Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Drilon, Pimentel sponsor amendments to the Sandiganbayan charter

MANILA-Senate President Franklin M. Drilon and Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III introduced a proposed measure Wednesday that would strengthen the current structure of the Sandiganbayan, a move which is seen to decongest the clogged dockets of the country’s anti-graft court.  

In his sponsorship speech, Drilon noted the dismal disposition of graft cases at the Sandiganbayan. “The Sandiganbayan completes the proceedings of a case – from the filing of the information to promulgation of judgment – in about seven years. This sorry rate of disposition reflects the heavily clogged dockets of the court, given that the cases filed before it has multiplied over the years. Such a drawn-out process of litigation is injustice itself,” ephasized Drilon.  

“This inability to swiftly achieve the objective for which it was created can be attributed to the anti-graft court’s systemic limitations, considering that it has nearly been two decades since the Sandiganbayan Law has undergone legislative amendment,” he stressed.

Senate Bill No. 2138, known as the “An Act Further Amending Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended” seeks to introduce three innovations in the anti-graft court:

1)   The bill seeks to introduce the concept of “Justice-Designate” that will allow one justice to hear receive evidence, and amend the quorum requirement from three justices in a division to two;

2)   The bill seeks to transfer the jurisdiction over “minor cases” to the Regional Trial Courts; and

3)   The bill seeks to modify the voting requirement for promulgation of judgment to allow the concurrence of at least two members of a division, instead of three, to render a decision.

“The objective of this bill is to improve the disposition of cases in the Sandiganbayan, our country’s specialized court tasked to effectively and swiftly resolve corruption cases against erring government officials and employees,” Pimentel explained.

Under the bill, an individual member of a division is allowed to hear and receive evidence on behalf of the two other members of his or her 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.

The bill also proposes the transfer of jurisdiction over cases that are classified as “minor” to the Regional Trial Courts. The measure qualifies “minor cases” as those where the information does not allege any damage or bribe; those that allege damage or bribe that are unquantifiable; or those that allege damage or bribe arising from the same or closely related transactions or acts not exceeding P1 million.

“If we are to outrun graft and corruption, it is imperative that we resuscitate and recondition our existing prosecutorial and adjudicatory institutions against this opponent,” said the Senate chief.

“It is imperative for us to introduce and make the necessary revisions in the Court’s structure to ensure that justice is delivered, with haste and without delay,” stressed Pimentel.

Lastly, SBN 2138 seeks to modify the voting requirement for promulgation of judgment, by allowing at least the concurrence of two members to render a judgment. Under the Section 5 of the Sandiganbayan Law, the unanimous vote of all three members in a division is necessary for the rendition of final order. Failure to reach unanimity shall require the constitution of a special division of five members.

“The most potent deterrent against the spread of corruption is the certainty of punishment and expeditiousness of the proceedings, by boosting the structural capability of our anti-graft mechanisms,” said Drilon.

Drilon concluded that with these cutting edge proposals, the Senate is confident that the Sandiganbayan will be able to catch up with the pace of graft and corruption in public institution. 

Senate backs free text-message warning alert bill, says Drilon

MANILA-The Senate expressed its support of a bill that will legally compel telephone companies to disseminate early warnings of disasters, at no added cost to the consumer or the government, said Senate President Franklin M. Drilon.

The Senate leader said the passage of House Bill No. 353 which mandates telecommunication companies (Telcos) to send free mobile alerts in the event of natural and man-made disasters and calamities “would help achieve the main objectives of disaster preparedness which are to lessen the impact of the typhoon and ultimately save lives.”

HBN 353 on Monday was favorably endorsed by the Senate committee on public services chaired by Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., with some amendments introduced by Drilon.

In his amendments, Drilon sought to penalize any telephone company which will fail or refuse to send out warning alerts, with a fine of P1 million to P10 million, or a revocation of its legislative franchise.

“Having been ranked as the third most disaster-prone country in the world, it is imperative for the Philippines to put up a mechanism to efficiently disseminate early warnings of typhoons,” explained Drilon.

In 2013, the 2012 World Disaster Report placed the Philippines third among all countries which recorded the highest exposure to natural calamities.

The Senate leader said the government should be able to employ the most efficient and fastest way in sending out alerts in the event of an impending calamity such as a tropical storm, tsunami or earthquake.

Under the bill, the alerts shall consist of updated information from the relevant agencies, and shall be sent directly to the mobile phone subscribers located near and within the affected areas.

He said sending out alerts through mobile phones could be the most efficient tool given the fact that the Philippines recorded the highest number of cellular phone users in the world.

According to Business Monitor International (BMI) study, the Philippines is expected to reach 117 million mobile subscribers by 2016, noted Drilon.

“As the texting capital of the world, we can greatly use the instantaneous, flexible and reliable short message service (SMS) technology as a potent tool during disaster situations - one that is intimately understood and easily accessed by millions of Filipinos who have cellphones," emphasized Drilon. 

Lastly, Drilon lauded the telcos for being cooperative towards the passage of the bill. He said Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba of the National Telecommunications Commission relayed during the committee hearing that the proposed measure sits well with the telephone companies, as sending out text message disaster alerts does not require additional costs on their operations. 


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