THE COVID-19 pandemic did not just kill people and wrecked businesses. It also reduced proceedings in corruption cases against public officials to a crawl.
Year-end figures released by the Sandiganbayan Judicial Records Division yesterday showed a five-year drop in the anti-graft court’s case disposal rate even as the number of cases filed by the Office of the Ombudsman plunged to a 13-year low.
From 1,114 cases resolved in 2019, the seven divisions of the Sandiganbayan only showed a measly 340 disposed cases for the whole of 2020, a whopping 69.5 percent decline.
A monthly breakdown showed the court posted single-digit case disposal for a span of five months from March to July 2020. The worst month was during the lockdown in April when all seven divisions turned in a zero in their performance records.
The Second Division snagged top spot, disposing of 79 cases during the year although it also had zero case resolved from April to July as well as December 2020.
Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang said the suspension of all court proceedings, part of safety precautions in the judiciary, as the biggest reason for the low numbers.
“Had the hearings in cases, particularly for the reception of defense evidence, proceeded normally, most of those cases could have been submitted for decision,” she explained.
Tang expressed optimism the Sandiganbayan is on its way to turning things around after it resumed hearing cases in the last quarter of 2020.
However, she admitted that due to restrictions on travel and office work, it would be difficult to hit pre-pandemic numbers.
For the third year in a row, the Office of the Ombudsman’s total cases filed continued its free fall.
In 2020, it only filed 117 cases compared to 198 in 2019, a 41 percent decrease.