Court junks P627-M graft case vs gov after long delay
The Sandiganbayan has thrown out a P627-million graft case against Bohol Gov. Edgardo Chatto and six others because the Office of the Ombudsman failed to prosecute the complaint 15 years after it was filed.
The court said the delay in the prosecution of the case was “unreasonable” and “unjustified,” and violated the rights of the accused to a speedy trial.
The decision of the antigraft court’s First Division came three months after the Ombudsman recommended the indictment of Chatto, a member of the ruling Liberal Party.
Aside from Chatto, also absolved were incumbent Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos and provincial board members Isabelito Tongco, Concepcion Lim, Tomas Abapo Jr. and Felix Uy.
Chatto was Bohol vice governor at the time, while Relampagos was governor.
The court also lifted the hold-departure orders it had issued against Chatto and the others and directed the return of the cash bonds they posted for their temporary liberty.
Likewise cleared of criminal liability was private respondent Dennis Villareal, the president of private consortiums Salcon International Inc., Salcon Power Corp., Pure and Pam Inc., Salcon Philippine Inc. and Salcon Ltd.
They were indicted for violation of Republic Act No. 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for supposedly undervaluing the worth of the water and power utilities in the province by P627 million in 2000 for the purpose of privatization.
In dismissing the case against one of President Aquino’s allies in vote-rich Visayas region, the court said the Ombudsman violated the constitutional right of Chatto and the others to a speedy resolution of the case brought against them.
The Sandiganbayan also questioned the Ombudsman’s “arbitrariness” in reviving the case against the Bohol officials in August 2013, more than five years after then acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro had ordered the dismissal of the complaint.
The court noted that the individual who filed the original complaint did not seek a reconsideration of Casimiro’s order.
The current Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio Morales, approved the indictment of Chatto and his associates only on October last year, exactly 15 years after the complaint was first filed with the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas.
“(T)he court is convinced that the (Ombudsman) incurred inordinate and unjustified delay in the conduct of the preliminary investigation of this case in violation of the right of the accused to a speedy disposition of their case,” the court said in a six-page ruling it promulgated on Jan. 21.
The court said it did not see “any intervening event that will excuse” the Ombudsman to “stretch the proceedings to such unreasonable length.”
“In fact, the prosecution, in its opposition, has not even offered a plausible explanation for the delay,” it added.
The order was penned by Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, chair of the First Division, with Associate Justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Rafael Lagos concurring.
The court reminded the Ombudsman that respondents in criminal cases had “no duty to bring themselves to trial; the state has that duty, as well as the duty of ensuring that the trial is consistent with due process.”
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