Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in his ponencia in Cagan v, Sandiganbayan, a 2020 decision by the Supreme Court, said the right of the accused to a speedy trial and to a speedy disposition of the case against him was designed to prevent the oppression of the citizen by holding criminal prosecution suspended over him for an indefinite time, and to prevent delays in the administration of justice by mandating the courts to proceed with reasonable dispatch in the trial of criminal cases.
Such right to a speedy trial and a speedy disposition of a case is violated only when the proceeding is attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays.
In this regard, the inquiry as to whether or not an accused has been denied such right is not susceptible by precise qualification.
The concept of a speedy disposition is a relative term and must necessarily be a flexible concept.
Leonen further observed that: “the right to speedy disposition of cases is violated only when there is inordinate delay, such that the proceedings are ‘attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays; or when unjustified postponements of the trial are asked for and secured, or when without cause or unjustifiable motive, a long period of time is allowed to elapse without the party having his case tried.’”
As pointed out by Justice Leonen, inordinate delay was first introduced in Tatad v. Sandiganbayan when the Supreme Court ruled that the inordinate delay in the conclusion of preliminary investigation and subsequent filing of information will result to (sic) the violation of the right to speedy disposition of cases and right to due process.
In so ruling, this Court considered several circumstances such as: the political motivation which propelled the prosecution; (2) the patent violation of procedural rules; and (3) the unjustified delay in attending the investigation.
Ultimately, Tatad held that the determination of whether or not there is a violation of speedy disposition of cases applies on a case-to -case basis:
In a number of cases, this Court has not hesitated to grant the so-called “radical relief’ and to spare the accused from undergoing the rigors and expense of a full-blown trial where it is clear that the has been deprived of due process of law or other constitutionally guaranteed rights.
“Of course, it goes without saying that in the application of the doctrine enunciated in those cases, particular regard must be taken of the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case”
Thus, the concept of speedy disposition is relative.
There is no hard-and-fast mathematical rule on the reckoning of time involved and facts peculiar to each case must be taken into account, Leonen added.
The Reyes decision is an innovation and can significantly modify the understanding of a few things. It enhances the utility of habeas corpus as a remedy.
This writ is usually used to question the legality of an arrest or detention; now it can be used to release a person whose constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated.
As I said in my column last Tuesday, this is a good decision if it is applied to all detention prisoners under the same circumstances.
I cite the examples of Leila De Lima and Myles Albasin, detained for six years and five years now respectively.
We all know what was done with Senator De Lima.
In her case though, the proceedings are nearing the final stages and her lawyers are rightly weighing whether it is prudent to just wait for the trial courts to conclude such proceedings.
As for Miles Albasin, she is a UP Cebu alumna and former student leader, a political activist, and now languishing in detention after being accused as a member of the New Peoples Army.
She was planning to go to law school when first arrested and if she was granted bail then, she would already have taken the bar exams like many of her peers.
Both De Lima and Albasin and many other political prisoners are facing frivolous and wrongful accusations.
They too must benefit from the Reyes decision and be able to secure their own release, if not the dismissal of their respective cases.
There is no indication that this is a pro hac vice decision and it would certainly be unfair if treated as such.
The right to a speedy trial is sacrosanct.
As long as the actions of the accused are not the reason for the delay, the right to a speedy trial must be unconditionally upheld.
In accordance with prevailing jurisprudence, the court does not state the length of time when a person can be properly detained before a speedy trial can be invoked.
But in my opinion, I say one year is enough.
The basic principle is that no one should be deprived of liberty unless there has been a trial and final conviction.
Gigi Reyes was rightly released.
Others like her must also benefit from this good precedent.