MANILA - While expressing regrets over its ruling, the Sandiganbayan 1st Division has dismissed the graft case against former Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Director General and Iloilo 2nd District Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. and several other officials due to delays in the Ombudsman's investigation.
Syjuco and his co-accused former Alimodian, Iloilo Vice Mayor Ramon Anino, former Councilors Emmanuel Adricula, Aquiles Cabaluna Jr., Miguel Ambong, Geefre Alonsabe, Job Almacen and Roy Almonares, are now off the hook after the anti-graft court granted their separate dismissal pleas.
The prosecution had noted that it only took them three years to elevate the case to the court, counting from 2014 when the complaint was filed by the Field Investigation Office of the Ombudsman, not from 2006 when the original complaint was filed by former Iloilo Provincial Administrator Manuel Mejorada.
But the court, citing several Supreme Court decisions on inordinate delay cases, said that the period of investigation “dragged close to 12 years, and not just three years and nine months as claimed by the prosecution.”
One of the doctrines cited is the Coscolluela case, which said that the Ombudsman “should not only be gauged by the quality of the assessment but also by the reasonable promptness of its dispensation.”
“Thus, the Court is constrained, much to its regret, to decree the dismissal of this case,” the court said in its decision penned by 1st Division Chairperson Associate Justice Efren De La Cruz, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona.
Syjuco and the other officials were charged with conspiring with one another for a P5-million fertilizer project involving the non-government organization Tawo Kag Duta sa Kauswagan Cooperative through a questionable memorandum of agreement.
The court noted that the dismissal could also be considered an acquittal, effectively lifting the hold departure orders against the accused and releasing the bonds they had posted.
“Considering that this dismissal is tantamount to an acquittal, the hold departure order issued against the above-named accused by reason of this case is hereby lifted and set aside and the bonds they posted are ordered released, subject to the usual accounting and auditing procedure,” the court said.
But the dismissed case is just one of several Syjuco is facing at the Sandiganbayan, which includes others involving alleged overpriced TESDA educational materials, TESDA scholarship awards, and the supposed use of discretionary funds for his poultry business, among others.