MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) dismissed the bid of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to claim P51 billion in damages against the estate of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies.
The High Court’s First Division upheld the 2010 ruling of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan which dismissed, for lack of evidence, the complaint filed by the PCGG for reconveyance, reversion, restitution, and damages.
SC Associate Justice Noel Tijam said in the 28-page decision that “[J]uxtaposing the specific allegations in the complaint with the Republic’s documentary and testimonial evidence and as against the respondents’ documentary and testimonial evidence…the Court agrees with the Sandiganbayan that the weight of evidence fails to preponderate in the Republic’s favor.”
This means that the SC finds that the PCGG failed to present enough documentary evidence and testimonies from witnesses to prove its allegations that Marcos and his cronies connived to amass ill-gotten wealth through behest loans.
Details of the complaint
In the complaint filed 31 years ago, the PCGG claimed that the Marcoses and their alleged cronies engaged in “schemes, devices or stratagems” to acquire ill-gotten assets.
Identified as respondents in the PCGG complaint were former first lady Imelda Marcos, former construction magnate Rodolfo Cuenca, his son Roberto Cuenca, former Philippine National Bank president Panfilo Domingo, former trade minister Roberto Ongpin, former Development Bank of the Philippines officer Don Ferry, and 11 others.
The PCGG alleged that Cuenca connived with the Marcoses to establish the Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines (CDCP) – the forerunner of the Philippine National Construction Corporation – which they used as a tool to obtain ill-gotten wealth.
The complaint stated that at the time, the CDCP cornered favored construction contracts from the Department of Public Works (which later became the Department of Public Works and Highways) amounting to billions of pesos, as well as contracts from the National Irrigation Administration involving the construction of sugar centrals.
The other agencies mentioned in the complaint as having bestowed contracts on CDCP were the Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corporation, the Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corporation, and the Light Railway Transit Project. The PCGG said these contracts had terms and conditions manifestly disadvantageous to the government.
Aside from construction contracts, the PCGG also accused the CDCP of securing loans and financial assistance from government financial institutions without sufficient collateral, violating banking laws and mocking banking practices.
The PCGG complaint added that Cuenca and the Marcoses organized the now-sequestered Universal Holding Corporation, which had under its auspices several companies serving as conduits for deposits abroad of illegally obtained funds and property.
These companies were CDCP, Sta Ines Melale Forest Products Corporation, and Resort Hotels, with the participation of other defendants, including Jose Africa, Roberto Cuenca, Manuel Tinio, Mario Alfelor, Rodolfo Munsayac, Arthur Balch, Nora Vinluan, and Ricardo de Leon.
The Sandiganbayan dismissed the complaint against the Marcoses and the other respondents for lack of evidence on August 5, 2010. The anti-graft court said that most of the evidence presented by the PCGG were Marcos’ executive issuances, as well as court decisions and resolutions.
According to the Sandiganbayan, executive issuances are not illegal per se, since public officials are entitled to presumption of good faith in the discharge of their duties. The Sandiganbayan said this presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties prevails in the absence of bad faith and malice.
In seeking the reversal of the Sandiganbayan decision, the PCGG insisted before the SC that it has established a prima facie case against the respondents.
But in its latest decision, the SC said that it cannot rule on the PCGG’s claim that it has established a prima facie case against the respondents.
“In order to determine the veracity of the Republic’s main contention that it has established a prima facie case against respondents through its documentary and testimonial evidence, reassessment and reexamination of the evidence is necessary,” the SC explained.
It added: “Unfortunately, the limited and discretionary judicial review allowed under Rule 45 does not envision a re-evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence upon which respondent court’s action was predicated.”
The SC agreed with the Sandiganbayan when it excluded the government’s documentary evidence for being mere photocopies. The documents include reports, sworn statements, memoranda, board resolutions, letters of guarantee, deeds of undertaking, promissory notes, letters, and loan agreements.
The High Court said that a photocopy as a mere secondary evidence is inadmissible unless it is shown that the original is unavailable. The Court noted that there was no proof that the PCGG made efforts to produce original documents.
“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. Dspite 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,” it added.
The Court also noted that while the PCGG claimed that the documentary exhibits were public documents, it failed to show a copy attested by the officer that had legal custody of the record.
The SC then pointed out the importance of the best evidence rule in recovering ill-gotten wealth, as in the case Republic of the Philippines v. Marcos-Manotoc, et al. The said rule regards the original copy of a document as superior evidence. – Rappler.com