeking the writ of certiorari must be able to establish that the Secretary of Justice exercised his executive power in an arbitrary and despotic manner, by reason of passion or personal hostility, and the abuse of discretion must be so patent and gross as would amount to an evasion or to a unilateral refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act in contemplation of law. Grave abuse of discretion is not enough; it must amount to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Excess of jurisdiction signifies that he had jurisdiction over the case, but (he) transcended the same or acted without authority.
Therefore, any question on whether the Secretary of Justice committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in affirming, reversing, or modifying the resolutions of prosecutors may be the subject of a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
Under these circumstances, it is clear that the Secretary of Justice issued Department Order No. 710 because she had reason to believe that the First Panel's refusal to admit the additional evidence may cause a probable miscarriage of justice to the parties. The Second Panel was... created not to overturn the findings and recommendations of the First Panel but to make sure that all the evidence, including the evidence that the First Panel refused to admit, was investigated. Therefore, the Secretary of Justice did not act in an "arbitrary and despotic manner, by reason of passion or personal hostility."
The courts do not interfere with the prosecutor's conduct of a preliminary investigation. The prosecutor's determination of probable cause is solely within his or her discretion. Prosecutors are given a wide latitude of discretion to determine whether an information should be filed in court or whether the complaint should be dismissed.
A preliminary investigation is "merely inquisitorial," and is only conducted to aid the prosecutor in preparing the information. It serves a two-fold purpose: first, to protect the innocent against wrongful prosecutions; and second, to spare the state from using its funds and resources in useless prosecutions. In Salonga v. Cruz-Paño:
The purpose of a preliminary investigation is to secure the innocent against hasty, malicious and oppressive prosecution, and to protect him from an open and public accusation of crime, from the trouble, expense and anxiety of a public trial, and also to protect the state from useless and expensive trials.