The measly number of Divisions and Judges in the Sandiganbayan or the anti-graft court has resulted in rampant graft and corruption in the country.
Rep. Francis Gerald Abaya of Cavite made the argument under his House Bill 139 which increases the number of Sandiganbayan Divisions to 15 from the existing five, amending Presidential Decree 1606 which established the Sandiganbayan.
Abaya cited that there are at least 2,514 pending cases before the Sandiganbayan as of 2006 alone—a figure that resulted in Sandiganbayan holding only two hearings for every case every two months.
“The sheer volume of cases being handled by the Sandiganbayan makes it impossible to promptly dispose of the new cases. This sad reality of heavily clogged dockets and the very limited number of justices and judges makes the trial of erring public officials to take years to complete. Meanwhile, graft and corruption activities continue to go unhampered,” Abaya, the brother of Secretary Joseph Abaya of the Department of Transportation and Communications, said in his explanatory note.
Under Abaya’s proposal, the Sandiganbayan will be composed of 15 divisions composed of one Presiding Justice and 14 other Associate Justices to be appointed by the President. The Sandiganbayan’s 15 divisions will then be manned by three justices each.
The First to Thirteenth Division of the Sandiganbayan will hold sessions in Metro Manila for the trial and determination of cases filed from the Geographical Region of Luzon, including those in the National Capital Region.
The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Divisions of Sandiganbayan, for their part, will hold sessions in Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro City, respectively, for the trial and determination of cases filed with it from the geographical reasons of Visayas and Mindanao.
The Sandiganbayan is crucial in the Aquino administration’s campaign against corruption, especially at this time when President Aquino’s satisfaction ratings have dipped due to the government probe on the P10 billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) fund mess, as well as the P900 million Malampaya Fund—a total of P10.9 billion worth of taxpayers’ money which allegedly went to the pockets of a number of lawmakers and the bogus nongovernment organizations owned by Janet Napoles.
The Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation have filed plunder and graft-related complaints against at least 62 public officials and private citizens before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the PDAF and Malampaya Fund mess, but Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales is yet to file charges against these people before the Sandiganbayan.
“With increased number of divisions and justices, the Sandiganbayan would be able to hold continuous trials. At the onset, the continuous trials [resulting from increased Sandiganbayan divisions]would require greater preparation by prosecutors and defense counsels, but this would eventually reduce the amount of time taken for the trial and reduce the possibility of fading memories on the part of the witnesses and the opportunity for interference with evidence,” Abaya argued.
“As it is, the fear of conviction is undermined by the delay of disposition of corruption cases. We need to enhance the anti-graft court’s capacity to resolve graft and corruption cases and deter further acts of the same which will effectively save billions of pesos for the nation,” Abaya added.
Abaya’s proposal provides that the Presiding Justice may authorize any division or divisions of the court to hold sessions at any time and place outside their designated session, and where the interest of justice requires, outside the territorial boundaries of the Philippines.
Likewise, Abaya’s bill allows the Sandiganbayan to require the services of the personnel and the use of facilities of the courts or other government offices where any of the divisions is holding sessions and the personnel of such courts or offices will be subject to the orders of the Sandiganbayan.
Three justices will constitute a quorum for sessions in divisions. When the required quorum for the particular division cannot be reached due to the legal disqualification or temporary disability of a Justice or of a vacancy occurring therein, the Presiding Justice may designate an Associate Justice of the Court, 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 the said division in the trial and determination of a case or cases thereto.
In cases before the Sandiganbayan divisions in Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro City, the Senior Associate Justices of the Court of the Appeals in those cities duly authorized by the Court of Appeals Presiding Justice for the purpose will immediately make the designation, upon the request of the Chairman of the Associate Justices of the Court of Appeals divisions in Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro City, respectively.
LLANESCA T. PANTI