By Czarina Nicole Ong
The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division has refused to quash the graft charge filed against former Iloilo 5th District Rep. Rolex Suplico in relation to the reported priority development assistance fund (PDAF) scam back in 2007.
He was accused of violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019, also known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, alongside Technology and Livelihood Resource Center (TLRC) director general Antonio Ortiz and Aaron Foundation Philippines Inc. president Alfredo Ronquillo.
The three reportedly conspired with one another from February to May 2007 in the implementation of livelihood and development projects worth P15 million for the 5th District of Iloilo which came from the PDAF of Suplico for the year 2007.
From that amount, P14,700,000 was transferred to the non-government organization Aaron Foundation on May 4 despite several irregularities.
In his motion to quash, Suplico argued that his constitutional right to speedy disposition of his case has been violated due to inordinate delay on the part of the prosecution, and that the Office of the Ombudsman violated the rule against forum shopping.
Suplico said that it took more than eight years, seven months and 13 days for the Ombudsman to resolve his complaint-affidavit. For him, that period of time to conduct the preliminary investigation was “protracted” and “has the effect of violating his constitutional right to due process and speedy trial.”
As for his argument of forum shopping, Suplico said the Ombudsman received two complaint affidavits arising from the same sets of facts and circumstances. The first one was filed on March 6, 2014 before the Office of the Ombudsman for Visayas by the Public Assistance and Corruption Prevention Office (PACPO) and the other one on December 22, 2015 before the Office of the Ombudsman by the Field Investigation Office (FIO).
Suplico claimed that the pendency of both cases falls squarely within the definition of forum shopping, which is practiced by litigants who want their legal case heard in the court most likely to provide a favorable judgment.
In allowing the PACPO and the FIO to independently pursue him, Suplico said the Ombudsman brought about “the very evils forbidden in the law and jurisprudence.”
However, the Sandiganbayan denied his motion for lack of merit. The anti-graft court said Suplico mistakenly included the conduct of the fact-finding investigation in his period of eight years, seven months and 13 days.
The Supreme Court already held that the fact-finding investigation is not counted in determining whether or not the right of the accused to speedy disposition of the case was violated, the Sandiganbayan said.
The court said Suplico failed to show how he was prejudiced by the said delay on his case.
“On this point, it is significant to point out that in his motion to quash, accused-movant did not allege that they asserted their right to speedy disposition of his case at the earliest possible time and there was no claim at all or evidence presented to show that he was prejudiced by the delay,” the court ruled.
Meanwhile, the court was not persuaded by his assertion that the Ombudsman violated the rule on forum shopping. A comparison of the two complaints filed against Suplico reveal that the parties involved in the PACPO and FIO cases are not identical.
“While it is true that the two set of cases arose from the same set of facts involving the transfer of PDAF of accused-movant, the causes of actions of the two set of cases are entirely different from the other as there can be multiple acts as sources of distinct criminal liability over the same government fund in question,” the court ruled.
The 17-page resolution was penned by Chairperson Rafael Lagos with the concurrence of Associate Justices Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann Corpus-Manalac.