Delayed proceedings on a graft case? COVID-19 is culprit – Sandiganbayan

Published February 13, 2021, 1:50 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

The Sandiganbayan has denied the plea of an accused in a graft case as it cited that the delay in the proceedings was caused by restrictions imposed amidst the corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Sandiganbayan (MANILA BULLETIN)

Denied was the motion to dismiss filed by Rosemarie Preston Villanueva, branch manager of the Philippine Postal Savings Bank, Inc. (PPSBI) in Naga City.

In her motion, Villanueva said that there was delay in the proceedings on her graft case and that the Sandiganbayan has no jurisdiction.

Villanueva was charged with graft by giving unwarranted benefits in 2008 to Noel A. Antonio and other clients by offering and allowing them to invest in the bank’s Premium Savings Plan and earn three per cent per month or 36 per cent per annum, contrary to the regular interest rate of 0.250 per cent per annum for peso deposit accounts.

As a result, the prosecution said these account holders unjustly earned roughly P39,050,000 in the form of accrued interests from 2013 to 2017.

On the issue of jurisdiction, Villanueva claimed that the Sandiganbayan has no jurisdiction over the offense charged because her position is below Salary Grade 27 or less than P126,267 per month salary.

In denying her motion, the Sandiganbayan – in a resolution written by Associate Justice Oscar C. Herrera Jr. – said Section 4 of Presidential Decree 1606, the Sandiganbayan law, states that the anti-graft court has exclusive original jurisdiction in all cases involving “presidents, directors, or trustees, or managers of government-owned or controlled corporations, state universities or educational institutions or foundations.”

The PPSBI is a government-owned and controlled corporation, the resolution pointed out.

The Sandiganbayan did not agree that Villanueva’s right to speedy trial was violated.

Citing its records, the court said that the case against Villanueva was filed on Jan. 31, 2020 and she posted bail on March 16, 2020 after ruling that there was probable cause and ordering her arrest.

The Sandiganbayan said that while Villanueva was set for arraignment on May 15, 2020, COVID-19 got in the way of court hearings and other proceedings.

“This (arraignment) had to be cancelled due to the lockdown and physical closure of all courts due to the pandemic. With the resumption of court proceedings, the arraignment was again set on Oct. 9, 2020, but movant had then already filed the instant Motion to Quash,” it said.

Thus, the court said, the delay in Villanueva’s case “was not vexatious, capricious, or oppressive.”

Associate Justices Michael Frederick L. Musngi and Bayan H. Jacinto concurred in the resolution.