THE Sandiganbayan has dismissed the graft charge of a former judge in Albay province after it found that the case dragged for over a decade, with an earlier resolution actually asking to junk the complaint.
In a nine-page resolution promulgated Tuesday, the Sandigan-bayan First Division dropped the graft charge of Arnulfo Cabredo—and upheld the judge’s motion to quash, where he raised the inordinate delay of the case.
The former judge’s graft case stemmed from the complaint of the Office of the Ombudsman where prosecutors said that he issued an erroneous temporary restraining order (TRO) that permitted the release of almost 35,000 smuggled sacks of rice.
In July, Cabredo filed a motion to quash citing inordinate delay of the Ombudsman in filing his case. Initially, the complaint was filed in 2002 and was transmitted to the National Prosecution Service of the Department of Justice (DOJ). It ordered the case’s dismissal in 2003.
In February 2004, the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon upheld the findings of the DOJ, ordering the dismissal of the case against Cabredo’s co-accused Marcial Lopez. But the investigation of his case was deferred.
In a review, the Office of the Legal Affairs of the Ombudsman in October 2004 affirmed the dismissal of Lopez’ case “but directed the conduct of preliminary investigation against Cabredo.”
In March 2012 “or only after eight years,” Cabredo said that former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo resurrected the case and reassigned another graft investigator to handle it.
Months after on June 2012, graft investigator Teresita Butardo-Tacata issued a resolution against Cabredo “without conducting a preliminary investigation” which countered the directive of Marcelo.
“Mathematically, the information in this case was filed only after more than 10 years from the date the complaint was filed in 2002,” Cabredo said in his motion.
Ruling on the matter, the Sandiganbayan said that the inordinate delay argument is not actually a ground for dismissal as enshrined in the Rules of Criminal Procedure.
“The court is inclined to give due course to the instant motion as the unreasonable length of time it took the prosecution to complete its preliminary investigation prejudiced the accused,” the resolution read.
The magistrates ruled that for the prosecutors to handle the case for ten years—from 2002 when the complaint was filed to 2012 when it was filed before the Sandiganbayan—Cabredo’s right was “seriously encroached upon.”
“Indeed, this is a plain indication that the accused’s right to speedy disposition of cases had been violation. In the hierarchy of rights, the Bill of Rights takes precedence over the right of the state to prosecute,” it added.
The magistrates said that “the scales of justice tilt towards” the Bill of Rights over the state’s right to push for litigation.
Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz penned the resolution, with Associate Justice Rafael Lagos and Rodolfo Ponferrada concurring.
John Constantine G. Cordon