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There’s a new Special Prosecutor in town

Lian Buan

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There’s a new Special Prosecutor in town
Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval has a say on who to recommend as state witness. He can also enter into plea bargaining agreements.

MANILA, Philippines – Retired Sandiganbayan Justice Edilberto Sandoval has been named by President Rodrigo Duterte as Special Prosecutor, the Office of the Ombudsman confirmed on Friday, July 7.

The Office of the Ombudsman said Sandoval assumed his position on Wednesday, July 5, ahead of an official announcement from Malacañang. Sandoval’s appointment papers have yet to be released.

Sources also said Sandoval paid a courtesy call on Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales last week. The Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) is under the Ombudsman.

Sandoval beat to the position the Acting Special Prosecutor (SP) and Duterte’s fraternity brother.

Shortlisted were Acting SP Omar Sagadal, lawyer Vernard Quijano of San Beda Law Batch 1988 and member of the now-prominent Lex Taleonis Fraternitas, trial court Judge Benjamin Pozon, Law Professor Arnold Bayobay and former Ombudsman lawyer Eusebio Avila.

Who is Sandoval?

Sandoval is the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s former presiding justice, named to the post in 2010 by former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.

Before being head of the Sandiganbayan, he served the anti-graft court for 14 years. He retired a year after, in 2011. 

Arguably the most controversial case Sandoval handled at the Sandiganbayan was the plunder case against retired Major General Carlos Garcia for supposedly converting millions of military funds into cash. His sons were later arrested at a US airport for smuggling dollars.

Sandoval previously chaired the Second Division of the anti-graft court and had voted to approve the bail motion of Garcia in 2010. He was outvoted however, and the division, by majority, rejected Garcia’s bail motion.

A year after, Garcia struck a plea bargain deal with the OSP, which allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser offense and serve shorter jail time.

After Sandoval retired in 2011, the new composition of his division eventually upheld the bargain deal. (READ: Court ‘war’ over Garcia plea bargain deal)

The justices who voted for the Garcia deal then were: Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel R. Martires, Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Alex Quiroz, and former justices Roland Jurado and Teresita Diaz-Baldos.

Sandoval was also part of one of the divisions which handled early graft cases against former vice president Jejomar Binay, filed when he was mayor of Makati but these never prospered at the anti-graft court.

SP powers

The Special Prosecutor has a fixed 7-year term, which means Sandoval will get to hold the position until 2024, or 2 years after Duterte’s term ends in 2022.

Sandoval, as head of the prosecution, can recommend to the Sandiganbayan who gets to be state witness. But it is still Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales who has the final say before any formal recommendation can reach the anti-graft court.

Morales retires in 2018.

It is also the OSP that conducts preliminary investigations and prosecutes criminal cases which are within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

The Sandiganbayan has been hitting prosecutors for investigative delays and has dismissed more than 70 cases since 2016 on the basis of the inordinate delay principle.

Sandoval as SP will now go head-to-head with the court he served for many years.

Sandoval also has the power to enter into plea bargaining agreements.

Sandoval replaces Wendell Barreras-Sulit who was the SP in the Garcia plea bargain deal. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.