Marquez v. Desierto (G.R. No. 135882)

Facts:

Petitioner Lourdes Marquez received an Order from respondent Ombudsman Aniano Desierto to produce several bank documents for purposes of inspection in camera relative to various accounts maintained at the bank where petitioner is the branch manager. The accounts to be inspected are involved in a case pending with the Ombudsman entitled, Fact-Finding and Intelligence Bureau (FFIB) v. Amado Lagdameo. It appears that a certain George Trivinio purchased trail managers check and deposited some of it to an account maintained at petitioner’s branch. Petitioner after meeting with the FFIB Panel to ensure the veracity of the checks agreed to the in camera inspection. Petitioner being unable to readily identify the accounts in question, the Ombudsman issued an order directing petitioner to produce the bank documents. Thus, petitioner sought a declaration of her rights from the court due to the clear conflict between RA 6770 and RA 1405. Meanwhile, FFIB moved to cite petitioner in contempt before the Ombudsman.

Issue:

Whether or not the order of Ombudsman to have an in camera inspection of the accounts is an allowable exception of R.A. No. 1405.

Ruling: NO.

The order of the Ombudsman to produce for in camera inspection the subject accounts with the Union Bank of the Philippines, Julia Vargas Branch, is based on a pending investigation at the Office of the Ombudsman against Amado Lagdameo, et. al. for violation of R.A. No. 3019, Sec. 3 (e) and (g) relative to the Joint Venture Agreement between the Public Estates Authority and AMARI.

We rule that before an in camera inspection may be allowed, there must be a pending case before a court of competent jurisdiction. Further, the account must be clearly identified, the inspection limited to the subject matter of the pending case before the court of competent jurisdiction. The bank personnel and the account holder must be notified to be present during the inspection, and such inspection may cover only the account identified in the pending case.

In the case at bar, there is yet no pending litigation before any court of competent authority. What is existing is an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman. In short, what the office of the ombudsman would wish to do is to fish for additional evidence to formally charge Amado Lagdameo, et. al., with the Sandiganbayan. Clearly, there was no pending case in court which would warrant the opening of the bank account for inspection.

*In contrast to Ejercito v. Sandiganbayan. Interestingly, time is of the essence. A different ruling in Ejercito was enunciated because there was already a pending investigation months before the ruling made in this case as to the exemption in the power of the Ombudsman.

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