There are two kinds of determination of probable cause: executive and judicial. The executive determination of probable cause is one made during preliminary investigation. It is a function that properly pertains to the public prosecutor who is given a broad discretion to determine whether probable cause exists and to charge those whom he believes to have committed the crime as defined by law and thus should be held for trial. Otherwise stated, such official has the quasi-judicial authority to determine whether or not a criminal case must be filed in court. Whether or not that function has been correctly discharged by the public prosecutor, i.e., whether or not he has made a correct ascertainment of the existence of probable cause in a case, is a matter that the trial court itself does not and may not be compelled to pass upon.
The judicial determination of probable cause, on the other hand, is one made by the judge to ascertain whether a warrant of arrest should be issued against the accused. The judge must satisfy himself that based on the evidence submitted, there is necessity for placing the accused under custody in order not to frustrate the ends of justice. If the judge finds no probable cause, the judge cannot be forced to issue the arrest warrant.
Corollary to the principle that a judge cannot be compelled to issue a warrant of arrest if he or she deems that there is no probable cause for doing so, the judge in turn should not override the public prosecutor’s determination of probable cause to hold an accused for trial on the ground that the evidence presented to substantiate the issuance of an arrest warrant was insufficient. It must be stressed that in our criminal justice system, the public prosecutor exercises a wide latitude of discretion in determining whether a criminal case should be filed in court, and that courts must respect the exercise of such discretion when the information filed against the person charged is valid on its face, and that no manifest error or grave abuse of discretion can be imputed to the public prosecutor.
Thus, absent a finding that an information is invalid on its face or that the prosecutor committed manifest error or grave abuse of discretion, a judge’s determination of probable cause is limited only to the judicial kind or for the purpose of deciding whether the arrest warrants should be issued against the accused.
In the instant case, there is no question that both the original and amended Informations were valid on their face because they complied with Section 6, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court. Also, a scrutiny of the Resolution dated August 22, 2002 of the Ombudsman which precipitated the filing of the original Information and the subsequent Memorandum dated August 4, 2004 recommending the amendment of the Information would likewise show that the finding of probable cause against the respondents were sufficiently supported by substantial evidence. As a matter of fact, in the Resolution datedAugust 22, 2002, the Ombudsman took pains to mention each element of the crime of violation of Section 3(e) of Rep. Act No. 3019 and then one by one adequately explained how and why those elements were satisfied. Hence, as the amended Information was valid on its face and there is no manifest error or arbitrariness on the part of the Ombudsman, the Sandiganbayan erred in making an executive determination of probable cause when it overturned the Ombudsman’s own determination. And this is true even if the Sandiganbayan was no longer satisfied with the evidence presented to sustain the effectivity of the arrest warrants previously issued for the original Information. The Sandiganbayan could have just revoked the previously issued arrest warrants and required the Ombudsman to submit additional evidence for the purpose of issuing the arrest warrants based on the amended Information.
Moreover, it was clearly premature on the part of the Sandiganbayan to make a determinative finding prior to the parties’ presentation of their respective evidence that there was no bad faith and manifest partiality on the respondents’ part and undue injury on the part of the complainant. In Go v. Fifth Division, Sandiganbayan, we held that “it is well established that the presence or absence of the elements of the crime is evidentiary in nature and is a matter of defense that may be best passed upon after a full-blown trial on the merits.” Also, it would be unfair to expect the prosecution to present all the evidence needed to secure the conviction of the accused upon the filing of the information against the latter. The reason is found in the nature and objective of a preliminary investigation. Here, the public prosecutors do not decide whether there is evidence beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the person charged; they merely determine whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and that respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial.
The Sandiganbayan and all courts for that matter should always remember the judiciary’s standing policy on non-interference in the Office of the Ombudsman’s exercise of its constitutionally mandated powers. This policy is based not only upon respect for the investigatory and prosecutory powers granted by the Constitution to the Office of the Ombudsman but upon practicality as well, considering that otherwise, the functions of the courts will be grievously hampered by innumerable petitions regarding complaints filed before it, and in much the same way that the courts would be extremely swamped if they were to be compelled to review the exercise of discretion on the part of the prosecutors each time they decide to file an information in court or dismiss a complaint by a private complainant.