Petitioner BIR insists that the investigative power of the Ombudsman is not unbridled. Particularly on the issue of tax refunds, the BIR maintains that the Ombudsman could validly exercise its power to investigate only when there exists an appropriate case and subject to the limitations provided by law. Petitioner opines that the fact-finding investigation by the Ombudsman is not the proper case as it is only a step preliminary to the filing of recovery actions on the tax refunds granted to Limtuaco and La Tondeña.
This Court is not persuaded. No less than the 1987 Constitution enjoins that the “Ombudsman and his Deputies, as protectors of the people, shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against public officials or employees of the government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and shall, in appropriate case, notify the complainants of the action taken and the result thereof.”
Clearly, there is no requirement of a pending action before the Ombudsman could wield its investigative power. The Ombudsman could resort to its investigative prerogative on its own or upon a complaint filed in any form or manner. Even when the complaint is verbal or written, unsigned or unverified, the Ombudsman could, on its own, initiate the investigation. Thus –
There can be no objection to this procedure in the Office of the Ombudsman where anonymous letters suffice to start an investigation because it is provided in the Constitution itself. In the second place, it is apparent that in permitting the filing of complaints “in any form and manner,” the framers of the Constitution took into account the well-known reticence of the people which keep them from complaining against official wrongdoings. As this Court had occasion to point out, the Office of the Ombudsman is different from other investigatory and prosecutory agencies of the government because those subject to its jurisdiction are public officials who, through official pressure and influence, can quash, delay or dismiss investigations held against them. On the other hand complainants are more often than not poor and simple folk who cannot afford to hire lawyers.
The term “in an appropriate case” has already been clarified by this Court in Almonte v. Vasquez, thus –
Rather than referring to the form of complaints, therefore, the phrase “in an appropriate case” in Art. XI, §12 means any case concerning official act or omission which is alleged to be “illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient,” The phrase “subject to such limitations as may be provided by law” refers to such limitations as may be provided by Congress or, in the absence thereof, to such limitations as may be imposed by courts.
Plainly, the pendency of an action is not a prerequisite before the Ombudsman can start its own investigation.