Ombudsman faces possible all-time low record in cases filed at Sandiganbayan

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 24) — The Office of the Ombudsman could post this year its worst record on the number of corruption cases filed at the Sandiganbayan.

Data from the anti-graft court's records division showed the Ombudsman has only filed 63 cases from January to September.

In the history of the Sandiganbayan, the lowest record for indictments so far was seen in 2007 when only 93 cases were filed at the Sandiganbayan under then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

This year, Ombudsman Samuel Martires could beat that record. He admitted his office may not be able to surpass this number by December.

"There was a time na magpa-file na sana kami ng mga kaso sa Sandiganbayan, medyo marami-rami pero tinigil ko sila," Martires told CNN Philippines over the phone. "Ito yung kasagsagan na maraming nagka-COVID sa Sandiganbayan. So sabi ko huwag."

[Translation: There was a time when we wanted to file cases at the Sandiganbayan, it was quite a lot but I stopped it. This was at the height of COVID infections at the Sandiganbayan. So I said don't.]

One act, one case policy

Aside from the pandemic, Martires is also implementing new policies that will result in lower number of cases filed at the Sandiganbayan.

He has instructed his prosecutors to follow a one act, one case policy, limiting the number of cases filed against an accused, supposedly to avoid redundancy.

Martires said his predecessors used to file as many cases as possible to ensure conviction, which he disagrees with.

"Kasi naniniguro yung mga dating ombudsman na at least 'pag na-acquit dito sa isa, meron pang mga iba, na baka maka-secure pa ng conviction, which I do not agree with because that is already harassment. So tinigil ko yun, one act, one case period," Martires explained.

[Translation: Because the previous ombudsmen wanted to make sure that at least when an acquittal happens in one, they could secure a conviction in another, which I do not agree with because that is already harassment. So I put a stop to that, one act one case period.]

Martires was appointed as chief graft buster in August 2018. Since then, a downtrend was seen in the cases filed at the Sandiganbayan.

In 2018, 739 cases were filed, but more than half of the indictments were from January to July, before Martires was appointed.

Last year, Ombudsman prosecutors brought only 198 new cases at the anti-graft court.

Martires said it is also because the bulk of the cases go to regional trial courts.

"Marami talagang cases na hindi na umaabot sa Sandiganbayan kasi doon na sa mga RTC naipa-file because of the expanded jurisdiction of the regional trial courts," Martires said.

[Translation: There are a lot of cases that do not reach the Sandiganbayan as they are filed at the RTC because of the expanded jurisdiction of the regional trial courts.]

Anti-corruption advocates have criticized Martires for his policies that supposedly go against his mandate.

He recently issued a circular restricting public access to officials' Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth.

The former Sandiganbayan justice has also stopped the conduct of lifestyle checks, saying failing it does not necessarily prove corruption.