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Peeling off the legalese rind

(Article Published in the Rappler, Jun 13,2014)

       How are 'prayer' and 'quash' used in legal terms? Understand legal jargon in the context of the dismissed graft charges vs businessman Bobby Ongpin

       Businessman Roberto V. Ongpin, and his co-accused banker Reynaldo G. David scored a tenuous legal victory on May 28.

       The Sandiganbayan anti-graft court dismissed the graft charges against controversial businessman Ongpin and former officers and executives of state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) in connection with P660-million loan deals in 2009.

       In a lengthy resolution penned by Justice Samuel R. Martires and concurred in by Justice Jose R. Hernandez, the chairperson of the Special Division, and by Justice Efren N. Dela Cruz, the Special Third Division of the Sandiganbayan, granted the motions to quash filed by Ongpin and his co-accused David (Criminal Cases Nos. SB-13-CRM-0105 and Nos. SB-13-CRM-0106).

       However, it seems a tentative victory only because disagreeing with the majority position, however, were Justice Maria Cristina J. Cornejo and Justice Oscar Herrera, Jr who each one wrote separately dissenting opinions.

       The People of the Philippines, represented by the Ombudsman, is, as in most cases where the court is divided, going to file (if it has not yet done so) its motion for reconsideration in due time. That will extend the time during which the case is required to be treated, particularly by the media, as sub judice and therefore, for the moment, off-limits to public comment or criticism.

        However, because the case of the DBP loans granted to Ongpin had attracted public interest – from the time former Rappler.combusiness editor Lala Rimando had exposed the transaction in her investigative report, to Ongpin testifying before the Senate Committee hearing, to the investigation being conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman, and up to the filing by the People of its case at the Sandiganbayan – it is within the realm of both fair reporting in the media and susceptible material for public instruction. Definitely, however, discussion of the merits of the case is verbotem.

        The issuance of by the Special Third Division of its May 28 resolution, if the division does not, upon the filing of the proper motion reconsider its position, in effect throws the case out of court. In the practical level, it decides and, by so doing, ends the life of the controversy between the parties at that level of the judicial ladder. However such disposition of the case is not called a “decision;” instead it is denominated only as a “resolution.” Why?

       Legalese uses the term “decision” when the court terminates a controversy after considering the merits of the case and deciding who between the parties is entitled to the remedy that they sought from the court. In other instances, however, mostly where the court takes action on some incident pending before the court hearing the case, but without going into the merits of the case, legalese calls the disposition a “resolution.”

       An example of a resolution that ends a case without a determination on the merits is one that stops the criminal proceedings for good because of the death of the accused prior to his conviction or acquittal.

       The May 28 disposition of the Ongpin et al case is thus appropriately titled a “resolution” because it was the action of the Special Third Division ruling on “motions,” some filed, jointly while others singly, by those accused. Those motions are known as “motions to quash the information.”

       “Information” is a term of legal jargon. It does not mean a report, nor a bit of knowledge nor some piece of data, scientific or otherwise. It is simply the written accusation of a specific crime for which an accused is being required to stand trial. It is called “information,” as in the sense of revealing or making known, because it is the state’s compliance with the constitutional mandate that the accused be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him.

       To “quash” an information does not mean to crush into a pulp. Or to swat, like we do to flies. However, in a figurative way, the impression which “quashing an information” seeks to convey is that the accusation is of no legal standing and therefore the paper it is written on ought to be crushed, crumpled, and thrown into the waste basket.

       That was exactly what Ongpin and his co-accused asked the Sandiganbayan to do with their motions to quash. To achieve this, they uniformly, in the “prayer” at the end of their motions, asked for the dismissal of the charges against them. By making this “prayer,” they did not, however, really kneel nor fall prostrate before the altar of justice.

       “Prayer” is another legal short cut which refers to a statement of what the pleaders are asking the court to do on account of the facts and law that they have invoked in their submissions.

       The Special Third Division, by a vote of 3 to 2, granted the prayer of Ongpin and his co-accused. An analysis of the grounds of why the prayer was granted will involve my engagement into and examination of the reasoning, rationalization, or, what seems to be a frequent legal term nowadays, racionization of the division. That, I am not prepared to do at this time, lest I encroach on the sub judicerule; I will do that at the proper time. In the meantime, I suggest, “oratre fratres.” – Rappler.com

       (Reynaldo "Gerry" Geronimo is a partner at the Romulo, Mabanta, Buenaventura Sayoc & De los Angeles law office. He is known as The Trust Guru and maintains a website, www.thetrustguru.com.)

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