COVID-19 brings OMB case filing rate to all-time low

The Ombudsman's filing of cases before the Sandiganbayan has hit an all-time low this year, as there were zero cases filed from the months of April to June.

However, there are several factors that should be considered: first, the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was at an all-time high during those months; and secondly, the government-imposed lockdowns were still in place.

"There was a time na magpa-file na sana kami ng mga kaso sa Sandiganbayan, medyo marami rami, tinigil ko sila. Ito yung kasagsagan na maraming nagka-COVID sa Sandiganbayan. So sabi ko huwag, (There was a time when we would have filed cases in Sandiganbayan, they were a lot, I stopped them. This was the height of the COVID cases in Sandiganbayan. So I said no)," shared Ombudsman Samuel Martires.

Martires added that e-filing of cases was likewise not feasible, because there is usually a ton of evidence that are included with each case.

The low turn-out of cases filed before the anti-graft court could also be attributed to Martires' instruction to prosecutors that they should be more prudent with their time and resources.

"Ang instruction ko, do not file an information or a case unless natanggap na noong respondent yung kopya ng desisyon (the respondent has received a copy of the decision) and if there is a pending motion for reconsideration, let us first resolve the MR before we file the case)," he said.

Before, Martires said that prosecutors will proceed with filing cases even though respondents still have a pending MR. This only prompts the defense lawyer to call for a suspension of the proceedings because there is a pending MR before the Office of the Ombudsman.

"Nag-aksaya ka ng panahon, nag-aksaya ka ng papel para ano? Para ipalandakan mo sa publiko na andami kong naifile na kaso? Hindi ko gawain yun (You wasted time, you wasted paper, for what? To publicize the number of cases I have filed? That's not how I do things)," he said.

Martires added that the bulk of cases are now with regional trial courts (RTC), and he cited R.A. 10660, which expanded the jurisdiction of RTC. When it comes to graft cases, if the amount involved is less than P1 million, Martires explained that it would go to RTCs.

"Kahit high ranking ka, at less than P1 million, RTC ang patak mo hindi sa Sandiganbayan (Even if you are a high-ranking official, if the amount is less than P1 million, the case will go to the RTC and not the Sandiganbayan)," he stressed.