The ongoing drama in the graft case against Efren Alvarez, mayor of the Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, bears watching (Inquirer, 11/8, 26, 30/12). Filed in the Sandiganbayan on Aug. 6, 2006, the case took over six years to resolve, with the appeal process reaching the Supreme Court. Documents of suspicious origin suggest that both the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court want to revisit it, risking the outbreak of violence in Nueva Ecija and hinting at massive corruption in the justice system.
On Nov. 16, 2009, the Sandiganbayan, by a 3-0 vote, found Alvarez guilty beyond reasonable doubt, sentencing him to a prison term of 6-10 years, demanding the payment of P4.8 million in damages and disqualifying him permanently from holding public office. By a similar unanimous vote, the Sandiganbayan denied the appeal of Alvarez on June 9, 2010. This brought the case to the Supreme Court.
On June 29, 2011, the First Division of the Supreme Court (composed of Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Martin Villarama, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Mariano del Castillo and Lucas Bersamin), by a vote of 5-0, affirmed the Sandiganbayan decision. The Court turned down a second motion for reconsideration filed by the convicted felon and his legal team on July 30, 2012, by a vote of 4-1 (with Bersamin as the lone dissenter), pronounced the verdict as final and executory, recorded the decision in the Book of Entries and Judgments on Aug. 29, 2012, and returned all case files to the Sandiganbayan, which then issued a warrant of arrest against Alvarez.
The convicted mayor stopped going to Muñoz City Hall to avoid arrest. After some time, the provincial governor was asked by city residents to elevate the vice mayor to mayor so that the city could function. On Nov. 6, 2012, after due process, both the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the governor had the vice mayor take her oath of office as mayor.
Within a week after the vice mayor’s ascension to mayor, Alvarez surfaced, armed with documents showing that the Sandiganbayan had withdrawn the warrant of arrest. There is also a new notice, supposedly dated Oct. 22, 2012, indicating that the Supreme Court itself wants to hear the case once more, en banc, raising the question of how final and executory its previous decision was.
Legal flip-flops of this nature will not help promote credibility in our judicial system. And it may even raise questions as to whether the P-Noy administration still pursues “Daang Matuwid.”
It is hoped this isn’t symptomatic of Daang Matuwid justice!—JOSE OSIAS, firstname.lastname@example.org