We now resolve whether the Secretary of Justice committed grave abuse of discretion in his Resolutions dated June 6, 2000 and October 11, 2000. Under the Revised Administrative Code, the Secretary of Justice exercises the power of direct control and supervision over the decisions or resolutions of the prosecutors. “Supervision and control” includes the authority to act directly whenever a specific function is entrusted by law or regulation to a subordinate; to direct the performance of duty; and to approve, revise or modify acts and decision of subordinate officials or units.
In the case of People v. Peralta, we reiterated the rule that the right to prosecute vests the prosecutor with a wide range of discretion – the discretion of whether, what and whom to charge, the exercise of which depends on a variety of factors which are best appreciated by prosecutors. Likewise, in the case of Hegerty v. Court of Appeals, we declared that:
A public prosecutor, by the nature of his office, is under no compulsion to file a criminal information where no clear legal justification has been shown, and no sufficient evidence of guilt nor prima facie case has been presented by the petitioner.
We need only to stress that the determination of probable cause during a preliminary investigation or reinvestigation is recognized as an executive function exclusively of the prosecutor. An investigating prosecutor is under no obligation to file a criminal action where he is not convinced that he has the quantum of evidence at hand to support the averments. Prosecuting officers have equally the duty not to prosecute when after investigation or reinvestigation they are convinced that the evidence adduced was not sufficient to establish a prima facie case. Thus, the determination of the persons to be prosecuted rests primarily with the prosecutor who is vested with discretion in the discharge of this function.
Thus, the question of whether or not to dismiss a complaint is within the purview of the functions of the prosecutor and, ultimately, that of the Secretary of Justice.
The reasons of the Secretary of Justice in directing the City Prosecutor to withdraw the informations for slight oral defamation against Rosalinda Punzalan and for attempted homicide against the other respondents other than Rosalinda Punzalan is determinative of whether or not he committed grave abuse of discretion.
First, in the charge of slight oral defamation, the records show that the defamatory remarks were uttered within the Office of the City Prosecutor of Mandaluyong City. The Court of Appeals in its Decision dated June 6, 2002 stated the settled rule that the assessment of the credibility of witnesses is best left to the trial court in view of its opportunity to observe the demeanor and conduct of the witnesses on the stand. The City Prosecutor, the proper officer at the time of the occurrence of the incident, is the best person to observe the demeanor and conduct of the parties and their witnesses and determine probable cause whether the alleged defamatory utterances were made within the hearing distance of third parties. The investigating prosecutor found that no sufficient evidence existed. The Secretary of Justice in his Resolution affirmed the decision of the City Prosecutor.
As to the charge of attempted homicide against the herein petitioners other than Rosalinda Punzalan, the Secretary of Justice resolved to dismiss the complaint because it was in the nature of a countercharge. The Department of Justice in a Resolution dated June 18, 1998 had already directed that Dencio Dela Peña be likewise investigated for the charge of attempted homicide in connection with the shooting incident that occurred on August 13, 1997 making him a party to the case filed by Rainier Punzalan. This resulted in the resolution of the Secretary of Justice that the complaint of herein respondent Dencio Dela Peña should be threshed out in the proceedings relevant to the shooting incident that resulted in the serious injury of herein petitioner Rainier Punzalan.
In the case at bar, therefore, the Secretary of Justice did not commit grave abuse of discretion contrary to the finding of the Court of Appeals. It is well-settled in the recent case of Samson, et al. v. Guingona that the Court will not interfere in the conduct of preliminary investigations or reinvestigations and leave to the investigating prosecutor sufficient latitude of discretion in the exercise of determination of what constitutes sufficient evidence as will establish probable cause for the filing of information against an offender. Moreover, his findings are not subject to review unless shown to have been made with grave abuse.