THE Supreme Court has directed the Sandiganbayan to proceed with the prosecution of an assistant city prosecutor in Quezon City for graft and direct bribery in 2014.
In a decision dated July 28 but only made public recently, the High Court’s First Division reversed and set aside the resolutions issued by the anti-graft court in April and May 2017 that paved the way for the dismissal of cases filed against Assistant City Prosecutor Raul Desembrana.
Desembrana was arrested in an entrapment operation carried out by the NBI after accepting P80,000 from a litigant.
The NBI planned the operation after receiving complaint from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers that Desembrana demanded the amount in exchange for junking the cases of unjust vexation, coercion and threat filed against Dr. Alexis Montes and his son, Dr. Connor Montes, by retired military chaplain Reuben Espartinez.
NUPL lawyer Ephraim Cortez serves as the legal counsel of Montes.
In junking the cases, the anti-graft court cited the unreasonable delay in the conduct of preliminary investigation by the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Desembrana said the unreasonable delay violated his constitutional right to the speedy disposition of cases.
But in its ruling penned by Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier, the SC disagreed and said the Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the cases against Desembrana by reason of an alleged inordinate delay.
“Neither the Office of the Special Prosecutor nor the Office of the Ombudsman is guilty of inordinate delay in the disposition of cases against private respondent. The Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion,” the SC added.
The SC said that while the OSP has exceeded the 60-day deadline given it by the Sandiganbayan to conduct full and preliminary investigations of the cases lodged against Desembrana, it cannot be faulted since it sought additional time to complete the probe.
“These motions were neither opposed by private respondent nor rebuffed by the Sandiganbayan. They were therefore deemed granted. Moreover, private respondent was himself a party to this delay because up until September 3, 2015 he was still filing a rejoinder-affidavit with the OSP,” the SC explained.
The SC said in less than 120 days or from July 3 to November 2015, the OSP was able to complete its preliminary investigation, adding there could be no inordinate delay in this.
“On its face, and especially with the circumstances driving this preliminary investigation, we cannot say that the timeline of 120 constituted inordinate delay. It is a very reasonable period to complete a preliminary investigation,” the SC added.