Tuesday, December 17, 2019

P200 billion forfeiture case vs Marcoses dismissed

Efforts to recover billions of pesos of wealth allegedly amassed by the Marcos family during the martial law regime have again suffered a major setback ostensibly due to the failure of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to present sufficient evidence in court.

In a 58-page decision promulgated yesterday, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division dismissed Civil Case No. 0002 filed by the PCGG against the Marcos family in 1987.

The case sought to recover from the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda and their children – Sen. Imee Marcos-Manotoc, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Irene Marcos-Araneta – a total of P200 billion in wealth allegedly amassed from government coffers during their family’s 20-year reign.

Also named as defendant in the case was the dictator’s alleged dummy, Constante Rubio.

“(The) Court acknowledges the atrocities committed during martial law under the Marcos regime and the ‘plunder’ committed on the country’s resources. However, absent sufficient evidence that may lead to the conclusion that the subject properties were indeed ill-gotten by the Marcoses, the Court cannot simply order the return of the same to the national treasury,” the Fourth Division’s decision read. The ruling was penned by division chairman Associate Justice Alex Quiroz with the concurrence of Associate Justices Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann Corpus-Mañalac.

Filed by the PCGG in July 1987, the information of the case has undergone three amendments until 1998.

Based on the amended case information, the Marcos couple illegally amassed their wealth through confiscation of large private enterprises, “particularly those belonging to opponents of the Marcos regime;” conversion of government-owned and controlled corporations into private enterprises; awarding of various government contracts to their relatives, business associates and dummies; misappropriating to themselves funds from government financial institutions including donations and loans from foreign countries.

The PCGG said the Marcoses also obtained massive loans, guarantees and other types of financial accommodations from government banks through overpriced projects; received kickbacks, commissions and bribes from persons and corporations entering into contracts with the government; established monopolies in commerce particularly in agriculture and gambling; and illegal sale of various government corporations and properties.

The PCGG said the illegally acquired wealth were stashed by the Marcos couple in several banks locally and abroad, as well as in several foundations.

The PCGG said the couple also used the funds for the purchase of real estate and shares of stocks. Among the supposed ill-acquired assets of the Marcoses identified by the PCGG in its complaints were deposits at the Security Bank and Trust (P976 million) and Traders Royal Bank (P711 million); 33 parcels of residential properties with an estimated value of P18 million and 21,700 hectares of agricultural land in Leyte with an estimated value of P33 million; shares of stocks with the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) estimated at P1.6 billion; deposits in several banks in the United States estimated at $292 million; investments in financial houses, industrial and mining corporations in the US at approximately $98 million, as well as unvalued real properties in Manhattan, Long Island and Fifth Avenue in New York, a penthouse in London, residential houses in Honolulu, Hawaii, Beverly Hills, California and Cedars, Mississippi.

Apart from the forfeiture in favor of the government of the Marcoses’ alleged unlawfully acquired wealth, the PCGG also prayed to the court to order the former first family to reimburse the government P250 million representing the expenses it incurred in efforts to recover the wealth.

The PCGG also sought P50 billion in moral damages and P1 billion in exemplary damages. The PCGG said the Marcoses must also be compelled to pay temperate damages, nominal damages and other judicial costs, the amounts of which shall be determined by the court.

In its decision, however, the Fourth Division said the PCGG, represented in court by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), merely presented photocopied documents with no proof of the existence of the originals, in violation of the best evidence rule.

The court noted that even the PCGG’s own witness, its records officer Ma. Lourdes Magno, admitted during her testimony that she cannot state for certain whether the originals of the PCGG’s documentary exhibits, including the income tax returns (ITRs) of Marcos Sr., were in the possession of the PCGG. “The bulk of the documentary evidence offered by the plaintiff (PCGG) are mere photocopies, most of which are barely readable. Thus even if the Court were to defy the best evidence rule, it still could not fully ascertain the contents of these documents and make an intelligent evaluation therefrom,” the Fourth Division said.

The court said no witness was also presented to testify on the execution or preparation of a few documents which were already admitted by the defense as faithful reproduction of the originals. Thus, those documents could also not be given probative value as they are considered “hearsay evidence.”

“Thus, regardless of how the members of the Court may feel towards the case, the Court is mandated to look only into the applicable law and jurisprudence, and the evidence presented to it, in determining whether the allegations of the claiming party should be sustained,” the Fourth Division said.

This marked the fourth civil forfeiture case against the Marcoses dismissed by the Sandiganbayan this year. The anti-graft court had earlier dismissed Civil Case Nos. 0007, 0008 and 0034 which sought to recover from the former first family ill-gotten wealth amounting to P267.371 million, P1.052 billion and P102 billion, respectively. In all of these four dismissed cases, the Sandiganbayan stressed the PCGG’s blunder of presenting mere photocopied documents as well as its failure to present competent witnesses privy to the execution of its documentary exhibits.

There were a total of 43 civil forfeiture cases filed by the PCGG at the Sandiganbayan against the Marcos family and their cronies since Marcos Sr.’s ouster through the 1986 mass revolt. To date, 17 of these cases remain pending, 23 were already dismissed, two were ruled in favor of the government and one was indefinitely archived.
SOURCE: www.philstar.com