Sandiganbayan junks ex-Sarangani gov’s plea to dismiss fertilizer fund scam raps


MANILA — The Sandiganbayan has junked the plea of a former Sarangani governor seeking to dismiss criminal cases against him over the alleged misuse of a PHP5-million fertilizer fund in 2004.

The anti-graft court’s 6th Division denied Miguel Escobar’s motion to quash for lack of merit.

“In the cases before the Court, accused Escobar failed to seasonably assert his right to a speedy disposition of the case. He neither raised the issue of inordinate delay before the Office of the Ombudsman nor took any overt acts questioning the alleged inordinate delay. His inaction shows acquiescence and waiver to question any violation of his right to a speedy disposition of the case,” it said in a resolution dated January 16.

The Office of the Ombudsman charged Escobar with graft and malversation after he entered into a tripartite memorandum of agreement between Saranggani province, Department of Agriculture 12 (Soccsksargen), and Workers Cooperative of the Philippines (WCP), a non-governmental organization, the selection of which as the conduit implementor of the fertilizer project was attended by alleged irregularities.

In his motion to quash, Escobar argued that he was no longer the governor when the criminal acts were allegedly committed from July to September in 2004.

He added that he was deprived of due process because he never received a copy of the Ombudsman’s resolution as he has neither used nor gave the Ombudsman the residential address stated in the charge sheet.

He also argued that the Ombudsman violated his right to a speedy disposition of the case as it took it almost six years to file the cases on May 4, 2018 from the time the complaint was instituted on Nov. 7, 1992.

However, the court said the information against Escobar were filed one month and 25 days from the approval of the joint order denying the motion for reconsideration and/or reinvestigation by his co-accused — Abdulwahab A. Bayao, Estrella C. Sabay, and Mustapha G. Ismael.

“The prosecution also gave sufficient justification for the time it took the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct its preliminary investigation and to file the information with the Sandiganbayan,” it added.

“This Court is not unmindful of the duty of the Ombudsman under the Constitution and Republic Act No. 6770 to act promptly on complaints brought before it. Such duty, however, should not be mistaken with a hasty resolution of cases at the expense of thoroughness and correctness,” it said.

The Sandiganbayan set Escobar and the other accused’s arraignment and pre-trial on Feb. 8, 2019. (PNA)