The Court of Appeals (CA) has junked a petition filed by two employees of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) seeking the dismissal of an administrative complaint filed against them before the Department of Justice (DOJ) for their alleged role in the so-called “Pastillas” bribery scam that led to the unrestricted entry of Chinese nationals into the Philippines.
In a seven-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Maria Elisa Sempio Diy, the CA’s Seventh Division ruled that the order issued by the DOJ on August 10, 2021 is interlocutory in nature since it denied the petitioners’ motion to dismiss the administrative case, paving the way for a continuation of the trial.
The petitioners were BI agents Abdu Fahad Calaca and Phol Bendana Villanueva who were facing criminal and administrative charges in connection with the Pastillas bribery mess.
The appellate court clarified that the DOJ’s order was not an award, judgment, final order, or final resolution of a quasi-judicial agency from which an appeal may be brought through a petition for review.
The CA stressed that a final order disposes of the subject matter in its entirety or terminates a particular proceeding or action, leaving nothing more to be done except to enforce the decision.
On the other hand, an interlocutory order deals with preliminary matters and the trial on the merits is yet to be held and the judgment rendered.
The appellate court pointed out that the Supreme Court has prohibited an appeal from an order denying a motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory order.
“An order denying a motion to dismiss an action is interlocutory, hence, not appealable,” the CA stressed.
According to the appellate court, the rationale behind the rule proscribing the remedy of appeal from an interlocutory order is to prevent undue delay, useless appeals and undue inconvenience to the appealing party .
It can be recalled that in February 2020, the Senate conducted an investigation on the “Pastillas scheme” perpetrated within the ranks of the BI, an agency under the DOJ.
The illegal activity was called Pastillas scheme because the bribe money, serving as consideration for the illicit entry of the foreign national, was supposedly rolled up in a manner that resembles a pastillas de leche treat, a popular Filipino milk- based candy.
Under the Pastillas scheme, upon the arrival of foreign nationals at the airport, immigration officers that are involved in the scheme are under instruction to allow them entry into the country without instituting the necessary checks, screening, or profiling as what is standard for arriving non- Filipinos.
This prompted BI Commissioner Jaime Morente to form a fact-finding investigation committee (FFIC) to look into the alleged irregularity.
On February 20, 2020, the FFIC issued a show cause order to all concerned BI employees, including Calaca and Villanueva.
After several months, the FFIC issued a report finding prima facie evidence for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service against the petitioners and other BI personnel.
It was further recommended that a formal administrative investigation be conducted against them without prejudice to the filing of an independent criminal action.
On October 23, 2020, DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra issued a formal complaint for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service against the two and other BI personnel.
The petitioners then filed before the DOJ a motion to dismiss the case arguing that two other administrative cases relating to the same charges had been filed against them before the Office of the Ombudsman. One was initiated by the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO), and the other by the National Bureau of Investigation.
The respondents argued that the state has committed forum shopping against them which warrants the dismissal of the case.
But the DOJ denied the motion to dismiss, stressing that the Justice department and the Ombudsman exercised concurrent jurisdiction over administrative cases involving officials and employees of the BI.
The DOJ added that since the DOJ first acquired jurisdiction over the administrative charge, it is asserted that the DOJ should continue to exercise said jurisdiction to the exclusion of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The two BI officials then elevated the case before the CA.