Senate OK’s amendments to Sandiganbayan Law for faster resolution vs. graft cases

The Senate approved today on third and final reading a measure introducing amendments to the Sandiganbayan Law geared towards the speedy disposition of corruption cases against erring government officials and employees.

Senate Bill No. 2138 was approved with 20 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and two abstentions from Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada. However, Sen. Bong Revilla Jr. manifested that he intended to change his vote to abstention which will be reflected in the Senate Journal, according to Senate Secretary Oscar Yabes.

Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, author and co-sponsor of Senate Bill No. 2138, said that the amendments will address the limitations encountered by the Sandiganbayan, “which is supposed to be the front-runner in the fight against corruption.”

He noted that the Sandiganbayan Law or Presidential Decree No. 1606 last underwent legislative scrutiny almost 20 years ago:

“The result is that a case in the Sandiganbayan now takes about an average of five to eight years to litigate and resolve.”

“Despite the numerous advancements that have been incorporated in our judicial system through the years, justice continues to be as elusive as it has been during the infancy of our republic. As our judicial structure becomes more ingenious, so does graft and other malfeasance,” Drilon said.

“If we are to outrun graft and corruption, it is imperative that we resuscitate and recondition our existing prosecutorial and adjudicatory institutions against this opponent,” the Senate leader added.

Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, chair of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of the bill, anticipates that with the passage of amendments to the Sandiganbayan Law will strengthen the country’s anti-graft court’s structure decongest cases.

“The capacity of this court to decide cases efficiently and promptly has been stretched beyond its limits,” Pimentel added.
Drilon then explained that with the passage of this bill, the jurisdiction of “minor” cases will be transferred to the regional trial courts (RTC) which will enable the Sandiganbayan to “concentrate its resources on resolving the most significant cases filed against public officials” and be able to “render judgment in a matter of months.”

He noted that during the last quarter of 2013, about 60 percent of the total cases in the Sandiganbayan are considered “minor” or allegations of damages or bribes not exceeding P1,000,000.

Pimentel said another concept introduced in Senate Bill No. 2138 is the “justice-designate” concept, wherein the chairperson of a division will “designate a member to hear and receive evidence and resolve all incidents arising therefrom from that day” and allow session to be held upon the attendance of two members of the division instead of the required three.

Under the bill, the concurrence of two justices is enough to “render a ruling on a formal or written motion and a judgment or final order.” Currently, Section 5 of the Sandiganbayan Law requires the unanimous vote of all three members for the rendition of final order and failure to reach unanimity will require a special division that takes about four months to establish.

With the reforms to be enabled by the bill, Pimentel and Drilon both underscored the importance of such developments to the national justice system will be to ongoing efforts on arresting corruption and rooting out malfeasance from public service.

“The battle against corruption has never been this intense and we will be blamed by our people if their Congress does not adequately and aggressively equip our anti-graft institutions with the proper tools to defeat and arrest the abuses in the government,” Pimentel said.

“Ultimately, the most potent deterrent against the spread of corruption is the certainty of punishment and expeditiousness of the proceedings, and we can only arrive at such a scenario by boosting the structural capability of our anti-graft mechanisms,” Drilon then said. (Apple Buenaventura)