In our criminal justice system, the public prosecutor exercises wide latitude of discretion in determining whether a criminal case should be filed in court. Courts must respect the exercise of such discretion when the information filed against the person charged is valid on its face, and no manifest error or grave abuse of discretion can be imputed to the public prosecutor. As a rule, courts cannot interfere with the Ombudsman’s discretion in the conduct of preliminary investigations. In the determination of probable cause, the Ombudsman’s discretion prevails over judicial discretion.
In this case, there being no clear showing of manifest error or grave abuse of discretion committed by the Ombudsman in finding probable cause against Saldevar for direct bribery, the Court of Appeals erred in supplanting the Ombudsman’s discretion with its own.
Probable cause is simply the existence of such facts and circumstances as would excite a belief that a crime has been committed and that the person charged is probably guilty of the said crime. In this case, sufficient evidence on record clearly shows the existence of probable cause against Saldevar. Contrary to the appellate court’s theory, Saldevar need not actually demand and receive the bribe money in order for him to be indicted for direct bribery. Mere belief, after weighing the relevant facts and circumstances, that Saldevar probably committed direct bribery suffices for the establishment of probable cause. Whether he is indeed guilty of direct bribery is a different matter, which can properly be determined at a full blown trial on the merits of the case.
Lastly, we are not prepared to indulge respondents’ insistence that the DOJ cannot endorse to the Ombudsman the petition for review of the abovementioned DOJ Resolution. The Ombudsman’s power to investigate and to prosecute is plenary and unqualified. It pertains to any act or omission of any public officer or employee when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, or improper. In this case, respondents are public officers charged with the commission of a crime. The DOJ Resolution, subject of the petition for review, found probable cause against respondents for the crime of direct bribery. The Ombudsman thus acted within its authority in taking over the said petition for review.