FOR the second time, the Sandiganbayan shot down a bid by former Cebu Rep. Nerissa Soon-Ruiz to get 34 criminal charges against her dismissed on alleged inordinate delay in the investigation of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The anti-graft court’s Fifth Division affirmed its September 3, 2019 resolution which denied motions to dismiss or to quash filed by Soon-Ruiz and her co-defendants in 17 counts of graft, 10 counts of malversation of public funds through falsification of public documents, and seven counts of malversation of public funds.
Associate Justice Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac penned the nine-page ruling that denied separate motions for reconsideration filed by the former lawmaker and officials of government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs) National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabcor), Technology Resource Center (TRC) and National Livelihood and Development Center (NLDC). Associate Justices Rafael R. Lagos and Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega concurred.
Soon-Ruiz was accused of conspiracy with GOCCs officials and representatives of dubious non-government organizations (NGOs) in implementing livelihood and poverty-alleviation projects funded out of her Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations from 2007 to 2009.
The Ombudsman said the projects were intended for Cebu City, Mandaue City, Lapu-lapu City, and the municipalities of Cordova and Consolacion.
Graft investigators identified the dubious NGOs as the Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation Inc. (KKAMFI), Gabaymasa Development Foundation Inc (GDFI), and Gabay at Pag-asa and Masa Foundation Inc (GPMFI).
Only Soon-Ruiz was named in all 34 case salthough the GOCC and NGO officials are also facing multiple counts of graft and malversation cases.
Noting the billions of public fund involved in the PDAF scam and the number of respondents implicated, the Sandiganbayan said the Ombudsman’s Task Force PDAF is expected to incur reasonable delays in the conduct of preliminary investigation.
It stressed that “the State is as much entitled to due process as the accused.”
In their appeals, the defendants insisted that the court erred in attributing justifiable delays in the Ombudsman’s investigation processes.
Aside from Soon-Ruiz, other defendants who assailed the September 3 ruling were TRC group manager Ma. Rosalinda Lacsamana; NLDC cashier Ofelia Ordoñez and project development assistant Sofia Cruz; Nabcor supervisor Encarnita-Cristina Munsod; and private defendant Godofredo Roque of KKAMFI.
They all complained that the lengthy investigation violated their rights to speedy disposition of their cases.
Roque added that in other PDAF cases, the Ombudsman did not take as much time to complete its preliminary investigation.
The court said all the arguments were mere rehash of the grounds cited in the earlier submissions of the defendants.
“Considering that no substantial arguments have been presented in the present motions to warrant a departure from said finding, there is no need to belabor this issue any further,” the Sandiganbayan said. “The Court finds no cogent reason to reconsider and reverse the September 3, 2019 resolution.”
They noted that the formal complaint was submitted by the Field Investigation Office – Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas on February 3, 2015 but the information in these cases only reached the Sandiganbayan docket on May 3, 2019.