A graft case filed by a former Mayor more than seven years ago before the Office of the Ombudsman – Visayas against incumbent Alburquerque Mayor Engr. Efren Tungol was toss out of court by the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division ruling that prosecutors had taken too long to bring the case to trial.
The seven page resolution promulgated on April 27, 2016 ordered the graft case dismissed for violation of Tungol’s constitutional right to a speedy disposition of his case.
Former Mayor Jose Ugdoracion, Jr., accused Tungol for failure to return one (1) unit power sprayer owned by the municipality of Alburquerque that he received during his term as Mayor.
The complaint of Ugdoracion was upgraded into a criminal case for malversation of public funds or property under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code.
Invoking his right to a speedy trial, Tungol thru his counsel Atty. Aleck Francis Lim filed a motion to dismiss invoking Republic Act 8493 or “The Speedy Trial Act of 1998”, Supreme Court Circular No. 38-98, Supreme Court decisions on inordinate delay of resolution of cases and cited deviations by the Ombudsman from its own Rules of Procedure
Tungol told the graft court that from the time of the filing of the complaints before the Ombudsman on September 8, 2008 up to January 11, 2016 when Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the filing of the information before the Sandiganbayan “bears the manifest earmarks of inordinate delay” and “solely attributable to the Office of the Ombudsman”.
Tungol also lamented that the Ombudsman by filing the graft case before the Sandiganbayan on January 11, 2016 required him together with his witnesses to justify and explain transactions that transpired between the years 2003 – 2008.
Citing their “advanced ages”, Tungol expressed serious concern that this would prejudice further the proceedings if they are “unable to recall accurately the events that happened thirteen years ago, or at the very least seven years ago”.
But the prosecutors argued that Tungol’s claim of inordinate delay was based on his mathematical computation and his right to a speedy disposition of cases is violated only when the proceedings are “vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays”.
The prosecutors debunked the claims of Tungol that it was a seven year delay but admitted a delay of only “six years and ten months”.
But the Sandiganbayan differed with the Ombudsman’s position that the “six years and ten months” was not a speedy trial violation saying that this “constitutes inordinate delay”.
The Sandiganbayan also expressed reservation over the unnecessary delay “as there appears no difficult questions of law involved therein” and Tungol “did not even submit his counter-affidavit and controverting evidence”.
Tungol pointed out that a complaint was filed by Ugdoracion involving a plain and simple case of malversation of public property (1 unit power sprayer) that did not involve complicated and factual issues.
However, the Ombudsman justified the delay stressing that they made sure that Tungol was given the chance to answer the charges despite the fact that he waived his right to submit countervailing evidence.
In its resolution, the Sandiganbayan referred to several decided cases by the Supreme Court ruling that a delay of three, four or six years for the Ombudsman to complete investigations and file cases was “inordinate, unreasonable and unjustified” and is a violation of the speedy disposition of cases.
Ugdoracion, considered the political nemesis of Tungol when asked by the Chronicle on the dismissal said, “I haven’t received a copy of the Sandiganbayan resolution yet”.
The hold-departure order issued by the graft court against Tungol was lifted and set aside and the cash bond posted was ordered released.
The resolution on the dismissal of the graft case was ordered by Associate Justice and Chairperson Rodolfo Ponferrada and concurred by Associate Justices Oscar Herrera, Jr. and Karl Miranda.Â (Chito M. Visarra)