Senate OKs Sandiganbayan law amendments

Posted at 05/19/2014 5:48 PM

MANILA - The Senate has passed on third reading a bill amending Presidential Decree No. 1606 or the Sandiganbayan Act as well as another bill extending the corporate life of the Philippine National Railways for another 50 years.

A Senate release said Senate Bill No. 2138 was approved with 20 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and two abstentions from Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.

However, Sen. Bong Revilla Jr. manifested that he intended to change his vote to abstention which will be reflected in the Senate Journal, according to Senate Secretary Oscar Yabes.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said that under the bill, the jurisdiction of "minor" cases will be transferred to the regional trial courts (RTC) which will enable the Sandiganbayan to “concentrate its resources on resolving the most significant cases filed against public officials” and be able to “render judgment in a matter of months.”

He noted that during the last quarter of 2013, about 60 percent of the total cases in the Sandiganbayan are considered "minor" or allegations of damages or bribes not exceeding P1,000,000.

Sen. Koko Pimentel said another concept introduced in Senate Bill No. 2138 is the "justice-designate" concept, wherein the chairperson of a division will "designate a member to hear and receive evidence and resolve all incidents arising therefrom from that day" and allow session to be held upon the attendance of two members of the division instead of the required three.

Under the bill, the concurrence of two justices is enough to "render a ruling on a formal or written motion and a judgment or final order." Currently, Section 5 of the Sandiganbayan Law requires the unanimous vote of all three members for the rendition of final order and failure to reach unanimity will require a special division that takes about four months to establish.

Meanwhile, 22 senators voted to pass Senate Bill No. 1831, extending the corporate life of the Philippine National Railways for another 50 years.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises and sponsor of Senate Bill 183, said the continuance of the commuter rail service in Metro Manila and of the anticipated rail service revival to Bicol will ensure a cheaper alternative means of transportation to passengers who come from the "lowest earning C and D economic bracket of our country’s population."

Sen. Ralph Recto said the rail system could provide an alternative mode of transportation to decongest traffic in heavily populated areas, particularly in Metro Manila. With a report by Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News