• Sandigan junks charges vs 2 ex-Surigao mayors

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    The Sandiganbayan’s First Division has thrown out charges filed against Cesar Diaz, former Tagana-an, Surigao del Norte acting mayor, and former municipal mayor Cesar Diaz in connection with their alleged failure to account for 11 cash advances, which they received between February 16, 2006 and April 1, 2012.

    The anti-graft court found that there was an inordinate delay in the Office of the Ombudsman’s conduct of the preliminary investigation, which took four years, five months and 10 days.

    “Wherefore, in view of the violation of the constitutional right of Diaz to the speedy disposition of the cases against him, the instant cases are hereby dismissed,” the court said in a 14-page resolution.

    Diaz was charged with failure to render accounts under Article 218 of the Revised Penal Code.

    The cases, which were filed before the Sandiganbayan last January 16, stemmed from an affidavit filed by a then-state auditor in August 2012 before the Office of the Ombudsman in Mindanao.

    On January 30, the defense filed a motion seeking the dismissal of the cases on the ground of violation of Diaz’s right to speedy disposition of his case.

    The prosecution opposed the move and contended that the delays incurred were reasonable.

    According to the court’s ruling, the prosecution explained that it took six months and 24 days before Diaz was ordered to file a counter-affidavit from the time that the affidavit was filed because it was undated, unverified and did not charge any offense so the investigating prosecutor had to review the documents and determine whether a fact-finding investigation should be conducted.

    The court, however, found this explanation unacceptable and said the affidavit “already sufficiently described” the allegedly unliquidated cash advances, “and the task of the investigating prosecutor was simply to make the appropriate charge.”

    It said a perusal of the affidavit “also belies the claim of the prosecution that the said affidavit did not charge any offense against Diaz.”

    The court added that the documents, which the investigating prosecutor had to review, “are not that complex, as they consist only of disbursement vouchers, checks, a few letters sent by the Commission on Audit and short [one-page] statements and summaries of cash advances and liquidation.”

    It said, “The prosecution further explained that after Diaz filed his counter-affidavit, the case underwent the regular internal steps of the Ombudsman’s internal processes and procedures. If indeed the normal procedure in the conduct of preliminary investigation would take more than a year and a half, the Office of the Ombudsman certainly needs to take a hard look and review its processes, mindful of the constitutional guarantees of persons who are investigated.”

    “However, the records of these cases show that there was a lull in the movement of the cases against Diaz after he filed his counter-affidavit, for a period of 6 months and 20 days, before the case was reassigned to another prosecutor. This inaction of the first prosecutor, which led to the reassignment of the cases to the second investigating prosecutor, is, in fact, one of the major causes of delay. On this delay alone, the prosecution was not able to satisfactorily explain the inaction of one prosecutor and the reassignment of the case to another.”

    The Sandiganbayan said the “prosecution was not able to satisfactorily explain the reason why it took more than a year for the approval of the denial of Diaz’s motion for reconsideration.”

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