• Court junks case vs Pangasinan mayor over ‘inordinate’ delay

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    The Sandiganbayan’s First Division has dismissed a graft case filed against Mayor Aldrin Cerdan of Anda, Pangasinan in connection with the alleged renting out the town’s heavy equipment without authority from the municipal council in 2012.

    In a seven-page resolution, the court said the Office of the Ombudsman “committed inordinate delay in the conduct of the preliminary investigation.”

    It added that it took the Ombudsman’s office four years, four months and 21 days to conduct the preliminary investigation and to file the case in court.

    The prosecution had argued in part that before cases are filed in court, these must pass the Ombudsman’s scrutiny considering that these cannot be filed without the Ombudsman’s approval.

    But the Sandiganbayan’s First Division held that “to cite the Ombudsman herself as one of the reasons for the delay is highly misplaced considering that, as borne by the records, it took her only days to approve the resolution finding probable cause, and the order denying the motion for reconsideration.”

    At present, the Office of the Ombudsman is headed by Conchita Carpio-Morales.

    The court cited a precedent Supreme Court (SC) ruling, which explained that the right to speedy case disposition “is not merely hinged toward the objective of spurring dispatch in the administration of justice but also to prevent the oppression of the citizen by holding a criminal prosecution suspended over him for an indefinite time.”

    The SC ruling said in part that “the tactical disadvantages carried by the passage of time should be weighed against the State and in favor of the individual.”

    The prosecution had also argued that Cerdan did not seek the immediate resolution of the case when it was still pending before the Office of the Ombudsman.

    But the Sandiganbayan’s First Division held, “There should be no discussion as to whether or not the accused wants a speedy trial, or even more, if he asked for one, because it is a right expressly guaranteed by the Constitution.”

    “Accordingly, the said case is hereby dismissed, for violation of the constitutional right of the accused to a speedy disposition of his case,” the court ruled.

    It lifted a hold departure order that barred Cerdan from leaving the country without prior approval and also ordered the release of the cash bail bond that he had posted.

    Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, who leads the court’s First Division, penned the ruling, which was concurred in by Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Bernelito Fernandez.

    REINA TOLENTINO

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