Sandiganbayan: Graft charges vs ex-postmaster general valid

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    FORMER postmaster general Maria Josefina dela Cruz has failed in her bid to halt proceedings in four criminal charges pending against her before the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division.

    In a resolution penned by Associate Justice Rafael R. Lagos, the anti-graft court denied the defendant’s motion asking for a judicial determination if the facts alleged constitute an offense, claiming the information in the two counts of graft and two counts of unlawful appointment under Article 44 of the Revised Penal Code are fatally defective.

    The court sustained the stand of the prosecution that the accused may no longer challenge the validity of the information after she pleaded not guilty during arraignment on the amended information on November 8, 2020 and her lawyers actively participated in the preliminary conferences on all four criminal charges.

    Associate Justices Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac concurred.

    Dela Cruz was accused of illegally appointing Esther Cabigao as Director III at the PhilPost Human Resource Management Department in 2011 even if the latter was an unqualified candidate due to lack of eligibility required by the Civil Service Commission.

    Prosecutors argued that Dela Cruz would not have entered a plea if she was not “apprised with reasonable certainty of the offense charged’ or was not “fully aware and clarified” of the nature of the charges leveled against her.

    The court also noted that the former Philippine Postal Corporation (PhilPost) chief only filed her motion one year after the amended information were “noted, accepted and admitted”

    “Thus, the die is cast. It simply escapes logic that the accused took more than a year to realize that allegedly the facts charged do not constitute an offense,” the Sandiganbayan pointed out.

    Her lawyers claimed the cases should have been dismissed outright for failing to state clearly the specific laws, rules and regulations that were supposedly violated.

    The court, however, upheld the prosecution’s view that it is now too late for the accused to raise such questions as the motion assumes the form of a pleading for a determination of probable cause – a prohibited motion under the Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases issued by the Supreme Court.