Monday, January 25, 2016

Sandiganbayan dismisses Rene-Edgar-Salcon
JV graft case, says delay deprives their rights

The First Division of the Sandiganbayan grants the separate motions filed by accused former Governor Rene Relampagos, former Vice Governor Edgar Chatto and former Board members for allegedly striking a deal grossly disadvantageous to the government.

But instead of going into the merits of the case, the Sandiganbayan took to the time which the Ombudsman spent in their preliminary investigation of the case and ruled that the delay has denied the accused of their constitutional right to a speedy disposition of their case.

In a resolution promulgated January 21, 2016, Sandiganbayan associate justice and chairperson Efren N. dela Cruz, the Hold Departure Order (HDO) issued by the courts against the accused are lifted and set aside, while it also released the bonds the accused posted for their temporary liberty.

Sandiganbayan associate justices Rodolfo A. Ponferrada and Rafael R. Lagos concurred with the promulgation which accused also shared to the local media during a breakfast press conference at the Metrocenter Hotel, two days after the resolution came out, January 23. 

On this development, counsel of the accused Atty Lord Marapao IV declared that all the issues pertaining to Salcon has been laid to rest now, and there is nothing left to resolve.

This will also benefit in equal footing all others who were consequently charged in the case, Marapao bared, noting that even if he was defending Relampagos and Chatto, the dismissal also benefits others accused. 

The anti-graft court for government officials and employees including those in government operated and controlled corporations took the claims of the accused that the preliminary investigation of the case was attended with capricious, vexatious, oppressive and unjustified delay violative of their constitutional right to a speedy disposition of cases.

It may be recalled that in October 25, 2000, private citizens filed a case to the Office of the Ombudsman for the Visayas against Bohol Provincial leaders led by Gov. Relampagos, Vice Governor Edgar Chatto.

Also included in the suit were Board members Isabelito Tongco, Arnold Lungay, Concepcion Lim, Tomas Abapo Jr., Felix Uy and the other provincial legislators, Salcon head Dennis Villareal and the Joint Venture Bids and Awards Committee.

Four months later, on February 22, 2001, graft investigation officer Sara Jo Vergara of the Ombudsman prepared a dismissal resolution of the complaint for lack of merit. 

Graft Investigation Officer Virginia Palanca Santiago reviewed and approved the resolution. This was recommended then for approval by the Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Primo Miro prior to the approval by then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto a month later, or by March 21, 2001.

But it took seven years, or by July 2, 2013 when acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro approved the dismissal of the complaint.

Five years later, Assistant Special prosecutor Faye B. Isaguirre-Singson prepared a resolution reversing the dismissal of the complaint. It would take over a year after, August 22, 2014 when Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved Singson’s reversal resolution and the filing of information from the accused. 

One year and two months later, the subject information was filed by the accused through counsels, before the Sandiganbayan.

The accused, through separate counsels, argue that there is no probable cause to charge them of the violation of section 3 of the Republic Act 3019 or the Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, noting that the dismissal of the case in question had long attained finality when the private complainant did not question the dismissal.

On the other hand, co-accused Dennis Villareal argued through counsel that the Ombudsman reversed the case because, as alleged, only a photocopy of the dismissal was signed and was not even attached to the records of the case. On the other hand, Villareal asserted that there are indications that Acting Ombudsman Casimiro may not have been duly designated to approve the dismissal. 

On this, accusers also stress that no matter what, these above reasons can not disturb the finality and immutability of the 2001 resolution. 

Accused argue that the office of the Ombudsman committed inordinate delay in the resolution of the complaint against the accused.

The criminal complaint was filed on October 25, 2000 and terminated only on October 23, 2015 with the filing of the information before the court, which means it took the Office of the Ombudsman 15 long years to conclude the preliminary investigation, the resolution stated. (rac/PIA-7/Bohol)

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