Sandigan: Billions in telco shares are Marcos ill-gotten wealth

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    THE Sandiganbayan Special Third Division has affirmed its December 4, 2019 decision declaring that former President Ferdinand Marcos acquired ill-gotten wealth in the form of shares in Eastern Telecommunications Philippines Inc. (ETPI) but concealed his ownership by using several dummy businessmen.

    With this, the anti-graft court junked the motion for reconsideration filed by the heirs of late businessman Jose L. Africa seeking the reversal of the forfeiture order covering shares in ETPI in the names of Africa, businessman Manuel H. Nieto Jr., and several other entities.

    Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang penned the 45-page decision promulgated September 22, 2020 with Associate Justices Bernelito R. Fernandez and Sarah Jane T. Fernandez concurring.

    According to the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), Civil Case No. 0009 involves P2.758 billion worth of company shares and real estate properties that it is hoping to recover for the government.

    The ruling signals the end of the PCGG’s 33-year long pursuit of the assets which began with the filing of the original complaint way back in July 1987.

    Specifically covered by the court ruling were ETPI shares in the names of Jose L. Africa and Manuel H. Nieto Jr.; Polygon Investors and Managers Inc.; Aerocom Investors and Managers Inc.; and small individual shareholders held by Victor Africa, Lourdes Africa, Rosario Songco, Raquel Dinglasan, Manuel Nieto III, Ramon Nieto, Victoria Legarda, Ma. Rita Delos Reyes, Rosario Arellano, Angelo Lobregat, Benito Nieto, Carlos Nieto, Carmen Tuazon and Rafael Valdes.

    While Africa’s heirs contested the court’s pronouncement that the subject shares are part of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth, the court threw out their arguments for lack of merit.

    The court noted that Nieto, in his May 28, 1986 affidavit, admitted that 40 percent of his personal shareholdings in ETPI actually belonged to Marcos. He said the same is true for Africa’s stake.

    While Nieto later tried to withdraw his statements claiming he did not make them of his free will, the court gave the original affidavit a lot of evidentiary weight.

    “To be sure, the statement of defendant Nieto Jr. is a declaration against his interest which is admissible not only against him but even to his successors-in-interest and third persons,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    “Notably, defendant Nieto Jr. was a former Ambassador to Spain. Given this, it can be reasonably concluded that he signed the affidavit with full knowledge and understanding of its clear import; and, that he would not have made such declarations unless it were true,” it added.

    On top of the forfeiture of the ETPI shares, Aerocom Investors was also directed to pay the government P68.17 million equivalent to the value of its ETPI shares that were earlier transferred to ISM Communication Corp on July 11, 2005.

    However, granting part of the appeal, the court set aside the directive requiring Africa and Nieto to pay the government P1 million as exemplary damages.

    “Upon a careful review of the facts of the case and the relevant jurisprudence, the Court finds that there is no basis for the award of exemplary damages in favor of the Republic,” the court said.

    Also denied in the September 22 resolution was the PCGG’s motion for reconsideration to the dismissal of government claims against former First Lady Imelda Marcos, her son former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and former senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

    The court also stood firm that there is a dearth of evidence to link them to the transaction.

    “There is no evidence that defendants Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Enrile conspired with defendants Ferdinand Marcos, Africa and Nieto Jr. in accumulating ill-gotten wealth. The Republic failed to establish the specific acts performed by the former pursuant to the alleged conspiracy,” the Sandiganbayan said.