Sandigan disposes slightly more cases but faces heavier workload
Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, in an interview with reporters, cited that the eleven-month total of disposed cases as of November has already exceeded the total number in 2015, amid the increase of court divisions to seven from the previous five.
Tang noted that the year-to-date total of 351 is already 75 (or 27%) more than the 276 cases that were decided for the entirety of 2015.
“I think before the end of the year, there are still cases to be decided. Hopefully, this will still increase before the end of the year,” she said.
Yet, court statistics showed that Sandiganbayan’s increased disposal of cases still could not keep up with a deluge in newly-filed ones that gave the court its heaviest load since 2000.
1,250 new cases were filed from January to November 2016, a 250% jump from the 2015 total of 357. December 2016 figures are yet to be counted.
All in all, Sandiganbayan had a case load of 4,515 from January to November 2016, compared to 3,482 in 2015. This is the highest such figure since 1995’s load of 5,192 cases; the figure did not breach the 4,000 mark since 2000.
Subtracting the aforementioned number of disposed cases leads to a backlog of 4,164 pending cases as of November 2016, compared to the 3,206 unresolved by the end of 2015.
This marked the third year in a row that the Sandiganbayan’s disposal rate failed to reach double digits. As of November, the rate is 7.77%, compared to 7.93% in 2015, 8.22% in 2014.
Before the pork barrel scam cases reached the courts and the accused lawmakers’ legal maneuvers slowed down proceedings, the court logged a disposal rate of 14.36%.
The disposal rate last broke 20% in 2008, when 22.85% of the case load was disposed of. In the court’s 38-year history, the only time the court resolved more cases than were left pending was in 1995, when it achieved a disposal rate of 51.08%.
Broken down by court division, records showed that the Fourth Division disposed of the highest number of cases so far, having resolved 86. The Fifth and Second Divisions were not far behind, having disposed of 73 and 71 cases, respectively.
The First and Third Divisions each disposed of 52 and 45 cases, respectively. The newly-created Sixth and Seventh Divisions disposed of 17 and seven cases apiece
Year of the vacancies
While Tang agreed that the creation of the Sixth and Seventh Divisions helped matters, she said that the successive vacancies left by three justices who retired in 2016 should not impact the court’s capacity to deal with the cases.
Second Division Justices Teresita Diaz-Baldos and Napoleon Inoturan, and Fourth Division Justice Jose Hernandez retired on July 22, August 1, and November 22, respectively. President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointment of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 79 Judge Bernelito Fernandez to replace Baldos was only announced this month, while the two other seats remain vacant.
Tang said that other justices are designated for the meantime so the cases continue to be disposed of.
“In those divisions where there are vacancies, I always designate a so-called warm body, who is the substitute for the meantime so the court or division can function even in the absence of one of the members. Sometimes, even in the absence of two members,” she said.
This explains how the so-called Special Second Division can still issue its recent rulings, such as the dismissal of the plunder case of former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante over the P723-million fertilizer fund scam and the criminal charges against Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian in connection with the Kentex fire tragedy. Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Michael Frederick Musngi of the newly-created divisions served as the Second Division’s two other members.
As for Fernandez, Tang said he went on leave to “wind up some matters” first at the QC RTC. “But, he will be officially reporting on Jan. 9,” she said.
Tang also expressed hope that the Sandiganbayan’s 21-member roster would finally be complete “hopefully, by February,” after the Judicial and Bar Council has submitted its shortlist to Mr. Duterte.
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