MANILA - Citing delays in the prosecution of the case, the Sandiganbayan 5th Division has dismissed graft charges against former Camarines Sur Governor Luis Villafuerte Sr. in connection with an allegedly anomalous fertilizer purchase in 2004.
In the court's resolution, cases of other former provincial officers Leticia Aliorde, Mario Alicaway and Jennifer Uy were likewise dismissed.
Villafuerte had argued in his dismissal plea that the illegal acts alleged against him supposedly occurred in 2004, 14 years ago.
He said his defense has “seriously been impaired to his grave prejudice” as the records are no longer with the provincial government and the witnesses have long been gone from public service.
The prosecution, however, stated that Villafuerte failed to show “any particular prejudice caused to them by the alleged delay.”
But the court ruled that the Ombudsman had committed a "palpable violation... of the accused's right to speedy disposition of cases."
"By parity of reasoning, the Ombudsman should be deemed to have been already ousted of its jurisdiction at the time case was filed with the court,” the court said in its resolution penned by 5th Division Chairperson Rafael Lagos, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Ma. Theresa Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann Corpus-Mañalac.
Villafuerte, Alicaway, Uy and Aliorde were accused of conspiring with one another in giving unwarranted benefits to private individuals Alex Rivera and Victoria Ajero over a liquid fertilizer contract which violated government procurement rules.
According to the Ombudsman, Villafuerte approved the procurement of 7,142 bottles of Hexaplus Liquid Fertilizer at P700 each in the total amount of P5 million without public bidding or justification to resort to direct contracting as a mode of procurement.
Villafuerte also said in his motion to dismiss that when the acts being complained of allegedly occurred, he was only 68 years old, but now that he is 82 years old, “one can easily perceive the distress, the embarrassment, the harassment and oppression” that he will continue to suffer because of the case.
The inordinate delay doctrine is a pending issue at the Supreme Court after Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales questioned the dismissal of cases at the Sandiganbayan based on Supreme Court decisions.
Citing Allado vs Diokno, the Sandiganbayan said in the resolution on Villafuerte’s case that “in the hierarchy of rights, the Bill of Rights takes precedence over the right of the State to prosecute and when weighed against each other, the scales of justice tilt towards the former.”
With the dismissal of the cases, the anti-graft court also ordered the lifting of hold departure orders against Villafuerte, Alicaway, Uy and Aliorde.