House oks on second reading a measure to strengthen Sandiganbayan

By , on December 13, 2014

Photo by Robert Viñas / PCOO
Photo by Robert Viñas / PCOO

MANILA — The House Committees on Appropriations and on Justice have successfully defended a committee report that will further strengthen the functional and structural organization of the Sandiganbayan to enhance the public accountability weapon of the government against graft and corruption as it passes on second reading.

The substitute bill approved by the Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro T. Ungab and the Committee on Justice chaired by Iloilo Rep. Niel C. Tupas, Jr. provides for the increase in the number of Sandiganbayan Divisions from the present five to seven; transfer of the so-called minor cases to the Regional Trial Courts so the Sandiganbayan can focus on most significant and most complicated cases against public officials and render judgment swiftly but judiciously; and modifies the voting requirement for promulgation of judgment.

The bill substitutes House Bill 139 authored by Cavite Rep. Francis Gerald A. Abaya; HB 3872 by Marikina City Rep. Romero S. Quimbo; HB 3992 by Reps. Rufus B. Rodriguez (2nd District, Cagayan de Oro City), and his younger brother Maximo B. Rodriguez (Party-list, Abante Mindanao); and HB 4108 by Tupas.

Tupas said that as currently structured, the Sandiganbayan completes the proceedings of a case, from the filing of information to the promulgation of judgment, in about seven years.

Such a drawn out process of litigation undermines the objective for the Sandiganbayan was created and reinforces the century old legal maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied” according to Tupas.

Abaya said the Sandiganbayan played a critical role in fighting graft and corruption. Any delay in the resolution of anti-graft cases negatively impacts on its ability to deter others to commit similar acts of corruption.

He said the sheer volume of cases being handled by the Sandiganbayan made it impossible to promptly dispose of cases. As of Dec. 31, 2006, he said the number of cases pending before the Sandiganbayan was 2,514. He said the Sandiganbayan presently has only five Divisions, and in most instances hold only two hearings for every case every two months.

Quimbo said perhaps one of the legal loopholes, which inadvertently aided corruption in the country, was the snail-paced prosecution and adjudication of cases, particularly in the Sandiganbayan.

“The bill is an ameliorative approach in declogging the dockets of the Sandiganbayan with the least cost to the government,” said Quimbo.

The elder Rodriguez said the present composition of the Sandiganbayan could not handle all the cases that were being filed.

“This is unfortunate not only because the Sandiganbayan is overworked but also because it means that more and more government officials are being accused of graft and corruption,” said Rodriguez.

The substitute bill seeks to amend Section 3 of Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended, which created the Sandiganbayan.

The amendment provides that the Sandiganbayan shall sit in seven divisions of three justices each. The first five divisions shall be stationed in the Metro Manila while the Sixth Division in Cebu City for cases coming from the Visayas Region, and the Seventh Division in General Santos City for cases coming from the Mindanao Region.

It further provides that two justices shall constitute a quorum for sessions in divisions. That when the required quorum for the particular division cannot be had due to the legal disqualification or temporary incapacity of a member or a vacancy therein, the Presiding Justice may designate a member of another division to be determined by strict rotation on the basis of the reverse order of precedence, to sit as a special member of said division with all the rights and prerogatives of a regular member of said division in the trial and determination of a case or cases assigned thereto.

The substitute bill also seeks the amendment of Section 4 of PD 1606, as amended, so that the Sandiganbayan shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction in all cases involving: Violations of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act, and Republic Act No. 1379, and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code; Other offenses or felonies whether simple or complex with other crimes committed by the concerned public officials and employees in relation to their office; Civil and criminal cases filed pursuant to and in connection with Executive Order Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 14-A, issued in 1986.

Furthermore, the Regional Trial Courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction where the information: Does not allege any damage or bribe; Alleges damage or bribe that are unquantifiable; or Alleges damage or bribe arising from the same or closely related transactions or acts not exceeding P1 million.

Subject to the rules promulgated by the Supreme Court, the cases falling under the jurisdiction of the RTC under this Section shall be tried in a Judicial Region other than where the official holds office.

The bill also provides for the amendment of Section 5 of PD 1606, as amended, so that when there are two or more cases ready for trial on a particular day, the Chairperson of a division shall designate a member to hear and receive evidence and resolve all incidents arising therefrom for that day.

All three members of a division shall deliberate on a case submitted for judgment or final order. The concurrence of two Justices in a division shall be necessary to render judgment or final order.