DOJ’s ‘inordinate’ delay in resolving complaint results in dismissal of charges

Published August 26, 2021, 2:47 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

Due to “inordinate delay” in the investigation and resolution of the complaint, the Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the dismissal of the 16 criminal charges filed before the trial court against the former vice chairman and vice president of the now defunct Bankwise, Inc.

It ruled that the Department of Justice (DOJ) “was guilty of inordinate delay in issuing its Resolution dated Feb. 8, 2019 only about ten (10) years and five (5) months from the filing of the complaint.”

Cleared of the criminal charges in the decision written by Associate Justice Amy C. Lazaro Javier were Vicente J. Campa Jr. and Perfecto M. Pascua, former vice chairman and vice president, respectively of Bankwise.

Associate Justice Amy C. Lazaro Javier

The decision granted the petition filed by Campa and Pascua.

Case records showed that on Sept. 12, 2007, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) filed a complaint before the DOJ against seven officers of Bankwise for violations of Monetary Board Resolution No. 1460 in relation to Section 3, Republic Act No. 7653, the New Central Bank Act.

Specifically, the Bankwise officers were charged with issuing unfunded manager’s checks and failing to present documents to support the bank’s disbursements in acquiring assets.

After investigation, the DOJ submitted the complaint for resolution on Aug. 29, 2008.

It was only on Feb. 8, 2019 when the DOJ found probable cause and filed 11 criminal charges before the Makati City regional trial court (RTC) against Campa and five charges against Pascua.

On May 28, 2019, Campa and Pascua asked the RTC to dismiss the charges “on ground of inordinate delay.”

They told the trial court that the DOJ violated their right to a speedy disposition of their cases as enshrined under Section 16, Article III of the Constitution.

On Aug. 13, 2019, the RTC denied their motion. When the trial court denied their motion for reconsideration and set their arraignment, they elevated the case to the SC.

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) sought the dismissal of Campa and Pascua’s SC petition. Among other things, the OSG told the SC that “speedy disposition is relative and there is no hard-and-fast mathematical rule in appreciating a timeframe; and cases must be resolved based on their attendant facts and circumstances.”

In junking the OSG’s arguments and granting Campa and Pascua’s petition, the SC said:

“Here, petitioners were unduly prejudiced by the ten(10)-year delay because access to records and contact to witnesses could prove to be too difficult to effectively defend themselves in trial.

“More, they were never informed or updated on the status of the investigation, depriving them of any opportunity to adequately prepare for any impending trial, mentally, physically, and even financially — especially considering their advanced age.

“In fact, petitioners (Campa and Pascua) mentioned that the delay made them believe that the proceedings had been terminated due to the sheer length of time that they were left hanging.

“Verily, without having the opportunity to prepare, they were left fully vulnerable, with neither a shield nor a sword in hand to defend a blow and parry an attack.

“Prejudice from delay is most serious when a defendant is rendered unable to adequately prepare his case, as here. There is also prejudice when defense witnesses could no longer accurately recall events in the distant past.

“To stress, the DOJ investigation took about ten (10) years and five (5) months to conclude. Clearly, this is way beyond the periods for investigation set forth under Section 3, Rule 112 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Manual for Prosecutors.

“It is the DOJ which has the burden of proving that the delay in the resolution of petitioners’ cases was not unreasonable In its comment, the OSG admits to the delay but attributes it to the changes in leadership in the DOJ during the course of the investigation, the complexity of the case, as well as the DOJ’s workload. But these circumstances do not excuse the delay here of about ten (10) years and five (5) months.

“If the investigation truly took less than a month for the resolution to be finalized (in 2019), then the rest of the delay, about ten ( 10) years and four ( 4) months, was unaccounted for, unexplained, and certainly inordinate.

“Here, petitioners neither caused nor contributed to the delay –no dilatory tactics were employed, nor needless motions, filed. In fact, the delay appears to be imputable purely on the prosecution.

“Hence, institutional delay could not be validly raised and considered in favor of the prosecution. For in this context, there is no one else to blame but itself. In sum, the Court concludes that the prosecution’s unjustified delay in the preliminary investigation violated petitioners’ right to speedy disposition of their cases.

“The charges against VICENTE J. CAMPA, JR. and PERFECTO M. PASCUA are DISMISSED on ground of inordinate delay. SO ORDERED.”