Gov’t loses claim to P200B Marcos assets

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    THE government has lost another civil case against former strongman Ferdinand Marcos, his widow Imelda Marcos and other members of the family involving P200 billion of alleged ill-gotten wealth.

    In a 58-page decision, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division said the Republic of the Philippines, as plaintiff, failed to prove its allegation that defendants illegally accumulated funds and other properties totaling P200 billion through abuse of government powers and use of nominees and dummies.

    Aside from the Marcos couple, also getting a reprieve were their children Sen. Imee Marcos, losing Vice Presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Irene Marcos-Araneta, and Marcos confidante and alleged dummy Constante Rubio.

    “For failure of the plaintiff to prove its allegations by preponderance of evidence, the subject complaint filed against defendants Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos, Imelda R. Marcos, Imelda R. Marcos Manotoc, Irene R. Marcos Araneta, Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Constante Rubio is hereby dismissed,” the court declared.

    Also named co-defendants were Marcos sons-in-law Tomas Manotoc and Gregorio Araneta III; businessmen Nemesio Co, Yeung Chan Hu, and Yeung Chan Fan; the Estate of Ramon Cojuangco and administratrix Imelda Cojuangco, and Prime Holdings Inc. but the court eventually dismissed the cases against them in separate resolutions.

    This decision brings to six the total adverse rulings obtained by the Presidential Commission on Good Government in Marcos ill-gotten wealth cases from the Sandiganbayan in the last five months.

    Last August 5, the Sandiganbayan Second Division also dismissed Civil Case No. 0008, a P102 billion forfeiture case against the Marcos couple and former officials of the Development Bank of the Philippines. The motion for reconsideration filed by the government was also denied on November 6, 2019.

    This set back was followed by the dismissal of Civil Case No. 0008, a P1.052 billion ill-gotten wealth case last September 25, also by the Second Division. Defendants in the case were the Marcos couple and members of the Tantoco family.

    An appeal filed by government lawyers was thrown out in a resolution issued November 20, 2019.

    Civil Case No. 0007 was also dismissed on Demurrers to Evidence filed by Marcos confidential secretary Fe Roa Gimenez and Ignacio Gimenez on October 14.

    The case, docketed with the Sandiganbayan as Civil Case no. 0002, was originally filed on July 16, 1987 by the PCGG.

    Aside from seeking forfeiture of the P200 billion worth of assets, the PCGG had also sought award of at least P51 billion in moral and exemplary damages as well as P250 million as compensation for government expenses in going after the Marcos wealth.

    The Sandiganbayan denied all these.

    What it acknowledged were the abuses of the Marcos regime that impoverished the nation, even if this was relegated as “a final note” in the ponencia of Associate Justice Alex L. Quiroz. Concurring were Associate Justices Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac.

    “The Court acknowledges the atrocities committed during the 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 said.

    EVIDENCE JUNKED

    As with all recent losses of the government, lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General as counsel for the PCGG presented mostly photocopies as evidence which ended up being thrown out by the Sandiganbayan for being inadmissible.

    “The bulk of the documentary evidence offered by the plaintiff 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 Sandiganbayan noted.

    During hearings on July 31, 2000, PCGG Records Custodian Lourdes Magno assured the court that the photocopies were reproductions of original documents in the vaults of the Commission and that if required by the court, these originals may be presented in court for inspection and comparison.

    However, the originals were never presented in court.

    While there were documents that were admitted into the records as originals specifically the affidavits of former bankers, the Sandiganbayan dismissed them as hearsay evidence because the persons who executed the sworn statements were not called to the witness stand.

    “The fact that these affidavits were not identified by the persons who prepared them, and that the defendants were deprived of their right to cross-examine these persons, is a matter of substantive nature, and not merely procedural,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    Among these affidavits was the one from businessman Jose Y. Campos who admitted that he “assisted in the organization and acquisition of some business ventures for the former President… and requested the assistance of my other business associates and officers of the company to organize, establish and manage these business ventures for and on behalf of the President.”

    Likewise given little weight was the “faithful reproductions of the originals” of the Income Tax Returns of former President Marcos for the year 1961 to 1965.

    The same ITRs were cited as basis by the Supreme Court in its 2003 ruling that determined the legitimate disposable income of the Marcos couple only amounted to P6,756,301.

    TWO KINDS of ‘TRUTH’

    The Sandiganbayan ruling admitted that its hands are tied by the extent of evidence adduced and admitted on record.

    It said this limitation gives rise to two kinds of truth – the “legal truth” which is what the evidence supports, and the actual truth.

    “It should be stressed that in this case, as in all cases before it, the Court only concerns itself with the legal truth, regardless of the actual truth. The legal truth is of course determined through the study of all the pieces of evidence presented …and the application of the pertinent laws and jurisprudence,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    “Regardless of how members of the Court may feel towards the case, the Court is mandated to look only into the applicable law and the jurisprudence, and the evidence presented to it,” it added.

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