The cases filed by the Office of the Ombudsman before the anti-graft court dipped to a new low at only 66, according to latest data from the Sandiganbayan.
It is the lowest annual output ever since 1979, beaten only by the record of Arroyo-time ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez who filed 93 cases in 2007.
It’s a steady decline since Ombudsman Samuel Martires took over in 2018. That year, which he shared with former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales who retired in July that year, the Office of the Ombudsman filed 739 cases. By 2019 under Martires, it was down to 198, and then dipped even further during the pandemic year of 2020 to 117.
In an earlier budget hearing at the House of Representatives, Martires said the Sandiganbayan data does not take into account the cases they file before regional trial courts (RTCs). Most of the cases the Ombudsman handles are filed before the Sandiganbayan, but if they involve a low-ranking official with a non-graft case, they can file the cases before RTCs.
“There were a lot of cases that went to the lower courts, there are also cases where we have to forego with the criminal aspect of the case and just continue with the administrative aspect of the case,” Martires told lawmakers during a budget hearing on September 9.
“Why our cases decreased is because we didn’t file many cases from one single act, unlike before, from one single act, four cases are filed against one official,” Martires said in Filipino, specifically referring to the now-dismissed cases against former Caloocan City Mayor Enrico “Recom” Echiverri.
The Office of the Ombudsman filed dozens of complaints against Echiverri stemming mostly from road projects.
“My example is if you kill a person, and before you killed them, you spat on them, you slapped them, you kicked them, you beat them, would you file murder, physical injuries, and slander? That should be absorbed in one,” said Martires in Filipino.
“We were talking of quantities before, I don’t want to talk about how many cases we file, I just want to talk about the quality of the cases we file,” said Martires in the same hearing.
In 2020, Martires issued a circular for prosecutors to do an inventory of which cases can be dropped from the Sandiganbayan. He said in the circular it was to “assist the courts in unclogging its dockets.”
Martires also confirmed that he had deactivated a 2017 memorandum of agreement by Morales and the Commission on Audit (COA) to automatically investigate audit observations that involve at least P100 million.
The pandemic also limited its operation in 2020.