The Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division has thrown out a graft case filed last year against former Capoocan (Leyte) Mayor Federico Carolino Sr. and several others in connection with an allegedly anomalous procurement of two dump trucks in 2008.
In a nine-page resolution, the court granted the motion to quash filed by Carolino as well as then-Bids and Awards Committee members Pio Antonio Borrel, Macario Noel Gullemas, Letecia Merelos and Jesalie Loteyro, who said that their right to due process of law and to speedy case disposition were violated because there was inordinate delay in the filing of the case.
“Upon examination of the records, and based on the applicable laws and jurisprudence, we find the instant motion impressed with merit,” the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan said.
The case stemmed from a letter-complaint filed by a certain Emeterio Tañala on September 26, 2011 before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas, according to the court’s ruling.
On March 14, 2012, the Public Assistance and Corruption Prevention Office (PACPO) of the Ombudsman’s Visayas office filed a formal complaint.
A final evaluation report was issued in December of the same year and the respondents were ordered to file their counter-affidavits on January 17, 2014.
“The prosecution did not provide any plausible explanation why it took the Office of the Ombudsman a year before requiring the accused-movants to submit their counter-affidavits. Noticeably, the inordinate delay is further manifested by the several Motions for Early Resolution filed by Tañala and by the PACPO. These motions from complainants themselves indicate that there was indeed delay in the resolution of this case,” the court said.
It added that the resolution dated September 15, 2014 was only approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on March 8, 2016.
“The accused-movants are correct in pointing out that there is inordinate delay in this case. The prosecution miserably failed to explain the protracted amount of time in approving the said resolution. It must be stressed that the preliminary investigation is deemed terminated only upon the approval or dismissal of the case. Lamentably, it took the Office of the Ombudsman four (4) years and seven (7) months from the filing of the complaint of Tañala on September 26, 2011 to the filing of the Information in Court on April 27, 2016,” the court said.
Information refers to the charge sheet.
“To emphasize, it is incumbent on the part of the State to prove that the delay was reasonable, or that the delay was not attributable to it. The accused-movants’ constitutional right to speedy disposition of cases is indubitably violated; hence, the instant Information against them must be dismissed. Upon this point, we find it unnecessary to resolve the other issues raised,” the Sandiganbayan said.
“In closing, even if the accused is not imprisoned prior to trial, he is still disadvantaged by restraints on his liberty and by living under a cloud of anxiety, suspicion and often, hostility. His financial resources may be drained, his association is curtailed and he is subjected to public obloquy,” it added.
The court thus dismissed the case and, accordingly, lifted the hold-departure order it earlier issued against Carolino, Borrel, Gullemas, Merelos and Loteyro.
It also ordered the release of the cash bonds that they had posted for their provisional liberty.
According to the court’s ruling, however, the dismissal of the case “does not automatically result [in]the exoneration of the accused-movants from civil liability.”