NOTING the dismal disposition of graft cases at the Sandiganbayan, two senators on Wednesday filed a bill that would strengthen the current structure of the special appellate court, a move which is seen to decongest the clogged dockets of the country’s anti-graft court.
“The Sandiganbayan completes the proceedings of a case – from the filing of the information to promulgation of judgment – in about seven years. This sorry rate of disposition reflects the heavily clogged dockets of the court, given that the cases filed before it has multiplied over the years. Such a drawn-out process of litigation is injustice itself,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said in his sponsorship speech.
Drilon cited systemic limitations that slow down the anti-graft court from achieving its objectives swiftly.
Senate Bill 2138, known as “An Act Further Amending Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended” seeks to introduce three innovations in the anti-graft court:
1) The bill seeks to introduce the concept of “Justice-Designate” that will allow one justice to hear receive evidence, and amend the quorum requirement from three justices in a division to two;
2) The bill seeks to transfer the jurisdiction over “minor cases” to the Regional Trial Courts; and
3) The bill seeks to modify the voting requirement for promulgation of judgment to allow the concurrence of at least two members of a division, instead of three, to render a decision.
The objective of this bill is to improve the disposition of cases in the Sandiganbayan, the country’s specialized court tasked to effectively and swiftly resolve corruption cases against erring government officials and employees, said Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, the bill’s co-author.
Under the bill, an individual member of a division is allowed to hear and receive evidence on behalf of the two other members of his or her division. Presently, the Sandiganbayan is composed of five divisions, with three justices each; and the presence of the three justices is required to receive evidence and try a case.
The bill also proposes the transfer of jurisdiction over cases that are classified as “minor” to the Regional Trial Courts. The measure qualifies “minor cases” as those where the information does not allege any damage or bribe; those that allege damage or bribe that are unquantifiable; or those that allege damage or bribe arising from the same or closely related transactions or acts not exceeding P1 million.
“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,” said the Senate President.
“It is imperative for us to introduce and make the necessary revisions in the Court’s structure to ensure that justice is delivered, with haste and without delay,” added Pimentel.
Senate Bill 2138 seeks to modify the voting requirement for promulgation of judgment, by allowing at least the concurrence of two members to render a judgment. Under the Section 5 of the Sandiganbayan Law, the unanimous vote of all three members in a division is necessary for the rendition of final order. Failure to reach unanimity shall require the constitution of a special division of five members.
“The most potent deterrent against the spread of corruption is the certainty of punishment and expeditiousness of the proceedings, by boosting the structural capability of our anti-graft mechanisms,” said Drilon.
Drilon said that with these cutting edge proposals, the Senate is confident that the Sandiganbayan will be able to catch up with the pace of graft and corruption in public institution.