Sandiganbayan justice supports bid to strike down inordinate delay doctrine

MANILA, Philippines – Associate Justice Efren Dela Cruz of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan said on Friday, July 28, he supports the bid of the Office of the Ombudsman to strike down the doctrine that allows for the dismissal of cases because of investigative delays.

"We are hoping that the said decision will be reversed," Dela Cruz said referring to the inordinate delay doctrine grounded on the constitutional right of a respondent to a speedy disposition of cases.

The Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan have clashed over this issue, with the anti-graft court dismissing 79 cases – among them cases against officials implicated in the fertilizer fund scam – from January 2016 to May 2017. (READ: Major corruption cases crumble as Ombudsman Morales races against time)

The Ombudsman has filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking to revisit, if not reverse, the doctrine.

"We are hoping that the decision will be reconsidered," Justice Dela Cruz said. The Associate Justice attended a symposium on Friday organized by the Office of the Ombudsman and attended also by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.

Dela Cruz' remarks prompted Morales to say after: "I hope you join the Supreme Court soon."

The SC petition also asks that the anti-graft court temporarily suspend using the delay doctrine while the High Court resolves it. Morales has also written a letter to Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang for her consideration on the issue.

But according to Dela Cruz, until the SC issues a ruling, the court's "hands are tied" and will continue to dismiss cases based on delay if it is warranted.

"We have no choice but to follow," Dela Cruz said. (READ: Ombudsman defends 'delayed' cases)

Inordinate Delay

The inordinate delay doctrine has been successfully used by public officials to have their corruption cases dismissed. In May, former government corporate counsel Agnes Devanadera retracted her motion to quash based on evidence and instead filed a motion to dismiss based on delay.

The strategy worked because a month later she was acquitted of graft in a P6 billion corruption case.

The conflict roots from the backtracking decisions of the SC when it comes to the delay rule.

What the Ombudsman wants is to exclude the fact-finding investigation from the official count of the investigating years since, as they said, fact-finding investigation is "confidential in nature."

In 2001, the SC issued a ruling now known as the Dela Peña doctrine which states that the determination of delay should be qualitative and not quantitative.

But in 2013, in dismissing the $2-million extortion case against former justice secretary Hernando "Nani" Perez, the SC said delay is determined by a mathematical determination with the count including the fact-finding level.

The Ombudsman has filed a motion before the SC to refer their case to the en banc, because only a court sitting en banc can amend or strike down doctrines.

On Friday, Morales said there is no update yet on the motion to refer to en banc.

The Ombudsman claims the delay doctrine is being abused by erring officials and maybe costing the government in stolen money that will remain unaccounted for if cases continue to be dismissed.

In 2015, the Ombudsman successfully got rid of the Aguinaldo or condonation doctrine which is also used by officials to have their cases dismissed.

Under the 56-year-old doctrine, the administrative offenses of an elected official are already deemed forgiven when the public decides to re-elect him or her for another term. SC struck it down in November 2015 when former Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr used it to try to have his graft case dropped. – 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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