Senate approves reforms for anti-graft court

MANILA, Philippines – Nearly two years after it was tainted by the pork barrel corruption scam, the Senate approved a measure that aims to address the notoriously slow pace of justice in the anti-graft court.

The Senate ratified on Wednesday, February 25, the bicameral conference committee report on the bill amending the Sandiganbayan law. It is mean to expedite the resolution of graft cases, which currently takes 9 to 10 years to complete.

The report consolidates the disagreeing provisions of Senate bill No. 2138 and House Bill 5283, and introduces the following changes to the
structure of the court and the way graft cases are handled:

The bill aims to decongest the clogged dockets of the anti-graft court, which tries graft and corruption cases against public officials.

The House must also ratify the report before President Benigno Aquino III can sign it into law.

The measure is a pet bill of Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senate justice committee chairperson Aquilino Pimentel III.

Pimentel earlier said that a World Bank study prompted the drafting of the bill. Quoting the report, the senator said, “The average pendency of cases before the Sandiganbayan was 6.6 years in 2002 but a decade later [in 2012] increased to 9.1 years.”

A former justice secretary, Drilon lamented the snail’s pace of case resolution. 

“This sorry rate of disposition reflects the heavily clogged dockets of the court, given that the cases filed before it has multiplied over the years. Such a drawn-out process of litigation is injustice itself,” Drilon said.

The Sandiganbayan Law or Presidential Decree No. 1606 of 1978 was last amended almost 20 years ago.

Changes won’t apply to 3 senators’ case

The Senate approved the measure as 3 of its members face plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan over the pork barrel scam, the corruption scandal that caused public trust in the chamber to plummet in 2014.

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr are in detention over allegations they funneled development funds meant for the poor to bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for multi-million peso kickbacks.

The amendments though cannot be applied to fast-track their cases.

The bill provides that the changes to the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction and voting requirement “shall only apply to cases arising from offenses committed after the effectivity of the measure.”

Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo said that the pork barrel scam case might take 10 years to resolve as it takes an average of 10.2 years to
process cases against government officials.

Drilon identified Marcelo as among those who helped him draft the bill.

“The most potent deterrent against the spread of corruption is the certainty of punishment and expeditiousness of the proceedings, by boosting the structural capability of our anti-graft mechanisms,” said Drilon. –