Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines - Former government counsel Agnes Devanadera's motion joins a growing list of officials invoking a common defense at the anti-graft court: that charges against them should be dismissed because the Office of the Ombudsman took too long investigating.
Devanadera, one of the 19 government officials charged for a P6 billion debt agreement that was junked by the Supreme Court (SC), was supposed to be arraigned on Thursday, April 20, at the Sandiganbayan.
But the court granted her request to defer arraignment and hear her newest motion first – an urgent motion that asks the court to acquit her because of inordinate delay at the Ombudsman level.
The charges stem 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.
Devanadera also served as justice secretary during the term of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Following the steps
At least 12 of Devanadera's co-accused were acquitted earlier this month because the Sandiganbayan ruled that the 6-year-long investigation violated the defendants' rights to a speedy disposition of cases. (READ: Court drops P6B graft case, blames Ombudsman for delay)
Of the 19 accused, only those 12 invoked their rights against inordinate delay. Devanadera had earlier filed a motion for reconsideration contesting evidence.
This time, Devanadera followed suit with her own urgent motion invoking her right against delay.
Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg told Devanadera's lawyer during Thursday's hearing: “Are you a Johnny-come lately?”
The justices nevertheless postponed her arraignment to give way to hearing her urgent motion. A new schedule is set for June 8.
Radstock deal timeline
The root of the issue goes way back in the 1970s when PNCC borrowed P2 billion from Japanese firm Marubeni. The debt was not carried over to PNCC's books when it became a state agency.
In 2001, Radstock, which bought out Radstock's claims in the debt, secured a court order to compel PNCC to pay. The following years saw negotiations between PNCC and Radstock that ended up in a debt agreement to pay P6 billion.
Devanadera supposedly approved it.
The agreement was struck down in 2009 by the SC because the government would lose too much from a deal that did not have appropriations in the law. SC tagged it as a corrupt deal.
The SC decision paved way for the revival of the graft charges before the Office of the Ombudsman in 2010. There was an earlier complaint filed in 2006.
For the Sandiganbayan, even if they begin counting from 2010 – the 6 years that lapsed from then to 2016 when the Ombudsman finally filed charges in court is still considered inordinate delay.
The Office of the Ombudsman has asked the High Court to order the Sandiganbayan to temporarily stop using the inordinate delay doctrine in deciding cases. (READ: Ombudsman asks SC to strike down ‘delay’ doctrine)
According to Ombudsman data, from 2015 to 2016 alone, 44 public officials in 24 cases were acquitted of corruption charges because of the inordinate delay doctrine. The Ombudsman fears it may be abused by officials.
The Ombudsman's petition is still pending at the SC. – Rappler.com