NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHRONICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION.
Former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap was acquitted by the Supreme Court of graft charges in connection with a car loan program under his leadership as Agriculture chief.
Yap who was a high-profile Cabinet member of then Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo served as secretary of the Department of Agriculture. During his stint with Mrs. Arroyo, he was also appointed administrator of the National Food Authority (NFA). His stint with the Arroyo administration came before he joined Bohol politics gaining entry to the 3rd congressional district after he was endorsed by Arroyo herself.
The acquittal came after the Office of the Ombudsman took over three years to conclude its preliminary investigation of the public official’s case.
The case stemmed from the anomalous ₱15.78-million car plan for employees approved by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) board of trustees in 2008, where he was then ex-officio chairman of the agency.
In a 14-page decision, the SC ruled that the delay in the probe violated Yap’s right to speedy disposition of the case. “Although delay is not to be determined solely from the length of time taken for the conduct of the preliminary investigation, a long delay is inordinate unless the Office of the Ombudsman suitably justifies it,” the SC said.
“The courts must take unusually long periods into careful consideration when determining whether inordinate delay exists; otherwise, the constitutionally guaranteed right to speedy disposition of cases would be reduced to nothing but an illusory promise,” the court added.
The Sandiganbayan in 2018 filed graft charges against Yap and nine other PhilRice board members over the irregular car loan plan for employees that was “grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the government.”
The high court noted that the Ombudsman took three years, six months, and two days to finish the preliminary investigation.
“Apart from averring that the period was reasonable considering that it allowed the investigating prosecutor to carefully evaluate the complaint and supporting documents, it is quite palpable that the prosecution miserably fell short of discharging its burden to justify the delay in contravention of the guidelines set in Cagang,” the SC said.
The Cagang case in 2018 set the parameters for determining the presence of inordinate delay in the right to speedy disposition of cases or the right to a speedy trial.
“Petitioner cannot be deemed to have waived his right to question the inordinate delay in the termination of the preliminary investigation as he invoked his right to speedy disposition of cases at the earliest opportunity,” the SC added. (with reports from Vince Ferreras, CNN Philippines)