Justice delayed

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014


ARE Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., José “Jinggoy” Estrada, and soon, Juan Ponce Enrile guilty of the crime of plunder?

No, they’re not. Utmost, there is probable cause that they have allegedly pocketed over a billion of pesos of kickbacks from dealings with fake NGOs using their PDAF allocations.

For now, they’re assumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt by the Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court.

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Unless the accused plead guilty, when can the world know of their guilt or innocence? Try maybe after six years, way after the term of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

I recall the speech a decade ago of then Chief Justice Hilario Davide during the institution of the Philippine Mediation Center-Bacolod. The former Chief Magistrate says it takes the court an average of six years before they can reach a judicial ruling.

In the case of deposed President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, it took six years before the Sandiganbayan has reached a verdict of guilt.

Six years, by any measure, is not a case of speedy disposition of cases as enshrined in Section 16, Article III of the Constitution that says “All persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.”

Yet the fulfillment of that right remains a quest for the Holy Grail.

Take the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre. A solon once said it could take 200 years before a final verdict is reached. With the 55th month of the massacre marked Monday, there are fears that the lawmaker could turn out right.

Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes, who heads the special Quezon City court trying the case, hopes to reach a verdict against at least the leading accused by 2016. Seven years!

The Supreme Court eased the docket of Presiding Judge Reyes, assigned her “assisting judges” and issued five special guidelines to speed up the trial.

Recently, the SC issued guidelines to decongest holding jails and enforce the rights of a person to bail and have a speedy trial.

The SC ordered all trial courts, public prosecutors, public attorneys, private practitioners and others involved in protecting the rights of the accused to follow the guidelines.

Courts will have to terminate the regular trial within 180 days, or trial by affidavit within 60 days, reckoned from the date trial begins, minus the delays or postponements as specified in Rule 119 of the Rules of Court and the Republic Act 8493 a.k.a. the Speedy Trial Act of 1998.

Umm, speed is relative, not as defined by R.A. 8493 that stipulated that “In no case shall the entire trial period exceed one hundred eighty (180) days from the first day of trial, except as otherwise authorized by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court pursuant to Sec. 3, Rule 22 of the Rules of Court.”

Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban wrote in his Inquirer column, “Full speed ahead.”

The Office of the Ombudsman filed a total of 45 pork barrel cases at the Sandiganbayan. Yet Panganiban conceded: “Unless innovative and creative solutions are used, the pork cases will drag on for decades to the prejudice of the innocent and the public interest.”

Thus, full speed ahead might likely turn out to be a judicial oxymoron. Cases of delayed justice.

*****

(bqsanc@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 25, 2014.

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