by Czarina Nicole O. Ong
The year 2016 can be considered one of victory for those who faced graft, malversation, and plunder raps before the Sandiganbayan as several of them were acquitted one by one.
The trend began after President Duterte assumed office on July 1. On July 21, the Supreme Court junked the plunder charge of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and was soon released from her detention facility at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City.
Arroyo and her co-accused, former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and former Commission on Elections chair Benjamin Abalos, waited for less than two months before they were finally cleared by the Fourth Division of two counts of graft in connection with the anomalous National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with ZTE.
Then in October, former Batangas governor Jose Antonio Tony Leviste was cleared of malversation charge before the Fifth Division for failure to liquidate cash advances amounting to P151,385 for his foreign travels.
Also in October, former Senator Lito Lapid was cleared by the First Division of the graft case over his alleged involvement in the fertilizer fund scam.
In November, the Fifth Division dismissed the graft case against former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay in connection with the purchase of overpriced office partitions and furniture worth P21.7 million for the city hall in 2000. A few weeks later, Mrs. Binay was cleared by the Fourth Division for another graft charge involving the purchase of P13.25 million worth of office furniture for the city hall from December 1999 to February 2000.
In early December, former Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante was acquitted by the Second Division of plunder charges in connection with the controversial P723 million fertilizer fund scam during the time of Arroyo.
Before the anti-graft court closed for the holidays, Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito was also cleared by the Fifth Division of his graft charge in connection with the anomalous purchase of P2.1 million worth of firearms for San Juan City.
With most of the names cleared belonging to the political enemies of former President Benigno Aquino III, the sudden dismissals of their cases ignited whispers that the new president from Davao had a hand in the cases being absolved.
But Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang would like to quell those rumors. She said “nagkataon lang (it was just a coincidence)” that the cases were dismissed after Duterte assumed office.
“I don’t believe that is the case. Please disabuse your minds [that] simply because there is a change in administration, magbbago na rin pananaw namin sa ebidensya (our view on the evidence will change as well),” she said of the change in leadership. “The court will not be swayed by change in political leadership.”
She added that they base their decisions on whatever evidence is presented before them, and it just so happened that the evidence presented by the prosecution against the said accused are not enough to convict them.
“We adhere strictly to the requirement that whenever they enter judgments or promulgate resolutions, it should be based on what is before us, meaning, the evidence that is before us,” she stressed.
Cabotaje-Tang is happy to note that the court saw a lot of improvement this year in the disposal rate of cases.
As of November, 2016, they had 351 decided cases compared to last year’s 276 – which means that they have an increase of 75 decided cases this year.
Based on data collected from 1979 to November 30, 2016, Cabotaje-Tang shared that most of the cases filed concerned the offense of malversation, graft, and falsification. Out of a total of 33,772, 10,094 of the cases filed concerned malversation, 7,968 concerned graft, and 5,740 were related to falsification.
In the month of November alone, they received 111 malversation cases, 44 for graft, and nine for falsification. Most of the malversation charges were committed in Region XII with 107, while the graft and falsification charges were spread out pretty evenly.