In People vs. Sandiganbayan (First Division), G.R. No. 240776, 20 November 2019, the Supreme Court reiterated the rule that in determining whether there is inordinate delay by the Office of the Ombudsman in resolving criminal complaints filed before it, the period taken for fact-finding investigations prior to the filing of the formal complaint for the conduct of preliminary investigation should be excluded. Consequently, the period should start to run (or be counted) only from the time that a formal complaint is filed against the respondents - where they are required to file their counter-affidavits - and not during case build-up where the proceedings are not adversarial in nature.
The High Court explained that the "build-up" stage is not meant to be adversarial in nature, even if the Respondents are initially required to answer the charges against them. Moreover, during this fact-finding stage, it is still unsure whether the Office of Ombudsman would be filing a case against them.
Likewise, in determining whether there is inordinate delay, the Supreme Court reminded party-litigants that a mere mathematical recknoning of the time involved is insufficient. Instead, inordinate delay should be determined after considering a myriad of factors such as, but not limited to, (a) the length of delay, (b) the reason for the delay, (c) the defendant's assertion or non-assertion of his or her right, and (d) the prejudice to the defendant as a result of the delay.
Finally, in order to have a case dismissed because of inordinate delay (a ground whichlitigants before the Sandiganbayan usually invoke), the High Court explained that the party adversely affected by it should raise his/her right to a speedy trial thru an appropriate motion; otherwise, he or she will be deemed to have acquiesced to the delay and thus waive the right to a speedy trial.
With this ruling of the Supreme Court, which is actually just a reiteration of its previous ruling in the fairly recent case of Cagang v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. Nos. 206438, 206458, and 210141-42, 31 July 2018, it appears that the usual ground of "inordinate delay" raised by litigants to have cases dismissed by the Sandiganbayan would now be limited and the public will no longer hear of seemingly meritorious cases being dismissed just because the Office of the Ombudsman took their time in the fact-finding stage, as was in other cases.
(Aaron Jarveen O. Ho is the Managing Partner of HG Law. For questions or concerns, Atty. Ho may be reached through his e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org)