We cannot agree with petitioners’ submission that a preliminary investigation is a quasi-judicial proceeding, and that the DOJ is a quasi-judicial agency exercising a quasi-judicial function when it reviews the findings of a public prosecutor regarding the presence of probable cause.
In Bautista v. Court of Appeals, we held that a preliminary investigation is not a quasi-judicial proceeding, thus:
[t]he prosecutor in a preliminary investigation does not determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. He does not exercise adjudication nor rule-making functions. Preliminary investigation is merely inquisitorial, and is often the only means of discovering the persons who may be reasonably charged with a crime and to enable the fiscal to prepare his complaint or information. It is not a trial of the case on the merits and has no purpose except that of determining whether a crime has been committed and whether there is probable cause to believe that the accused is guilty thereof. While the fiscal makes that determination, he cannot be said to be acting as a quasi-court, for it is the courts, ultimately, that pass judgment on the accused, not the fiscal.
Though some cases describe the public prosecutor’s power to conduct a preliminary investigation as quasi-judicial in nature, this is true only to the extent that, like quasi-judicial bodies, the prosecutor is an officer of the executive department exercising powers akin to those of a court, and the similarity ends at this point. A quasi-judicial body is as an organ of government other than a court and other than a legislature which affects the rights of private parties through either adjudication or rule-making. A quasi-judicial agency performs adjudicatory functions such that its awards, determine the rights of parties, and their decisions have the same effect as judgments of a court. Such is not the case when a public prosecutor conducts a preliminary investigation to determine probable cause to file an information against a person charged with a criminal offense, or when the Secretary of Justice is reviewing the former’s order or resolutions.
Since the DOJ is not a quasi-judicial body and it is not one of those agencies whose decisions, orders or resolutions are appealable to the Court of Appeals under Rule 43, the resolution of the Secretary of Justice finding probable cause to indict petitioners for estafa is, therefore, not appealable to the Court of Appeals via a petition for review under Rule 43. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals correctly dismissed petitioners’ petition for review.
Notwithstanding that theirs is a petition for review properly under Rule 45, petitioners want us to reverse the findings of probable cause by the DOJ after their petition for review under Rule 43 from the court a quo failed. This much we are not inclined to do, for we have no basis to review the DOJ’s factual findings and its determination of probable cause.
First, Rule 45 is explicit. This mode of appeal to the Supreme Court covers the judgments, orders or resolutions of the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Regional Trial Court or any authorized court and should raise only pure question of law. The Department of Justice is not a court.
Also, in this petition are raised factual matters for our resolution, e.g. the ownership of the subject property, the existence of deceit committed by petitioners on respondent, and petitioners’ knowledge or direct participation in the Contract to Sell. These are factual issues and are outside the scope of a petition for review on certiorari. The cited questions require evaluation and examination of evidence, which is the province of a full-blown trial on the merits.
Second, courts cannot interfere with the discretion of the public prosecutor in evaluating the offense charged. He may dismiss the complaint forthwith, if he finds the charge insufficient in form or substance, or without any ground. Or, he may proceed with the investigation if the complaint in his view is sufficient and in proper form. The decision whether to dismiss a complaint or not, is dependent upon the sound discretion of the prosecuting fiscal and, ultimately, that of the Secretary of Justice. Findings of the Secretary of Justice are not subject to review unless made with grave abuse of discretion. In this case, petitioners have not shown sufficient nor convincing reason for us to deviate from prevailing jurisprudence.