Monday, April 09, 2012

Laurel vs. Desierto [G.R. No. 145368 April 12, 2002]

Facts: President Corazon C. Aquino issued Administrative Order No. 223 "constituting a Committee which was mandated "to take charge of the nationwide preparations for the National Celebration of the Philippine Centennial of the Declaration of Philippine Independence and the Inauguration of the Malolos Congress."Subsequently, President Fidel V. Ramos issued Executive Order No. 128, "reconstituting the said Committee and renamed it as the "National Centennial Commission." Appointed to chair was Vice-President Salvador H. Laurel. Presidents Diosdado M. Macapagal and Corazon C. Aquino were named Honorary Chairpersons. 

Vice President Laurel by virtue of his chairmanship also became the chairman of EXPOCORP, a corporation organized to undertake the Freedom Ring Project in relation to the centennial celebration. Later in 1999, investigation was conducted by an independent committed due to allegations of graft and corruption against Laurel as NCC and EXPOCORP chair. The committee recommended the filing of charges by the Ombudsman upon which the Office of the Ombudsman took cognizance of the case. Laurel then questioned the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman by filing this petition, saying that (1) EXPOCORP was a private corporation, (2) that NCC is not a public office and (3) that he is not a public officer as defined in the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. 

Issue: Whether or not the contentions of Vice President Laurel are correct. 

Held: No. The Ombudsman has the power to investigate any malfeasance, misfeasance and non-feasance by a public officer or employee of the government, or of any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations. However, is NCC a public office? Yes, it is because it exercises executive functions by implementing the policies set forth in the Constitution regarding history and cultural heritage, thus satisfying an important element of public office: the delegation of sovereign functions. It also follows that Laurel is a public officer. That he did not receive compensation is of no consequence. A salary is a usual but not a necessary criterion for determining the nature of the position. It is not conclusive. The salary is a mere incident and forms no part of the office. 

Where a salary or fees is annexed, the office is provided for it is a naked or honorary office, and is supposed to be accepted merely for the public good. Hence, the office of petitioner as NCC Chair may be characterized as an honorary office, as opposed to a lucrative office or an office of profit, i.e., one to which salary, compensation or fees are attached. It bears noting that under Section 3 (b) of Republic Act No. 6713 (The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees), one may be considered a public official whether or not one receives compensation, thus: Public Officials include elective and appointive officials and employees, permanent or temporary, whether in the career or non-career service including military and police personnel, whether or not they receive compensation, regardless of amount.

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