MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) affirmed on Tuesday, January 7, the Sandiganbayan decision acquitting former justice secretary Hernando "Nani" Perez of robbery with intimidation in a case filed against him in the anti-graft court.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed in the Office of the Ombudsman by former Manila Congressman Mark Jimenez, accusing Perez of extorting US$2 million from him supposedly in exchange for not being named a co-defendant in the plunder case against former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada.
In a decision penned by Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, the High Court cited the violation by the Ombudsman of Perez’ constitutional right to due process and a speedy trial as grounds for dismissal.
Voting unanimously, the 5 justices of the SC First Division decided that the delay in resolving the criminal complaint against Perez was "inordinate" and "oppressive."
The fact finding investigation and preliminary investigation alone on Perez’ case by the Office of the Ombudsman lasted nearly 5 years and 5 months.
Perez was appointed Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo following People Power II, a massive demonstration which ended in the ouster of Estrada and the installation of Arroyo as the country's new chief executive.
Perez served as DOJ chief until January 2003 when a special panel was formed to investigate the sworn statement of Jimenez – then a close Estrada ally – implicating Perez in the alleged extortion.
The former cabinet official was also a private prosecutor in the botched impeachment trial against Estrada.
Estrada had previously disclosed that Perez offered him to leave the country twice after his ouster.
"That the rule of law was 'thrown out' to get a duly elected leader out of the way of the elite was further proven when I was offered twice by then Justice Secretary Nani Perez to leave the country, to go to any country of my choice, take anything that I wanted with me, and if I agreed, no charges would be filed against me. Clearly aware of the illegitimacy of Arroyo’s assumption into power, Perez offered me twice to leave the country. Twice I refused," wrote Estrada.
The extortion scandal involving Perez broke out in November 2002 when then Bulacan Representative Wilfrido Villarama delivered a privilege speech condemning an alleged bribery by a high-ranking official dubbed "Two Million Dollar Man."
Villarama later on clarified in a response letter to the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission – which conducted a probe following his speech – that he was referring to then DOJ Secretary Perez.
Also in November, Jimenez who was then Congressman of the country's capital, accused Perez of extorting $2 million from him in February 2001.
A preliminary investigation was ordered a month after the two privilege speeches. Four criminal charges have been filed against Perez in relation to the scandal, including extortion, graft, and falsification of documents for allegedly failing to disclose $1.7-million worth of foreign bank deposits in his 2001 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.
The unreasonable delay in the prosecution and the corresponding violation of the guarantee of a speedy trial was also cited by the anti-graft court in its previous dismissal decision on Perez’ robbery case. The charge was dismissed on Nov 20, 2008 by the Sandiganbayan's 2nd Division.
In affirming the Sandiganbayan's dismissal of the robbery charge, the SC First Division found no merit in the government's argument that the fact-finding investigation should not be factored in the computation of years rendered for the disposition of the case as this was only preparatory to the preliminary investigation.
The hair-splitting distinction, said the SC, defeats the constitutional right to a speedy trial. No sufficient justification for the delay was found.
The government also raised issues on possible grave abuse of discretion by the Sandiganbayan in its dismissal of Perez' other criminal cases, which the SC also decided to be without merit. – Rappler.com