Score one for ex-justice chief Hernando "Nani" Perez.
The First and Second Divisions of the Sandiganbayan have junked graft and robbery with extortion charges against Perez, his wife Rosario, brother-in-law Ramon Arceo and businessman Ernest Escaler based on the complaint of former Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez.
Both resolutions cited procedural violations committed by the Office of the Ombudsman and infirmities in the information.
With the said rulings, only two cases now remain pending against Perez at the Sandiganbayan – a falsification of public documents charge at the Third Division and a graft indictment before the Fourth Division.
The 10-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Edilberto Sandoval, chairman of the Second Division, said the Ombudsman lost its authority to file the case due to a violation of the defendants’ constitutional right to speedy resolution of their case.
It upheld the defense argument that there was an unusual delay in the investigation because the Ombudsman took almost seven years to come up with a resolution for the indictment of the four accused.
Perez has claimed that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez used his cases as "deodorant" to draw public attention away from other important cases that have slept in the Ombudsman’s docket.
"(T)here being a clear violation of the constitutional right of the accused, the prosecution is ousted of any authority to file the information and we hereby order the quashing of the information and the consequent dismissal of this case," the court said.
Likewise, the Second Division noted an unexplained gap of 18 months from Feb.13, 2001 when Perez supposedly extorted $2 million from Jimenez, to Dec. 23, 2002 when the latter filed his complaint before the Ombudsman.
“The Ombudsman should have demanded a reasonable explanation from the complainant who was then a Congressman, wealthy and influential and in whose house the alleged intimidation took place,” the court noted.
On the other hand, the First Division ruled to grant the defendants’ motion seeking quashal of the case for lack of basis.
Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice and division chair Diosdado Peralta found merit in the defense argument that the Ombudsman illegally ‘chopped’ the Jimenez complaint to come up with four separate cases based on the same facts and circumstances. This, the court said, made the case "defective."
Associate Justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Alexander Gesmundo concurred.
“(T)he factual/material allegations in the subject Information do not constitute the offense of Section 3 (b) of RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act)…and therefore, it is constrained to quash the said Information," the court declared.
“It is settled that the defendant should not be harassed with various prosecutions upon the same act by splitting the same into various charges, all emanating from the same law violated, when the prosecution could easily and well embody them in a single information,” it added.