To cope with the limitations presented by the pandemic, Ombudsman Samuel Martires has asked his prosecutors to request the anti-graft court to cancel hearings and, while they’re at it, review their cases and see which they can drop.
“To assist the courts in unclogging its dockets, the concerned Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officers (GIPOs) and Assistant Special Prosecutors (ASPs) are instructed to review their cases and determine which can be recommended for withdrawal of the Information…,” Martires said in an office circular issued in June, a copy of which was recently obtained by Rappler.
Martires provided the following grounds for possible withdrawal of a case:
- Lack of evidence
- Lack of witnesses
- Prosecution’s evidence does not strongly support its position
- Accused has already been administratively penalized
- When any of the legal bases for the accused to file a motion to quash applies
This instruction was included in the circular that mainly asked prosecutors to file motions before the Sandiganbayan to cancel hearings from June to September 30, 2020.
This has been approved by the Sandiganbayan. Currently, only hearings for the purposes of arraignment and promulgations are being held. Some promulgations have been done online.
Rappler also obtained Martires’ most recent circular dated September 1, where he asked the prosecutors to ask for an extension of the cancelation of hearings, this time, until the end of the year.
“In light of the continuous threat of COVID-19 and the Office’s paramount consideration of the safety of its officials and employees, as well as parties, litigants and witnesses, and the court personnel, all GIPOs and APSs handling cases before the lower courts and the Sandiganbayan are hereby directed to file motions for the cancellation of their hearings scheduled in October until December 31, 2020,” said Martires.
The instruction to review cases which they could drop was no longer reiterated in the more recent circular.
Martires told Rappler on Wednesday, September 23, there weren’t “that many cases” which would fall under the categories he had identified.
“Hindi naman marami (Not many), and most of them are for purposes of reinvestigation,” the Ombudsman told Rappler in a text message.
The number of cases that the Office of the Ombudsman filed under Martires has also been dropping – only 198 cases in 2019, a 73% decline from the 739 cases filed in 2018, a year which he shared with Conchita Carpio Morales, who retired in July that year.
In January 2020, the Ombudsman filed only 8 cases. The Sandiganbayan has no data yet beyond January 2020.
Martires was a justice of the Sandiganbayan before he was appointed to the Supreme Court and then as Ombudsman in 2018. He has a 7-year term as Ombudsman.
No more lifestyle checks, SALNs restricted
In budget hearings before Congress, Martires admitted that the pandemic had severely affected their work, especially in investigations where it was essential for field personnel to gather documents and other information on the ground.
In the investigation into the alleged irregular handling by the Department of Health (DOH) of the pandemic, Martires said the process had been delayed because health officials kept asking for motions for extensions to submit to them the documents subpoenaed.
Martires also revealed he had stopped conducting lifestyle checks as he believes there are illogical provisions in the Code of Conduct of Public Officials which requires officials to live simple lives.
Under Martires, the Office of the Ombudsman has adopted policies that favor public officials such as a ban on appealing cases which prosecutors have already lost, and recalling sanctions made under the Solid Waste Act. – Rappler.com