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Sandiganbayan divisions disagree on inordinate delay in Echiverri cases

MANILA, Philippines – Two divisions of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan had different decisions on the argument of inordinate delay even if the period of time in question and the facts of the cases are more or less the same.

One Sandiganbayan division ruled to acquit former Caloocan mayor Enrico “Recom” Echiverri due to delay, while another upheld the charges against former official, who was charged for dozens of corruption cases over anomalous infrastructure projects when he was local chief executive.

 

Echiverri was earlier acquitted in one case based on merit. The Sandiganbayan's 1st Division cited the Commission on Audit (COA) which said that procurement laws were not violated when the city project proceeded without the approval of the Sangguniang Panglungsod (SP).

Echiverri then came around to using the inordinate delay argument – a popular doctrine for defendants that has worked more notably in the last two years.

The logic is, if the Office of the Ombudsman took too long investigating, then the constitutional right of an accused to a speedy disposition is violated, and the cases must therefore be dismissed.

1st Division ruling

In separate resolutions dated June 20  and July 27, the Sandiganbayan's 1st Division acquitted Echiverri in two more corruption cases, ruling that the Ombudsman's investigation that stretched for over two years constituted inordinate delay.

In both rulings penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg, with concurrences from Associate Justices Efren dela Cruz and Edgardo Caldona, the 1st Division said that based on Sections 3 and 4 of Rule 112 of the Rules of Court, the investigative period of both cases constitute delay.

In both cases, it took the Ombudsman from two years and 5 months to two years and 11 months from the filing of the complaint to the filing of charges in court. 

The Rules of Court provides the period, usually 10 days, within which the case must prosper in the entire preliminary investigation, and that includes the filing of counter affidavits and others.

“The more than two years pendency of the preliminary investigation at the Office of the Ombudsman should already be considered unreasonable delay since the timelines in resolving preliminary investigations provided in Sections 3 and 4 of Rule 112 is only 10 days in every phase,” the 1st Division said.

It added, “The fact that cases are filed against the accused and pending before this Court where they are made to defend themselves, secure services of paid counsels and spend for their bail is enough trouble and prejudice to them.”

HOW THE COURT DECIDED. Two divisions of Sandiganbayan had different rulings on the cases of former Caloocan mayor Enrico u0022Recomu0022 Echiverri.

A different decision

However, it was a different story at the 6th Division.

The length of the Ombudsman's investigation is almost the same – two years and 4 months – but the court junked Echiverri’s motion to dismiss.

At the onset, Associate Justices Sarah Jane Fernandez and Karl Miranda voted to dismiss the motion, but Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi dissented.

Sandiganbayan rules require that all decisions in regular divisions be unanimous, so in case of dissent, two more justices are picked by raffle to break a tie. Associate Justices Alex Quiroz and Rafael Lagos joined the majority, and dismissed the motion.

In the decision dated July 26, 2018, the Special 6th Division said that two years is not considered delay, and even if it is, it is not considered unreasonable.

Based on a Supreme Court decision, the Special 6th Division recognized that at the Office of the Ombudsman, “naturally, disposition of those cases would take some time.”

“It does not appear that such prejudice was brought about by inordinate delay in the proceedings, but rather, by the number of cases filed against them,” said the Special 6th Division.

The prosecution mentioned in all cases that the respondents did not raise inordinate delay in their first appeals before the Sandiganbayan. The Office of the Ombudsman had expressed concern that more and more defendants were jumping on the inordinate delay bandwagon to have their cases dismissed.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires said he has come up with a solution to inordinate delay, and he would that prioritize this when he officially starts office on Wednesday, August 1. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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