By Czarina Nicole Ong
The Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has refused to let Quezon City Councilor and actor Roderick Paulate off the hook from his graft and falsification charges in relation to the “fictitious job contractors” he hired back in 2010.
Paulate was accused of violating one count of Section 3(e) of Republic Act. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and nine counts of Par. 2 of Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code together with his driver and liaison officer, Vicente Bajamunde, who has been charged with one graft charge and eight falsification charges.
From July to December, 2010, the two of them were accused of causing undue injury to Quezon City in the total amount of P1,109,000 when they hired “fictitious job contractors” in Paulate’s office for his personal gain.
Both of them filed an urgent omnibus motion to quash all criminal charges due to inordinate delay and hold in abeyance their arraignment.
They argued that from the filing of the complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman on May 9, 2011 until the termination of the preliminary investigation on October 21, 2015, it took the Ombudsman four years to wrap up the case and another three years just to file the Information before the Sandiganbayan.
Because of those seven years, Paulate and Bejamunde alleged that they were “burdened with uncertainties, anxieties and angst.” They added that their right to speedy disposition of cases was violated.
The prosecution stated otherwise, arguing that it only took them three years to terminate the preliminary investigation. At the same time, they explained that they had to deal with a number of potential witnesses – at least 60 employees – so the time they spent was not deliberately caused to gain some advantage and prejudice against the accused.
The court ruled in its 26-page resolution that Paulate and Bajamunde’s motion has to be denied for lack of merit, since there was no lengthy delay in the conduct of the preliminary investigation.
“The total period of five years and 11 months for the conduct of the preliminary investigation is justified, as there were no vexatious, capricious or oppressive delays in the disposition of the case before the Office of the Ombudsman,” the court ruled.
The court believes the length of time to terminate the preliminary investigation was reasonable, since the prosecution had to investigate around 60 employees.
Moreover, the court reprimanded Paulate and Bajamunde’s lawyer, Erika Krizia Galapate for using words that were “abrasive, discourteous and intemperate” in their urgent motion.
The anti-graft court stated that they always strive to maintain a dignified and tolerant demeanor toward the “colorful” language often employed by lawyers. However, they drew the line toward Galapate’s language.
Galapate labeled the court as being “allergic” to the accused’s defense of inordinate delay. The lawyer based this on the court’s ruling in People v. Trenas. The court found that her words “did not so subtly portray” the Sandiganbayan as being predisposed to rule against the accused.
“While we understand that an unfavorable decision usually incites bitter feelings, we cannot comprehend the snide remarks or sarcastic innuendos used by Atty. Galapate based on a ruling in a case that neither she nor her clients are party to,” the resolution read.
“We can only surmise that Atty. Galapate is anticipating a similar ruling in the case she is handling for her clients and tries to discourage this by faulting our ruling in another case,” it added.
The court reminded Galapate that her language must be forceful and emphatic, dignified and respectful – befitting the dignity of the legal profession. While the court found her words “menacing,” they are not going to hold the lawyer guilty of direct contempt.
“We charge it to human frailty. We will be understanding at this instance, but with warning that a repeat of the same would be severely dealt with,” the court stated.