Carabeo asserts that he was entitled to be informed of any error in his SALN and given the opportunity to correct the same pursuant to Section 10 of R.A. 6713, which provides:
Section 10. Review and Compliance Procedure. – (a) The designated Committees of both Houses of the Congress shall establish procedures for the review of statements to determine whether said statements have been submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form. In the event a determination is made that a statement is not so filed, the appropriate Committee shall so inform the reporting individual and direct him to take the necessary corrective action.
(b) In order to carry out their responsibilities under this Act, the designated Committees of both houses of the Congress shall have the power within their respective jurisdictions, to render any opinion interpreting this Act, in writing, to persons covered by this Act, subject in each instance to the approval of the affirmative vote of the majority of the particular House concerned.
The individual to whom the opinion is rendered, and any other individual involved in a similar factual situation, and who, after issuance of the opinion acts in good faith in accordance with it shall not be subject to any sanction provided in this Act.
(c) The heads of other offices shall perform the duties stated in subsections (a) and (b) hereof insofar as their respective offices are concerned, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Justice, in the case of the Executive Department and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in the case of the Judicial Department.
Carabeo claims that his head office, the DOF, should have alerted him on the deficiency in his SALN and given him the chance to correct the same before any charge is filed against him in connection with the same. But, the Sandiganbayan, citing Pleyto v. Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG), held that the review of the SALN by the head of office is irrelevant and cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from conducting an independent investigation for criminal violations committed by the public official or employee.
Carabeo contends, however, that the head of office has a mandatory obligation to inform him of defects in his SALN and give him the chance to correct the same. Further, he cannot be subjected to any sanction until such obligation has been complied with. Carabeo points out that Pleyto could not apply to him because the authority that reviewed the SALN in Pleyto was not the head of office. Although the respondents involved in that case were employees of the Department of Public Works and Highways, it was the Philippine National Police that investigated and filed the complaints against them. Carabeo points out that, in his case, it was the DOF-RIPS, headed by the Secretary of Finance, which filed the complaints against him with the Office of the Ombudsman. As city treasurer, Carabeo reports to the Bureau of Local Government Finance under the Secretary of Finance.
But what Carabeo fails to grasp is that it was eventually the Office of the Ombudsman, not the DOF-RIPS, that filed the criminal cases against him before the Sandiganbayan. That office is vested with the sole power to investigate and prosecute, motu proprio or on complaint of any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office, or agency when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient. The Office of the Ombudsman could file the informations subject of these cases without any help from the DOF-RIPS.
True, Section 10 of R.A. 6713 provides that when the head of office finds the SALN of a subordinate incomplete or not in the proper form such head of office must call the subordinate’s attention to such omission and give him the chance to rectify the same. But this procedure is an internal office matter. Whether or not the head of office has taken such step with respect to a particular subordinate cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from investigating the latter. Its power to investigate and prosecute erring government officials cannot be made dependent on the prior action of another office. To hold otherwise would be to diminish its constitutionally guarded independence.
Further, Carabeo’s reliance on his supposed right to notice regarding errors in his SALNs and to be told to correct the same is misplaced. The notice and correction referred to in Section 10 are intended merely to ensure that SALNs are “submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form.” Obviously, these refer to formal defects in the SALNs. The charges against Carabeo, however, are for falsification of the assets side of his SALNs and for declaring a false net worth. These are substantive, not formal defects. Indeed, while the Court said in Pleyto that heads of offices have the duty to review their subordinates’ SALNs, it would be absurd to require such heads to run a check on the truth of what the SALNs state and require their subordinates to correct whatever lies these contain. The responsibility for truth in those SALNs belongs to the subordinates who prepared them, not to the heads of their offices.
Thus, the Sandiganbayan did not gravely abuse its discretion in excluding from its pre-trial order the first and fourth issues that Carabeo proposed.