Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Speedy trial; inordinate/oppressive delay by Ombudsman.

“Upon its finding that the Office of the Ombudsman had incurred inordinate delay in resolving the complaint Cong. Jimenez had brought against the respondents, the Sandiganbayan dismissed Criminal Case No. SB-08-CRM-0266 ma inly to uphold their constitutional right to the speedy disposition of their case.

But now comes the State contending that the delay in the resolution of the case against the respondents was neither inordinate nor solely attributable to the Office of the Ombudsman. Citing Mendoza-Ong v. Sandiganbayan, 87 in which the Court held that speedy disposition of cases was also consistent with reasonable delays, the State supported its contention by listing the various incidents that had caused the delay in the investigation, and then laying part of the blame on the respondents themselves.

The right to the speedy disposition of cases is enshrined in Article III of the Constitution, which declares:

Section 16. All persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.

The constitutional right to a speedy disposition of cases is not limited to the accused in criminal proceedings but extends to all parties in all cases, including civil and administrative cases, and in all proceedings, including judicial and quasi-judicial hearings.88 While the concept of speedy disposition is relative or flexible, such that a mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved is not sufficient,89 the right to the speedy disposition of a case, like the right to speedy trial, is deemed violated when the proceedings are attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays; or when unjustified postponements of the trial are asked for and secured; or when without cause or justifiable motive a long period of time is allowed to elapse without the party having his case tried.90

According to Angchonco, Jr. v. Ombudsman,91 inordinate delay in resolving a criminal complaint, being violative of the constitutionally guaranteed right to due process and to the speedy disposition of cases, warrants the dismissal of the criminal case.92

Was the delay on the part of the Office of the Ombudsman vexatious, capricious, and oppressive?

We answer in the affirmative.

The acts of the respondents that the Office of the Ombudsman investigated had supposedly occurred in the period from February 13, 2001 to February 23, 2001. Yet, the criminal complaint came to be initiated only on November 25, 2002 when Ombudsman Marcelo equested PAGC to provide his office with the documents relevant to the expose of Cong. Villarama. Subsequently, on December 23, 2002, Cong. Jimenez submitted his complaint-affidavit to the Office of the Ombudsman. It was only on November 6, 2006, however, when the Special Panel created to investigate Cong. Jimenez's criminal complaint issued the Joint Resolution recommending that the criminal informations be filed against the respondents. Ombudsman Gutierrez approved the Joint Resolution only on January 5, 2007.93 The Special Panel issued the second Joint Resolution denying the respondents' motion for reconsideration on January 25, 2008, and Ombudsman Gutierrez approved this resolution only on April 15, 2008.
Ultimately, the informations charging the respondents with four different crimes based on the complaint of Cong. Jimenez were all filed on April 15, 2008, thereby leading to the commencement of Criminal Case No. SB-08-CRM-0265 and Criminal Case No. SB-08-CRM-0266. In sum, the fact-finding investigation and preliminary investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman lasted nearly five years and five months.

It is clear from the foregoing that the Office of the Ombudsman had taken an unusually long period of time just to investigate the criminal complaint and to determine whether to criminally charge the respondents in the Sandiganbayan. Such long delay was inordinate and oppressive, and constituted under the peculiar circumstances of the case an outright violation of the respondents' right under the Constitution to the speedy disposition of their cases. If, in Tatad v. Sandiganbayan,94 the Court ruled that a delay of almost three years in the conduct of the preliminary investigation constituted a violation of the constitutional rights of the accused to due process and to the speedy disposition of his case, taking into account the following, namely: (a) the complaint had been resurrected only after the accused had a falling out with former President Marcos, indicating that political motivations had played a vital role in activating and propelling the prosecutorial process; ( b) the Tanodbayan had blatantly departed from the established procedure prescribed by law for the conduct of preliminary investigation; and ( c) the simple factual and legal issues involved did not justify the delay, there is a greater reason for us to hold so in the respondents' case.

To emphasize, it is incumbent for the State to prove that the delay was reasonable, or that the delay was not attributable to it. In both regards, the State miserably failed.

For one, the State explains that the criminal cases could not be immediately filed in court primarily because of the insufficiency of the evidence to establish probable cause, like not having a document showing that the funds (worth US$1,999,965.00 as averred in the complaint of Cong. Jimenez) had reached Secretary Perez;95 and that it could not obtain the document, and to enable it to obtain the document and other evidence it needed to await the ratification of the Agreement Concerning Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters with the Hongkong Special Administrative Region (RP-HKSAR Agreement),96 and the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Republic of the Philippines and the Swiss Confederation (RP-Swiss MLAT).97

To us, however, the State's dependence on the ratification of the two treaties was not a sufficient justification for the delay. The fact-finding investigation had extended from January 15, 2003, when Ombudsman Marcelo approved the recommendation of the Special Panel and referred the complaint of Cong. Jimenez for fact-finding investigation, until November 14, 2005, when the FIO completed its fact-finding investigation. That period accounted for a total of two years and 10 months. In addition, the FIO submitted its report only on November 14, 2005, which was after the Department of Justice had received on September 8, 2005 the letter from Wayne Walsh, the Deputy Government Counsel of the Hongkong Special Administrative Region in response to the request for assistance dated June 23, 2005,98 and the reply of the Office of Justice of Switzerland dated February 10, 2005 and a subsequent letter dated February 21, 2005 from Liza Favre, the Ambassador of Switzerland, to Atty. Melchor Arthur Carandang, Acting Assistant Ombudsman, FIO, together with documents pertaining to the bank accounts relevant to the investigation.99 For the Office of the Ombudsman to mark time until the HKSAR Agreement and the Swiss-RP MLAT were ratified by the Senate before it would proceed with the preliminary investigation was oppressive, capricious and vexatious, because the respondents were thereby subjected to a long and unfair delay.

We should frown on the reason for the inordinate delay because the State would thereby deliberately gain an advantage over the respondents during the preliminary investigation. At no time should the progress and success of the preliminary investigation of a criminal case be made dependent upon the ratification of a treaty by the Senate that would provide to the prosecutorial arm of the State, already powerful and overwhelming in terms of its resources, an undue advantage unavailable at the time of the investigation. To allow the delay under those terms would definitely violate fair play and nullify due process of law - fair play, because the field of contest between the accuser and the accused should at all times be level; and due process of law, because no less that our Constitution guarantees the speedy disposition of the case.

The State further argues that the fact-finding investigation should not be considered a part of the preliminary investigation because the former was only preparatory in relation to the latter; 100 and that the period spent in the former should not be factored in the computation of the period devoted to the preliminary investigation.

The argument cannot pass fair scrutiny.

The guarantee of speedy disposition under Section 16 of Article III of the Constitution applies to all cases pending before all judicial, quasijudicial or administrative bodies. The guarantee would be defeated or rendered inutile if the hair-splitting distinction by the State is accepted.

Whether or not the fact-finding investigation was separate from the preliminary investigation conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman should not matter for purposes of determining if the respondents' right to the speedy disposition of their cases had been violated.

There was really no sufficient justification tendered by the State for the long delay of more than five years in bringing the charges against the respondents before the proper court. On the charge of robbery under Article 293 in relation to Article 294 of the Revised Penal Code, the preliminary investigation would not require more than five years to ascertain the relevant factual and legal matters. The basic elements of the offense, that is, the intimidation or pressure allegedly exerted on Cong. Jimenez, the manner by which the money extorted had been delivered, and the respondents had been identified as the perpetrators, had been adequately bared before the Office of the Ombudsman. The obtention of the bank documents was not indispensable to establish probable cause to charge them with the offense. We thus agree with the following observation of the Sandiganbayan, viz:

With the Ombudsman's finding that the extortion (intimidation) was perpetrated on February 13, 2001 and that there was transfer of Mark Jimenez US $1,999,965.00 to Coutts Bank Account HO 133706 on February 23, 2001 in favor of the accused, there is no reason why within a reasonable period from these dates, the complaint should not be resolved. The act of intimidation was there, the asportation was complete as of February 23, 2001 why was the information filed only on April 18, 2008.

For such a simple charge of Robbery there is nothing more to consider and all the facts and circumstances upon which to anchor a resolution whether to give due course to the complaint or dismiss it are on hand. The case is more than ripe for resolution. Failure to act on the same is a clear transgression of the constitutional rights of the accused. A healthy respect for the constitutional prerogative of the accused should have prodded the Ombudsman to act within reasonable time. 101

In fine, the Office of the Ombudsman transgressed the respondents' right to due process as well as their right to the speedy disposition of their case.

WHEREFORE, the Court DISMISSES the petitions for certiorari for their lack of merit. X x x.”

See -
People vs. Sandiganbayan, et. al., GR 189063, Dec. 11. 2013.