MANILA (Updated) -- The Sandiganbayan cleared of graft charges Cebu gubernatorial candidate Winston Garcia and 10 other former officials of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) over the awarding of a contract for an electronic membership card (eCard) project in 2004.

Associate Justice Teresita Diaz-Baldos dismissed for want of evidence the graft case against Garcia, former GSIS president and general manager; former vice president Enriqueta Disuanco; senior vice president Benjamin Vivas Jr.; board of trustees chair Hermogenes Concepcion Jr.; and members Elmer Bautista, Fulgencio Factoran, Floriño Ibañez, Aida Nocete, Reynaldo Palmiery, Ellenita Tumala-Martinez and Leonora Vasquez-de Jesus.

Baldos, in the resolution, said the Office of the Ombudsman has violated the respondents’ constitutional right to speedy disposition of the cases.

“It is unfortunate that the office tasked to protect the people is the first to contribute to its hardship and suffering,” read Baldos's 15-page resolution.

In December 2015, the Office of the Ombudsman charged Garcia and the 10 others with violation of the anti-graft law for allegedly awarding the GSIS eCard project to Union Bank of the Aboitiz Group in May 2004 before the date for submission of bid proposals had been closed.

The Ombudsman said the former GSIS executives violated Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) when it awarded the multi-million project “without complying with the requirements/procedures” provided by law.

The e-Card project was created during the Arroyo administration to replace the more expensive and inefficient disbursing of payments via checks.

Last December 8, 2015, the former GSIS executives filed a motion asking the anti-graft court to dismiss the criminal charges for lack of probable cause and to remand the case to the Office of the Ombudsman.

They argued that the GSIS e-Card project was not covered by the government procurement law.

In dismissing the graft case, the Sandiganbayan pointed out that the case has been pending before the Ombudsman for about 10 years since it was filed in September 2005.

It took four years for the Ombudsman to docket the complaint, as the Sandiganbayan noted that it was only in September 2011 when the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation finished its fact-finding investigation.

This, the court, violated the accused-movant’s constitutional right for a speedy trial the fact that the case was first filed in 2005.

“When the Constitution enjoins the Ombudsman ‘to act promptly’ on any complaint against any public officer or employee, it has the concomitant duty to speedily resolve the same," the court said. “Excessive delay in the disposition of cases renders the rights of people guaranteed by various legislation inutile,” it added.

“On that score alone, it cannot be gainsaid that the lapse of six years, bereft of any reasonable explanation, categorizes the delay as capricious and vexatious, and prejudicial to the accused,” the Sandiganbayan said.

It said the case can be dismissed “on the ground alone of violation of the speedy disposition of the case.”

Likewise, the anti-graft court said that allegations of graft in the procurement of the eCard was more “speculative than real.”

In fact, the project is being implemented by the succeeding GSIS officials and that no party was affected by the banks that also submitted proposals, it added.

Garcia is eyeing the Cebu’s gubernatorial seat in next year’s election under the One Cebu party. He is challenging incumbent Governor Hilario Davide III of the ruling Liberal Party.

On Monday, Garcia announced that the One Cebu had broken its ties with the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay. (GMD/John Carlo M. Cahinhinan/Sun.Star Cebu/Sunnex)