The issues submitted for resolution are (1) whether complainants violated the rule against forum shopping when they filed in the Ombudsman and the sangguniang bayan identical complaints against Rodriguez; and (2) whether it was the sangguniang bayan or the Ombudsman that first acquired jurisdiction.
The Court’s Ruling
The petition has merit.
Paragraph 1, Section 13 of Article XI of the Constitution provides:
Sec. 13. The Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions, and duties:
(1) Investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office, or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient.
Section 15 of Republic Act No. 6770, otherwise known as the Ombudsman Act of 1989, states:
Sec. 15. Powers, Functions, and Duties. – The Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions, and duties:
(1) Investigate and prosecute on its own or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient. It has primary jurisdiction over cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan and, in the exercise of this primary jurisdiction, it may take over, at any stage, from any investigatory agency of Government, the investigations of such cases.
The primary jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to investigate any act or omission of a public officer or employee applies only in cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan. In cases cognizable by regular courts, the Ombudsman has concurrent jurisdiction with other investigative agencies of government. Republic Act No. 8249, otherwise known as An Act Further Defining the Jurisdiction of theSandiganbayan, limits the cases that are cognizable by theSandiganbayan to public officials occupying positions corresponding to salary grade 27 and higher. TheSandiganbayan has no jurisdiction over private respondent who, as punong barangay, is occupying a position corresponding to salary grade 14 under Republic Act No. 6758, otherwise known as the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989.
Under Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code, the sangguniang panlungsod orsangguniang bayan has disciplinary authority over any elective barangay official, to wit:
SEC. 61. Form and Filing of Administrative Complaints. – A verified complaint against any erring elective official shall be prepared as follows:
x x x x
(c) A complaint against any elective barangay official shall be filed before the sangguniang panlungsod orsangguniang bayan concerned whose decision shall be final and executory.
Clearly, the Ombudsman has concurrent jurisdiction with the sangguniang bayan over administrative cases against elective barangay officials occupying positions below salary grade 27, such as private respondent in this case.
The facts in the present case are analogous to those in Laxina, Sr. v. Ombudsman, which likewise involved identical administrative complaints filed in both the Ombudsman and the sangguniang panlungsodagainst a punong barangay for grave misconduct. The Court held therein that the rule against forum shopping applied only to judicial cases or proceedings, not to administrative cases. Thus, even if complainants filed in the Ombudsman and the sangguniang bayan identical complaints against private respondent, they did not violate the rule against forum shopping because their complaint was in the nature of an administrative case.
In administrative cases involving the concurrent jurisdiction of two or more disciplining authorities, the body in which the complaint is filed first, and which opts to take cognizance of the case, acquires jurisdiction to the exclusion of other tribunals exercising concurrent jurisdiction. In this case, since the complaint was filed first in the Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman opted to assume jurisdiction over the complaint, the Ombudsman’s exercise of jurisdiction is to the exclusion of thesangguniang bayan exercising concurrent jurisdiction.
It is a hornbook rule that jurisdiction is a matter of law. Jurisdiction, once acquired, is not lost upon the instance of the parties but continues until the case is terminated. When herein complainants first filed the complaint in the Ombudsman, jurisdiction was already vested on the latter. Jurisdiction could no longer be transferred to the sangguniang bayan by virtue of a subsequent complaint filed by the same complainants.
As a final note, under Section 60 of the Local Government Code, thesangguniang bayan has no power to remove an elective barangay official. Apart from the Ombudsman, only a proper court may do so. Unlike the sangguniang bayan, the powers of the Ombudsman are not merely recommendatory. The Ombudsman is clothed with authority to directly remove an erring public official other than members of Congress and the Judiciary who may be removed only by impeachment.
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