MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan dropped yet another multi-billion-peso graft case due to investigative delays on the part of the Ombudsman's office.
The Sandiganbayan First Division on Tuesday, May 16, dropped a P6-billion graft case against former government corporate counsel Agnes Devanadera, granting her motion to quash filed only in April.
The court ruled in favor of Devanadera, who said that the 6 years it took the Ombudsman prosecutors to investigate the case is a violation of her right to a speedy disposition of cases.
Devanadera's motion to quash based on inordinate delay was a belated move on her part. She initially filed a motion based on insufficient evidence while her co-accused filed their motions based on delay, hitting the 6-year-long investigation of the Ombudsman.
The Sandiganbayan cleared 12 of Devanadera's co-accused for finding the 6-year period an inordinate delay.
Seeing that, Devanadera followed suit, prompting First Division Justice Geraldine Faith Econg to ask in open court: “Are you a Johnny-come lately?”
The charges stemmed from a debt agreement struck by Philippine National Construction Corporation (PNCC) and British lending firm Radstock, which had the go-signal from Devanadera, acting in her capacity as government corporate counsel at the time.
Radstock bought the rights to PNCC's debt to Japanese firm Marubeni which ballooned to P17 billion. A debt agreement was firmed up to pay only P6 billion.
But the Supreme Court (SC) nullified the deal, saying it has no basis in the Constitution, and would cost the government too much. The graft complainant, former PNCC president Luis Sison, said that the respondents were "quietly stealing" the P6 billion.
The first complaint was filed in 2006 and re-filed in 2010, or one year after the SC nullified the deal.
Even counting out the 4-year gap in the original filing and the re-filing, the Sandiganbayan said the 6 years it took for the Ombudsman to conduct the preliminary investigation was an inordinate delay.
Ombudsman prosecutors tried to block Devanadera's motion by saying that the former government corporate counsel "never asserted her right to a speedy disposition of her case except when this Court dismissed the cases against the other accused."
"She can no longer seek the protection of the law to benefit from the adverse effects of her failure to raise the issue at first instance," the prosecutors said, as quoted in the 12-page decision of the court's 1st division.
This does not matter, according to Sandiganbayan.
"It bears stressing that the assertion or non-assertion of the right to a speedy disposition of one's case is just one of the factors to consider in determining whether or not the right has been violated. Corollarily, the accused's non-assertion of his right does not ipso facto rules out the inordinate delay," the court said.
The decision was penned by Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz, with concurrences from Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Bernelito Fernandez.
As of April, the Office of the Ombudsman has recorded 27 corruption cases dismissed by the anti-graft court this year alone.
On May 8, the anti-graft court dismissed the P23.5 million fertilizer fund scam case against detained former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes because of delay.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has filed a petition before the SC seeking the reversal of the inordinate delay doctrine. (READ: Ombudsman asks SC to strike down ‘delay’ doctrine)
In an earlier press conference, Ombudsman prosecutors defended themselves by saying that corruption is a difficult case to investigate, which is the reason for the extended probe periods.
Morales meanwhile also wrote Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang to suspend the application of the delay doctrine. The anti-graft court has evidently not heeded the Ombudsman's request.
Morales also took a swipe at Sandiganbayan for the pork barrel scam cases which have yet to formally start trial.
"Hindi ba 'yan inordinate delay? Three years 'yan," Morales said in April. (Isn't that also inordinate delay? That's 3 years.) – Rappler.com