Graft case vs pork scam witness dismissed due to Ombudsman delays
The Sandiganbayan has dismissed the graft charge over the fertilizer fund scam against pork barrel scam witness Marina Sula due to the Ombudsman’s inordinate delay in investigating the case.
In a resolution promulgated Sept. 11, the antigraft court Fifth Division said the Office of the Ombudsman committed unreasonable delays in investigating Sula’s graft case.
Sula is a co-accused of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, whose charge in this case was also dismissed due to inordinate delay.
Reyes, however, faces a spate of graft cases over the Malampaya fund scam. He was recently convicted for graft and sentenced to six to eight years in prison for giving unwarranted benefit to a mining firm, which was granted small-scale mining permits despite exceeding the allowable extraction limit.
The court said it must dismiss the case as it did in the cases of Sula’s co-accused Reyes, Department of Agriculture’s regional technical director Rodolfo Guieb and regional executive director Dennis Araullo.
The court gave credence to Sula’s defense that the Ombudsman slept on the case since the criminal complaint was filed by Task Force Abono in April 2011, seven years since the offense was committed.
While the prosecution said there was no delay because it gave Sula ample time to refute the charges, Sula submitted her counter-affidavit and requests for extension in 2011, but nothing happened to the case until 2013 when the complaint was amended.
The graft information was only filed before the Sandiganbayan on Sept. 2016, after the indictment was approved by the Ombudsman on Sept. 2015.
“(A)s can be gleaned from the prosecution’s own timeline, the time allowed for respondent’s filing of their counter-affidavits and motions for reconsideration, at most, only amounts to six months, all in all,” the court said.
“For large stretches of time, most notably from Aug. 24, 2011 to April 4, 2014, the case languished with the Ombudsman… From the foregoing, by itself, the time that this case spent pending preliminary investigation with the Ombudsman already reeks of inordinate delay,” it added.
The court also belied the prosecution’s claim that there was no prejudice caused against Sula, saying the prosecution “undermined” the right to speedy disposition of cases, and “belittled” the prejudice caused against the accused.
“The psychological, financial and emotional burden on the accused to be a respondent to a criminal complaint for so many years, likewise, cannot be taken lightly,” the court said.
Due to inordinate delay, Reyes was also cleared of the criminal charge of causing undue injury to government when he failed to review the accreditation of the nongovernment organization Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation (Mamfi), which was supposedly not eligible to implement the fertilizer project and was later found to be bogus.
Sula was implicated as president of Mamfi, which was allegedly giving undue benefit in the procurement for 3,240 bottles of liquid fertilizers worth P3.25 million conducted without public bidding in 2004.
Sula is a witness in the plunder and graft trial of former senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, and former representatives implicated in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
Sula is Napoles’ property custodian.
Reyes is detained as he faces trial for the 2011 murder of Palawan broadcaster Gerry Ortega.
The dismissal of Sula’s case due to inordinate delay adds to the list of criminal cases junked by the Sandiganbayan due to this doctrine now legally questioned by the Ombudsman before the Supreme Court. je
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