By Hananeel Bordey
Graft charges against former Department of Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and Palo, Leyte Mayor Remedios Petilla in connection with the 2004 fertilizer fund scam were dismissed by the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division due to the Office of the Ombudsman’s slow progress in handling the case.
According to the resolution signed by Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz, Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto and Chairperson Alex Quiroz, the younger Petilla and his mother sought the dismissal of the cases as they took seven years and four months for the fact-finding Task Force Abono and four years and nine more months of conducting preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman before they were filed.
“From the timeline above, the court finds the hiatus in the preliminary investigation proceedings that took more than three years from the filing of the complaint to be long drawn-out and unjustified,” the court said.
Sandiganbayan noted the span of preliminary investigation as they found the inordinate delay argument meritorious.
“This is a clear instance where the defense of the accused was impaired due to inordinate delay. The court will not countenance the unfair consequences brought upon the accused because of the inordinate delay in the preliminary investigation before the Ombudsman that violated their right to speedy disposition of these cases,” the court said.
Remedios Petilla was charged by the Ombudsman due to her involvement in the P3.131-million contract with Castle Rock, which involved the procurement of 350 gallons of liquid fertilizer while she was still the governor of Leyte.
Likewise, the former secretary who later became the governor in 2004, was also accused of procuring 350 more gallons from the same supplier which cost P1.686 million.
The prosecution blamed the delay in the motions for extension filed by the late former assistant provincial agriculturist Rogelio Portula and said that Jericho did not show he was prejudiced due to the delay.
The cases of the co-accused of the Petillas — former assistant provincial treasurer Rodolfo Badiable and one Marilyn Castillo were also dismissed by the court.