THIRD time’s a charm?
Twice Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia sought the dismissal of the criminal cases filed against her and nine others by the Ombudsman in connection with the controversial purchase of the so-called Balili property in 2008.
Twice she failed, with the Sandiganbayan denying the Motion to Quash that she filed on May 21, 2013 and five years later, her Motion to Dismiss on the ground of inordinate delay.
Inordinate delay is when the prosecution fails to do its job for an unreasonable length of time. It is anchored on the principle that justice delayed is justice denied especially to the accused because his freedom of movement is limited while the case is pending.
The Sandiganbayan, however, ruled that such was not in the case of Garcia and her co-accused because the delay “may be reasonably attributed to the ordinary process of justice.” Besides, the Court noted, Garcia also contributed to the delay with the numerous motions that she filed.
The two setbacks did not, however, deter Garcia and her defense team from relentlessly pursuing legal remedies to secure dismissal of her cases (for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and of the Revised Penal Code) without her having to present evidence in her behalf.
The persistence finally paid off on their third attempt, a Demurrer to the Evidence on the ground that the prosecution has failed to sufficiently establish their guilt. In an 81-page decision, dated last November 26, the Sandiganbayan agreed with Garcia that the prosecution “failed to muster the required quantum of evidence” to convict her and her co-accused John Bolo, Anthony Sususco, Roy Salubre, Eulogio Pelayre, Emma Gingoyon, Romeo Balili and Amparo Balili.
The decision thus puts an end to Garcia’s legal struggles that started in 2009 when it was discovered that almost half of the 25-hectare property that the Province purchased from the Balili estate the previous year for P98.92 million was either submerged in water or was a mangrove area.
Garcia said that the purchase was done in good faith but the Visayas Ombudsman nevertheless filed criminal cases against her and those who had a hand in the transaction with the Sandiganbayan. The same office also found her and the others administratively guilty of misconduct in the transaction but the decision was overturned by the Court of Appeals, applying the Aguinaldo doctrine which says that reelection wipes away administrative liability.
Indeed, the people of the province have judged Garcia twice since the filing of the Balili cases against her, both times absolving her by electing her with a huge majority. In a way, the Sandiganbayan decision is just icing on the cake.