Ombudsman dealt another blow: SC rules officials can only be indicted for SALN violation within 8 years of filing
The Supreme Court (SC) has dealt yet another blow to the Ombudsman, as it ruled in favor of a tighter deadline for charges of violation of wealth disclosure rules to be brought to court.
In a recent 12-page decision, the SC 3rd Division said anticorruption prosecutors could only indict government employees for violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees within eight years of the filing of their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs).
This was stricter than the interpretation sought by the Ombudsman—that the eight-year period be counted starting only from the discovery of the offense and not the filing of the SALN itself.
In the said decision, the SC dismissed the charges against former Bureau of Customs (BOC) Valuation and Classification Division Chief Melita del Rosario and set aside the Sandiganbayan’s August 16, 2011 decision that ordered that a trial be held.
Del Rosario was accused of failing to file her SALNs for the years 1990 and 1991. Complaints were only filed against her more than 12 years later in 2004.
The SC said that under Section 2 of Act Number 3326, the general rule was to count the eight-year prescriptive period from the very day that the violation of the law was committed.
It refused to apply the so-called “discovery rule,” because SALNs should be accessible to the public for copying or inspection and Del Rosario made no effort to conceal her alleged failure to file the requirement.
“Under the circumstances, the State had no reason not to be presumed to know of her omissions during the eight-year period of prescription set in Act No. 3326,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin.
The SC added that allowing the government to belatedly prosecute offenders for acts it should have long watched out for “would have the effect of condoning their indolence and inaction.”
It noted that the Ombudsman was one of the agencies with the primary responsibility of monitoring compliance with the Code of Conduct and should have known of Del Rosario’s alleged omission.