SC orders Sandiganbayan to reopen case versus Surigao mayor, sets aside ‘inordinate delay’ finding

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The Supreme Court (SC) has directed the Sandiganbayan to proceed with the trial of a Surigao del Norte mayor over his failure to liquidate P5.37 million in cash advances, reversing the court’s earlier dismissal of the case on the ground of inordinate delay.

In a recent 18-page decision, the SC 3rd Division granted the petition of Ombudsman prosecutors assailing the Sandiganbayan’s April 18, 2017 resolution in favor of Tagana-an Mayor Cesar Alsong Diaz.

The SC stressed that the right of the accused to the speedy disposition of his case “must also be invoked only in clear instances of vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays.”

“This sacred right is a shield, not a weapon to be used against the State, and should not preclude the rights of public justice,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Andres Reyes, Jr.

In Diaz’s case, the SC said the Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion when it ruled that his right was violated by the alleged inordinate delay that hounded the Ombudsman’s preliminary investigation.

It disagreed with the Sandiganbayan’s ruling that the period of four years, five months and 10 days was unreasonable.

While the Sandiganbayan took issue with how the Ombudsman took nearly seven months before directing Diaz to file his counter-affidavit, the SC excused this by noting the prosecutor’s need to first evaluate the complaint, along with 76 documents.

When the investigation finally got going, the SC noted that “voluminous records had to be carefully considered, and there were overlapping cash advances drawn over a period of seven (7) to eight (8) years.”

Although the investigation took some time, the SC said it showed the Ombudsman “did not proceed with the case in a haphazard manner, but undertook a thorough scrutiny of the case.”

“It becomes all too apparent that the alleged periods of delay considered by the Sandiganbayan were not actually ‘lulls’ or periods of inactivity. Rather, during these periods, the [Ombudsman] had to meticulously scrutinize the documents, review and study the case, make necessary corrections—all to ensure the proper resolution of the case. For sure, this cannot be characterized as an inordinate delay,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Andres Reyes, Jr.

The SC also said Diaz failed to show any prejudice suffered from the supposed delay.

Dismissing his cries of suffering from sleepless nights and restless moments, it noted that “anxiety typically accompanies a criminal charge.”

It said his problems “do not amount to that degree that would justify the nullification of the appropriate and regular steps that must be taken to assure that while the innocent should go unpunished, those guilty must expiate for their offense.”

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