Gov't: Revive Chavit Singson's graft cases

MANILA, Philippines – Government lawyers are seeking to revive the graft cases against former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis "Chavit" Singson which the Sandiganbayan dismissed due to a 10-year delay in the Ombudsman's conduct of preliminary investigation.

In an August 29 motion made public Wednesday, September 17, government lawyers asked the court to reconsider Singson's acquittal and reinstate his 3 graft cases over the alleged diversion of P26 million ($593,811) in tobacco excise tax from his province to a private company.

"The reckoning of time it took for the Office of the Ombudsman to evaluate accused's case should not overshadow the substantial issue in this case which is the embezzlement of public funds by the erring public officials entrusted with such funds," the motion read.

The pleading was prepared by prosecutors Harry Caldino and Charmaine Calalang and is set to be resolved by the Sandiganbayan Third Division, after it received Singson's reply last September 9.

Singson was acquitted last August 20 due to a decade of delay from the time the complaint was filed against him before the Ombudsman in December 2002 until the time the cases were filed with the anti-graft court in July 2013. 

The Sandiganbayan found merit in the argument of the defense that the accused was deprived of his constitutional right to a speedy disposition of cases. (READ: Court acquits Chavit Singson of graft)

As in Singson's case, delays in preliminary investigation have jeopardized government cases in the past.

Not simple arithmetic

Prosecutors argued, however, that "a mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved would not be sufficient."

Singson must also prove that the delay prejudiced his rights as an accused, they said.

They argued that Singson was not "in jeopardy of being indicted" during the 10 years he waited.

While the charges against him was filed in 2002 before the Ombudsman, the probe only began in 2012 by virtue of an order from the investigating and prosecutorial body.

The cases were then filed by the Ombudsman in court less than a year after its probe.

"It must be noted that prior to the conduct of the preliminary investigation of this case in 2012, accused Singson had no case to speak of," argued the government. "He was not made the subject of an investigation or any proceeding." 

Tantamount to waiver of right

They also argued that Singson "failed to assert his right to speedy disposition," as he kept mum throughout the decade the complaint against him was supposedly idle.

The only time the former governor started asserting his right was when he filed in court the now-granted motion to quash the charges against him, raising the issue of delay he never complained about for 10 years.

"By such inaction, he is deemed to have waived his right to speedy disposition of his case and acquiesced to the delay which attended his case," the motion read.

A number of prosecutors at the time the complaint against Singson was lodged before the Ombudsman likewise handled him as a witness in the trial of former President now Manila mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

With the help of Singson's testimony, Estrada was convicted of plunder but later on pardoned by his succeeding president. (READ: No closure yet on Erap Estrada's plunder case)

Rehash

Prosecutors also claimed that "structural reorganization in existing prosecutorial agencies" is a valid cause of delay recognized by jurisprudence.

While there was no reorganization in the Ombudsman per se, they earlier explained "there might have been confusion on the handling officer" of the probe.

Changes in key officers "might have caused the office to overlook the complaint," they said earlier.

Singson, for his part, argued that the government's arguments have already been passed on by the court.

The prosecutors' justifications including the changes in key officers at the Ombudsman still does not explain a decade of delay, his lawyers argued in his September 9 reply. – Rappler.com