The Supreme Court (SC) has granted the plea of former Makati City Mayor Elenita S. Binay to have her two criminal cases, each for alleged graft and malversation, be tried separately by the Sandiganbayan to avoid confusion in the proceedings and to afford her speedy trial.
Binay, a physician and who was mayor from 1998 to 2001, was included in 2014 as co-accused of other city officials who had earlier been indicted in 2011.
She and the other city officials were charged with graft and malversation in the purchase in 2001 of P36.4 million worth of hospital beds and bedside cabinets, and in the purchase in 2000 of autoclave machines and dry heat sterilizers.
In 2014, the cases were denominated as “People v. Elenita Binay, et al.”
When she learned of the consolidation, she asked the Sandiganbayan to re-raffle the cases and conduct separate trials. She also sought the inhibition of Sandiganbayan Presiding Amparo Cabotaje Tang for alleged bias and partiality.
On Jan. 13, 2017, the Sandiganbayan denied Binay’s pleas. The anti-graft court ruled that the cases had been consolidated as early as 2011 and Binay was included in the charges only in 2014.
The Sandiganbayan also ruled that the consolidated cases covered offenses of the same class and involved similar parties. Binay’s motion to inhibit Presiding Justice Tang was also denied. She then elevated the issues before the SC.
Binay told the SC that the consolidation of the cases, instead of simplifying the proceedings, would cause confusion. She pointed out that the prosecution has to finish the presentation of evidence in each of the two cases and, thus, their resolution would be delayed.
She also said that the charges against her involved different transactions, covered by different purchase orders, and done on different occasions. She pointed out that involved in the two cases are unrelated documentary exhibits and pieces of evidence.
In resolving the issue, the SC in a resolution on GR Nos. 231262-65 which was promulgated last June 14 and made public last Nov. 25, agreed with Binay that “the consolidation of the cases would result in a confusion of evidence.”
“Individuals not charged in Criminal Case Nos. SB-11-CRM-0272-0273 would be confronted with pieces of evidence and allegations unrelated to their cases. The same goes for individuals who were charged only under Criminal Case Nos. SB-11-CRM-0274-0275,” the SC said.
“While it is true that a separate trial would entail additional costs and time in the presentation of witnesses and documents, allaying these extra burdens cannot take precedence over petitioner’s (Binay) constitutional right to speedy trial,” it stressed.
On the denial of Binay’s motion to inhibit Presiding Justice Tang, the SC agreed with the Sandiganbayan’s ruling that there were no bias and partiality on her (Tang) statements during the court proceedings as they were mere clarificatory questions.
The SC ruled:
“WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED. The Jan. 13, 2017 and March 22, 2017 Resolutions of the Sandiganbayan are MODIFIED. The Sandiganbayan is directed to issue an order for the re-raffle of the criminal cases. Criminal Case Nos. SB-11-CRM-0272-0273 shall proceed independently of Criminal Case Nos. SB-11-CRM-0274-0275. These cases shall be resolved with dispatch by the Divisions to which the cases will be raffled. SO ORDERED.”