The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday asserted that it is the agency–and not the Office of the Ombudsman–that has jurisdiction to investigate the two murder complaints filed against suspended Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Q. Bantag.
DOJ Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Jose Dominic Clavano IV stressed that “in cases where the crime or the violation is in relation to his office that is when we can say it is purely or it will fall under the primary jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.”
Clavano said the Ombudsman handles cases that “fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan or cases that have a lot to do with corruption, graft, direct bribery, indirect bribery, malversation, those violations of the code of ethics of government employees and similar offenses.”
In an interview over CNN Philippines, the DOJ official explained that the murder cases filed against Bantag are not “in relation” to his office.
“But it’s a murder case (the case filed against Bantag). It’s not in relation to his office,” Clavano said, arguing that the cases filed against Bantag before the DOJ “fall(s) within the jurisdiction of the regular courts.”
Clavano’s statement was issued in reaction to a motion filed by Bantag, through his lawyer Rocky Balisong, seeking the inhibition of the DOJ’s panel of prosecutors in the investigation of the two murder complaints.
Bantag also claimed that it is the Ombudsman and not the DOJ that has jurisdiction over the complaints filed against him.
With Bantag’s motion, the DOJ’s panel of prosecutors suspended its preliminary investigation to resolve first the motion for inhibition.
Clavano said the murder complaints against Bantag “are well within the expertise and competency of the National Prosecution Service to handle and to resolve.”
Bantag was charged as “principal by inducement” in the killings of radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” C. Mabasa and Cristito Villamor Palana, an inmate who was alleged as the “middleman” in the slaying of the broadcaster last Oct. 3.
Besides, Clavano said the DOJ and the Ombudsman have a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on cases where they could have concurrent jurisdictions.
Under the MOA, Clavano said “the Ombudsman will let the DOJ handle the case unless the Ombudsman sees that under its constitutional mandate it finds reason to believe that it has to take over the case.”
“But in this case, we don’t believe that the Ombudsman has any reason to come in and take the case,” he said.
At the same time, Clavano disputed Bantag’s allegation that Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla has already shown bias and could influence the resolution of the preliminary investigation.
“They (panel) have their own discretion when it comes to cases brought before them and the secretary is sure not to meddle in that discretion,” Clavano stressed.
Bantag cited a DOJ circular issued by Remulla “that gives the secretary the prerogative in the interest of justice to take on cases himself.”
“But this prerogative will only be exercised in times when it is absolutely needed. But in this case where you have a case filed with the panel of prosecutors and there seems to be no irregularity at all, then the case should pursue in that venue,” he said.
He said the complainants have been given by the panel of prosecutors seven days to file their comments on Bantag’s motion.
“The NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) will be filing a joint comment just for continuity because they both jointly filed as well the complaint. And then the family of Percy Lapid headed by Mr. Roy Mabasa will also submit their comment within the seven days,” he stressed.