Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Congress wants Sandiganbayan to focus on most significant graft cases, assign minor issues to RTCs, says Drilon

MANILA-Senate President Franklin M. Drilon wants the Sandiganbayan to concentrate its resources in trying the most significant graft cases, and to transfer jurisdiction to hear and decide “minor cases” to the Regional Trial Courts (RTC).

Drilon emphasized that the proposal is aimed “at decongesting the clogged dockets of the Sandiganbayan.”

“The list of pending cases at the country’s anti-graft court is not getting any shorter, given the strong resolve of the administration to purge the government of corrupt individuals and finally halt the culture of corruption in the bureaucracy,” said Drilon.

He said that about 50 percent of the pending cases in the Sandiganbayan are considered minor cases “which can actually be heard faster by the regional trial courts.”

The Senate chief pointed to some provisions of the law that “only contribute to the backlog” even if the men and women of the Sandiganbayan are trying their best to fast-track the judicial process.  

Drilon was referring to the existing law vesting in the Sandiganbayan the jurisdiction over all graft cases involving public officials occupying Salary Grade 27 and above regardless of the “nature and gravity” of the offense.

“As a consequence, the country’s anti-graft court has to deal with even the most minor of cases, thus further aggravating its workload,” said Drilon.

He added that it takes five years or even more for the Sandiganbayan to try and decide an average case.

The Senate chief thus said he will propose another amendment in the Sandiganbayan’s charter to allow the transfer of minor cases to the RTCs. Minor cases, he said, “are those where the information does not allege any damages or bribes, alleges damages or bribes that are either unquantifiable or not quantified, or alleges quantified damages or bribes amounting to P1 million only or less.”

He said the expertise and competence of a trial court judge is “more than sufficient to hear such kind of cases.”

Drilon has previously filed a bill which seeks to amend the proceedings of the Sandiganbayan, which will authorize a justice-designate to hear and receive evidence on behalf of a division. Presently, the Sandiganbayan is composed of five divisions, with three justices each; and the presence of the three justices is required to receive evidence and try a case, and there must be a unanimous vote to secure an acquittal or a conviction.

The Senate leader said he expects Senate Bill No. 470 to be sponsored on the floor by March.

"The most potent deterrent against the spread of corruption is the certainty of punishment. We must therefore strengthen current procedures and mechanisms to ensure the swift prosecution and resolution of anti-graft cases,” stressed Drilon.

“The speedy trial and disposition of graft cases would certainly erase any delusions by anyone that stealing from public funds is a crime that they can get away with," he added. 

Lastly, the Senate leader said the current Congress is committed to pass various legislation aimed at tightening anti-corruption safeguards, enshrining transparency and ensuring prompt delivery of justice. The package includes, among others, the Freedom of Information Law, Whistleblower Protection Act, amendments to the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program Act. 

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