DOJ supports doubling prescriptive period for graft cases

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2011 07:14 PM | Updated as of Mar 15 2011 04:56 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) supports moves to double the prescriptive period for the prosecution of violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, or Republic Act 3019, from 15 years to 30 years.

Responding to a query from Rep. Marlyn Primicias-Agabas, chairperson of the House committee on revision of laws, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said in a legal opinion dated March 1, 2011 that she saw "no constitutional or legal objection" to the enactment of House Bill numbers 351 and 588 pertaining to a proposed amendment of the prescriptive period found in Section 11 of Republic Act 3019.

Should the bill be enacted into law, it will take 30 years following commission of the offense before violators can no longer be held liable or charged.

"The proposal to increase the prescriptive period from fifteen (15) years to thirty (30) years is in line with the Philippines' drive towards curbing, if not totally eliminating, corruption in all four corners of the government," the opinion read.

"The proposed amendment... is aimed to strengthen further the constitutional mandate as provided in Section 27, Article 2 of the 1987 Constitution, which states: "The state shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption.”

The justice chief said the move strengthens the Philippines' obligations, both locally and internationally - as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) - to prosecute erring government officials and prevent them from walking scot-free due to mere technicalities.

The following are examples of what constitute corrupt practices of public officers:

  • persuading or influencing another public officer to commit acts that violate rules and violations duly promulgated by authority;
  • directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, share or benefit for himself or for any other person in a contract or government transaction wherein said officer has to intervene under the law;
  • entering, on behalf of government, into a contract or transaction grossly disadvantageous to government;
  • divulging valuable information of a confidential character; and,
  • approving or granting any license, permit, privilege or benefit to any person not qualified or not legally entitle to it.

De Lima also expressed support for moves by the lower House to amend sections of the Revised Penal Code pertaining to malversation of public funds or property via 2 pending bills - House bills 546 and 2009.

House Bill 546 seeks to amend Sections 217 to 222 of the Revised Penal Code by upgrading the existing penalty structure and modifying the equivalent misappropriated monetary value to reflect the prevailing value of the peso.

Under the revised penal code, the penalty for failure of an accountable officer to submit accounts for a period of two months is P200 to P6,000, or both. The bill seeks to penalize this offense with a fine of P20,000.

Failure of public officers to submit accounts before leaving the country, meantime, is penalized with a fine of P200 to P1,000 under the code. The bill now seeks to fine this with P20,000 to P50,000, or both.

Illegal use of public funds or property is punishable by 6 months and 1 day to 6 years or a fine ranging from one-half to the total of the sum misapplied. The proposal is a fine equivalent to 50% of the total of the sum misapplied.

House Bill 2009, meantime, seeks to amend Section 217 of the Revised Penal Code by treating as prima facie proof of malversation the failure to liquidate cash advances within the period provided for compliance.

Again, the DOJ found "no constitutional or legal infirmity" in the proposed measure as it held that this is "consistent with the constitutional mandate of taking positive and effective measures against graft and corruption."

"Increasing the penalty for crimes constituting malversation of public funds or property is a step to deter public officials and employees from committing crimes involving public funds and property," De Lima, in her legal opinion, said.