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DOJ denies Bantag’s request to transfer murder cases to Ombudsman

THE Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued a resolution maintaining that it has jurisdiction to conduct the preliminary investigation on the murder charges filed against suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag and several others in connection with the killings of veteran radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and inmate Jun Villamor, the alleged middleman in the case.

In a 17-page resolution issued by the panel of prosecutors handling the case, the DOJ held that the Ombudsman has no exclusive jurisdiction over investigation and prosecution of cases involving public officers and employees before the regular courts, contrary to the arguments raised by Bantag in his motion for inhibition filed against the panel.

“Undoubtedly, the power of the Ombudsman under Section 15[1] of RA 6770 [Ombudsman Act of 1989] is not an exclusive authority but rather a shared or concurrent authority with respect to the offense charged,” the resolution read.

“There is no basis under the law and existing jurisprudence that would directly support the conclusion of respondent Bantag that the power of the Ombudsman with respect to the offenses charged under Section 15[1] of RA 6770 is exclusive to it,” it added.

In fact, the resolution noted that the DOJ and the Ombudsman entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on March 29, 2012 clarifying the jurisdiction in the conduct of preliminary investigation and inquest proceedings for complaints against public officers and employees.

The MOA states: “The OMB and the prosecution offices of the DOJ shall have concurrent jurisdiction over the complaints for the crimes involving public officers and employees falling outside the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan; Provided, that the office where such a complaint is filed for preliminary investigation shall acquire jurisdiction over the complaint to the exclusion of the other; Provided further, that the OMB may refer/endorse any complaint filed before it to any prosecution office of the DOJ having jurisdiction over the complaint.”

In the case of Bantag, the DOJ said while he occupies a position with a pay grade higher than Salary Grade 27, the murder cases against him do fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

“Besides, the alleged felonious acts imputed by the complainants against respondent Bantag, is not in any way related, not even remotely connected, to any anti-graft offenses within the exclusive final jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan,” the DOJ resolution read.

Bantag, through his lawyer Rocky Balisong, sought the inhibition of the DOJ prosecutors and the immediate transfer of the investigation of the murder charges before the Ombudsman, which he said has the primary jurisdiction over his client under Article 11, Section 13, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution.

Balisong said the said provision of the Constitution gives the Ombudsman the power to investigate all cases committed by public officials.

Bantag’s camp also cited Section 15, in relation to Section 11 of RA 6770, which gives the Ombudsman the power to investigate cases falling within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

Aside from this, Balisong also accused the DOJ of being biased against his client, thus, warranting the inhibition of the DOJ prosecutors from conducting the preliminary investigation for the purpose of determining whether there is probable cause to elevate the case for trial.

Bantag’s camp cited the recent pronouncements of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla accusing the suspended BuCor official as the one who ordered the killing of Mabasa and Villamor.

He noted that the investigating prosecutors are under the control and supervision of the justice secretary.

However, the DOJ panel stressed that Bantag’s allegation of bias and partiality against the panel is based on the wrong premise since the justice secretary does not participate in the conduct of preliminary investigation nor approves resolutions of the panel.

It noted that all resolutions in preliminary investigation cases are only approved by the Prosecutor General, Provincial Prosecutor or City Prosecutor.

“Anent the alleged bias and partiality of the panel by reason of control and supervision exercised by the SOJ  [Secretary of Justice] over the NPS, the same is purely speculative, as control and supervision being exercised by the SOJ [Secretary of Justice] over the NPS [National Prosecution Service] does not extend to the conduct of preliminary investigation,” the panel said.

It added that it never made any statements that would indicate its partiality to any of the parties.

The panel also defended the statements by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla to the media with regard to the case, saying that such were inevitable considering that the BuCor is under the DOJ.

“Being the head of the department, the SOJ has to report and inform the public about what happened or what is happening in the department and its constituent and attached agencies, including the BuCor,” the resolution added.

The panel directed Bantag to submit its counter-affidavits on the murder charges on January 24.

Bantag and BuCor deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta were charged as principals by inducement in the Lapid killing.

Also charged in the Percy Lapid killing as “principals by indispensable cooperation” were Bilibid inmates Denver Batungbakal Mayores, Alvin Cornista Labra, Aldrin Micosa Galicia and Alfie Penaredonda.

For Villamor’s death, Bantag and Zulueta were charged as principals by inducements while persons deprived of liberty (PDL) Labra, Galicia, Mario Germones Alvarez and Joseph Medel Georfo were charged as principals by indispensable cooperation and PDLs Christam Dizon Ramac, Ricky Lamigo Salgado, Ronnie Pabustan de la Cruz and Joel Alog Reyes were charged as principals by direct participation.

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