Freeman Region

Over allegations of bias anti-graft court inhibits from mayor’s graft case

Danny B. Dangcalan - The Freeman

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division inhibited itself from handling the graft case of suspended Bacolod City Mayor Monico Puentevella following his allegation that the division has been hostile and biased against him.

A report of GMA News Online (gmanetwork.com) on Thursday said that in a resolution promulgated on Tuesday (January 19), a copy of which was released to the media on Wednesday (January 20), Fourth Division chairman Associate Justice Jose Hernandez granted Puentevella’s motion asking him to recuse himself from handling the case.

“Accordingly, the Motion is granted and in order to disabuse the mind of accused Monico Puentevella, and to further faithfully serve the cause of justice, Associate Justice Jose R. Hernandez and the Fourth Division, as a consequence, voluntarily inhibit from further sitting and trying this case,” Hernandez said in the ruling.

“It is still the best policy that courts should not be politicized and be made the venue and jousts of politicians,” it added. The ruling was concurred by Fourth Division members Associate Justices Alex Quiroz and Oscar Herrera Jr.

Under the internal rules of the Sandiganbayan, the inhibition of the division chairman or all three division members that has jurisdiction over a pending case will call for a re-raffle of the case to the other divisions of the anti-graft court.

Puentevella was indicted last year in the graft case over the allegedly anomalous purchase of computers and software packages at P400,000 each, and worth P26 million in 2001 to 2006, funded from his Priority Development Assistance Fund, or pork barrel, during his incumbency as congressman of Bacolod City.

Based on the information of the case, the purchased items were overpriced and the supply contract was awarded to Maryland Publishing Corp. without undergoing a public bidding.

Puentevella was issued a preventive suspension order by the Sandiganbayan last month directing him to cease and desist from exercising the functions and privileges of his office for 90 days. He will be back as mayor on February 15.

While the Fourth Division resolved to grant Puentevella’s motion for inhibition, it refuted his claim that the court has been hostile and biased against him.

It can be remembered that in a motion filed in November last year, Puentevella asked the three magistrates to inhibit from handling his graft case because he has lost his trust and confidence in the court due to its previous rulings on the case.

Puentevella cited the hearing held on May 22, 2015 wherein the court denied his motion for bill of particulars, which seeks to compel the prosecution to provide additional information. He added that in that same hearing, the court ordered his arraignment to proceed, thus, rendering his right to appeal as “moot”.

Puentevella said his constitutional right to be informed of the nature of the charges against him has been violated. He earlier maintained that the case filed against him by the Office of the Ombudsman in February 2014 lacked sufficient details.

Puentevella further alleged that Hernandez exhibited a “hostile” attitude towards him, by warning him in a raised voice not to bring his political differences with the complainant Bacolod City Councilor Carlos Jose Lopez, to the court.

“Don’t make this court an arena of your political brawls. We are not interested in your politics. You may kill each other for all we care but don’t bring your fight here,” Puentevella quoted Hernandez as saying.

But the Fourth Division further said that a review of the transcript stenographic notes of the said court hearing revealed Hernandez did not utter the words Puentevella quoted in his motion for inhibition.

However, the Fourth Division pointed out that Puentevella was not barred from filing a motion for reconsideration but he failed to do so.

“With the denial of his motion for bill of particulars and his subsequent arraignment…he could have filed a motion for reconsideration as parties have done so in many other cases. However, he failed to do so. It [right to appeal the ruling] was mooted because no motion for reconsideration was filed,” the court said.

“Moreover, this Court cannot be faulted for denying a motion which had no purpose but to further delay his arraignment,” the court added.

“Still and all, the Chairperson inhibits himself and, as a consequence, the division, from trying this case if only to disabuse the mind of accused Puentevella that the Court cannot render impartial justice,” the resolution read.

“The Chairperson finds it prudent to recuse himself from hearing this case than to have any action or order he would make on the incidents of the case be put under a cloud of doubt and distrust,” it added. (FREEMAN)

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