PCGG can’t touch Marcos wealth, SC rules

The Supreme Court has affirmed the decision of the Sandiganbayan to dismiss the Philippine Commission on Good Government’s bid to sequester in favor of the government P51 billion in an alleged ill-gotten wealth of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda and their alleged cronies.

In a decision written by Associate Justice Noel Tijam, the SC’s First Division sustained the judgment handed by the anti-graft court dismissing the PCGG’s complaint for reconveyance of the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies for lack of evidence.

The Court sided with the Sandiganbayan’s findings that the “weight of evidence fails to preponderate” in the PCGG’s favor when the commission’s evidence is checked against that of the Marcoses and their alleged cronies.

“No error could be attributed to the Sandiganbayan when it dismissed the Republic’s complaint for insufficiency of evidence,” the SC ruled.

The Court noted that the PCGG failed to present the original copies of the documentary evidence they showed despite knowing where they were located and did not show proof of “diligent efforts” to produce them.

“In sum, absent preponderant evidence to hold otherwise, the Republic failed to prove that the respondents by themselves or in unlawful concert with one another, accumulated or participated in the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth insofar as the specific allegations in the subject complaint are concerned,” the SC ruled.

“Neither were the Presidential issuances nor the witnesses’ testimonies sufficient to prove the allegations in the Republic’s complaint,” tribunal said.

The Court agreed with the Sandiganbayan in excluding a large part of the PCGG’s documentary evidence for being photocopies, making them inadmissible unless shown that the original is unavailable.

On July 24, 1987, the PCGG filed a complaint, accusing the Marcos family through former First Lady Imelda Marcos, former construction magnate Rodolfo Cuenca, his son Roberto, former Philippine National Bank president Panfilo Domingo, former trade minister Roberto Ongpin, former Development Bank of the Philippines officer Don Ferry, and 11 others of conspiring to engage in “schemes, devices and stratagems” to acquire ill-gotten wealth.

The PCGG specifically accused Cuenca and the Marcoses of conniving to create the Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines, the predecessor of the Philippine National Construction Corp., in order to obtain ill-gotten wealth. 

Based on the complaint, the CDCP obtained favored public works contracts amounting to billions of pesos from the Department of Public Works which later became the Department of Public Works and Highways, and from the National Irrigation Administration, such as the construction of sugar centrals, the Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corporation, the Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corporation, and the Light Railway Transit Project, among others, under terms and conditions manifestly disadvantageous to the government.

The PCGG also said the CDCP secured loans and financial assistance from government financial institutions without sufficient collateral, in contravention of banking laws and sound banking practices.

The commission added that Cuenca and the Marcoses also organized the now-sequestered Universal Holding Corporation, a holding company for CDCP, Sta. Ines Melale Forest Products Corp. and Resort Hotels with the participation of other defendants namely Jose L. Africa, Roberto Cuenca, Manuel Tinio, Mario Alfelor, Rodolfo Munsayac, Arthur Balch, Nora Vinluan, and Ricardo de Leon.

The UHC, according to the PCGG, was controlled by the Marcoses and served as conduits to deposit illegally obtained funds and property abroad.

In its complaint, the PCGG alleged that the CDCP obtained “favored” public workers contracts worth billions of pesos from the Department of Public Highways, the National Irrigation Administration, the Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corporation, the Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corporation, and the Light Railway Transit Project.

In 2010, however, the Sandiganbayan found the documentary and testimonial evidence presented by the PCGG as insufficient, ruling that executive issuances presented by the PCGG as proof “are not per se illegal” due to the presumption of good faith in the performance of official duty.

In ruling against the government, the SC agreed with the decision of the anti-graft court on the matter of the evidence presented by the PCGG, holding that the Sandiganbayan was correct when it found out that the PCGG failed to show copies of the public documents it presented that were attested by the officer who had legal custody of them.

“Juxtaposing the specific allegations in the complaint with the Republic’s documentary and testimonial evidence and as against the respondents’ documentary and testimonial evidence showing the due organization and existence of CDCP, the Court agrees with the Sandiganbayan that the weight of evidence fails to preponderate in the Republic’s favor,” the Court said.

The tribunal pointed out that a photocopy being merely secondary evidence, is inadmissible unless it is shown that the original is unavailable. The tribunal also lamented that there was no proof that the PCGG exerted efforts to produce the original.

“When the Sandiganbayan inquired as to whether the Republic will present the original or certified true copy of its documentary exhibits, the Republic answered that it will do so if necessary, as the originals are kept in the Central Bank vault. Despite knowledge of the existence and whereabouts of the documents’ originals, the Republic failed to present the same and contented itself with the presentation of mere photocopies,” the Court said.

Although the PCGG insisted that the documentary exhibits are public documents, it failed to show a copy attested by the officer having the legal custody of the record, the Court said.

Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tom Villarin on Tuesday mocked the Supreme Court decision.

“Now the cat is out of the bag with a compromised Supreme Court willing to appease the powers that be. It has dismissed a major case filed by PCGG 33 years ago based on technicalities—that Marcos’ own presidential decrees that made the crime and copies of evidence sealed in Central Bank vaults cannot be used to convict the Marcoses. It’s a legal quackery that defies logic and reason when it is clear that the Marcoses plundered our country,” Villarin said. With Maricel V. Cruz

Topics: Supreme Court , Sandiganbayan , Philippine Commission on Good Government , ill-gotten wealth , President Ferdinand Marcos
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