THE Sandiganbayan has junked due to insufficiency of evidence a P1.052 billion ill-gotten wealth case against former President Ferdinand Marcos, his wife former First Lady Imelda Marcos, and the members of the Tantoco family.
In a 30-page decision promulgated September 25, 2019, the anti-graft court’s Second Division ruled that the evidence presented by the prosecution failed to establish allegations that defendant Bienvenido Tantoco Sr. acquired assets, funds and other property manifestly and grossly disproportionate to his lawful income.
Likewise unproven was the government’s claim that the Tantocos acted as dummies, nominees, and/or agents of the Marcos couple.
This is the second time in as many months that the government has lost an ill-gotten wealth case against the Marcoses and their associates after the same Sandiganbayan Division also dismissed Civil Case no. 0034 against businessman Roberto Benedicto, the Marcos couple, and former officials of the Development Bank of the Philippines.
Just like in the Benedicto case, the Sandiganbayan highlighted the failure of government lawyers to present evidence to support allegations in the complaint.
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) appeared as counsel for the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) which represented the Republic of the Philippines as plaintiff.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government may still appeal the Sandiganbayan decision.
However, Panelo said Malacañang will leave it to the decision of the Office of the Solicitor General whether or not to file a motion for reconsideration.
Panelo admitted he has not talked to Solicitor General Jose Calida and that he is not aware of the government’s next move.
“Ordinarily, the government always appeal naman. And for that matter, all litigants appeal kapag may talo sila. Depende iyon kay SolGen. That will depend on him (Ordinarily, the government always appeal. And for that matter, all litigants appeal if they lose. That depends on SolGen. That will depend on him),” he said.
Despite a 31-year pendency before the court, the case was decided on scant evidence consisting of testimonies of only four government witnesses and 11 documents.
While the decision came only last September 25, the death knell for the government case was actually tolled on October 26, 2006 when the Sandiganbayan issued an order terminating the government’s presentation of evidence “due to unjustified non-appearance” of OSG lawyers representing the PCGG.
When the axe fell, the OSG had presented only four witnesses.
While it marked voluminous documents as part of its documentary exhibits, government lawyers failed to present them in the discovery proceedings despite directives to do so from the Sandiganbayan as well as the Supreme Court.
Admission of additional documents were likewise barred on the ground that they were mere photocopies hence failing to comply with the best evidence rule.
The government witnesses were Rogelio Azores, NBI Questioned Documents Division assistant chief; lawyer Orlando Salvador, former special counsel for the PCGG; Evelyn Singson, former executive vice president of Security Bank and Trust Company; and Danilo Daniel, PCGG director for Research and Development.
Azores testified as an expert witness who authenticated the handwriting and signature of the late President Marcos in exchanges of letters between him and Tantoco.
Salvador testified regarding his participation as coordinators of the Presidential Ad Hoc Fact-Finding Committee on Behest Loans in the case build-up for complaints relative to behest loans involving 419 accounts. One of the accounts belonged to the Philippine Eagle Mines Inc. (PEMI) which is involved in the Tantoco case.
Singson told the court that she was in charge of the operations of Security Bank, reporting to bank president Rolando Gapud. In her testimony, the witness said Gapud never mentioned the names of the Tantocos or the Marcoses.
Daniel, as a PCGG officer, testified to the effect that the commission has on file various documents pertaining to the activities relative to the trust accounts of former President Marcos and the purchase of various artworks by Mrs. Marcos.
The court however said, taken all together, the testimonies and documents on record failed to prove the allegations by preponderance of evidence.
“A careful examination of the testimonies of the plaintiff’s witnesses shows that the plaintiff even failed to establish the relevance of the admitted documents to prove the allegations in the complaint,” the Sandiganbayan said.
The court noted that the prosecution likewise did not present key documents as proof of the alleged irregularities in the grant of loans to PEMI.
“There is likewise insufficient evidence to prove that the defendants acted as dummies, nominees, and/or agents of defendants Marcoses in acquiring works of art, clothes, jewelry, or real estate worth billions of pesos,” the court added.
The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Michael Frederick L, Musngi with Associate Justices Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna concurring. – With Jocelyn Montemayor