The well publicized controversy between Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ought not to have happened had the DOJ followed the usual practice in the conduct of the preliminary investigation of cases.
The INC claimed or claims still that the latter Secretary De Lima was or is showing special interest — and, thus, discrimination and/or bias– against it (the INC) in the investigation to be conducted by DOJ on the complaint for alleged serious illegal detention (punishable by reclusion perpetua under Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code) filed by former INC Minister Isaias Samson, Jr. against Sanggunian (Council) members of INC — which was developing into a fire.
Secretary de Lima is right that DOJ has the power — and the obligation, even — to conduct an investigation of all and any criminal complaint properly lodged before the department.
And since there is a formal complaint by Mr. Samson Jr. that he was illegally detained by members of the INC Sangunian, the DOJ is duty-bound to act on it “to determine whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and that the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial” (Section 1, Rule 112, Rules of Court).
But, this issue presents itself: which office in the DOJ should conduct the preliminary investigation?
Shall it be the National Prosecution Service Central Office or shall it be the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City where the alleged offense was allegedly committed?
The usual procedure and practice is that the Office of the Prosecutor in which territorial jurisdiction the alleged offense was committed — in this case Quezon City — shall have the original jurisdiction to conduct the preliminary investigation pursuant to Republic Act 5180 (An Act Providing A Uniform System of Preliminary Investigation by Provincial and City Fiscals And Their Assistants, and the State Attorneys and Their Assistants) and by Section 14 (a) of the DOJ Manual For Prosecutors. And, the Office of the Secretary of Justice only exercises appellate jurisdiction, that is, it reviews the resolution of the City Prosecutor’s Office when one has been made after due process and a petition for review would have been appropriately filed by the aggrieved party, who can be either the complainant or the respondent. This is provided by DOJ Circular No. 70-2000 or the National Prosecution Service Rules On Appeals.
But, the National Prosecution Service Central Office — on the authority of the Secretary — usually, on multi-faceted cases and/or involving many different complainants from different places– may directly conduct the preliminary investigation. Thus, for example, the PDAF and DAP investigations were conducted by the Central Office.
Considering, however, that the complaint of Mr. Samson Jr. is an “ordinary” illegal detention case involving only one complainant and six members of the INC Sanggunian, and there appears no special circumstance which would warrant the preliminary investigation to be conducted by the Central Office, it ought to be conducted by the QC Prosecutor’s Office.
Probably, it is in this light that the INC has complained or is still complaining that Secretary De Lima is cutting corners and giving undue interest to the case involving INC’s former and present members.
In order, therefore, to dispel the suspicions of the INC, Secretary de Lima should order that the preliminary investigation of Samson Jr.’s complaint be remanded to the QC Prosecutor’s Office.
Then let the case take its due course from there. Hopefully, this will end the “interesting” but unnecessary squabble that, regrettably, wasted the time and effort of the DOJ Central Office which can otherwise be spent for the other equally, if not more important and urgent, cases pending before it.
The author is a lawyer, a former congressman and the former deputy head of the Ministry of Education.
(Atty. Salvador B. Britanico is the President of the Philippine Alliance Toward The Rule Of Law (PATROL) and former President of the Philippine Trials Lawyers Association)