MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has compelled retired Lieutenant General Jacinto Ligot to present evidence in a P55-million forfeiture case related to the pabaon (send-off money) corruption scandal in the military.
The Sandiganbayan 2nd Division denied Ligot’s demurrer to evidence – a pleading filed by the defense to seek an outright dismissal of the case without having to present evidence from their side.
In a resolution promulgated July 8 but released to the media on Wednesday, July 17, Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi, Oscar Herrera, and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna said there is “prima facie sufficient evidence for forfeiture.”
“Since most of the respondents’ asseverations are already matters of defense which are best addressed in a full-blown trial, the presentation of respondents’ evidence is in order,” said the resolution.
The Office of the Ombudsman has been working to forfeit in favor of the government P55.596 million in “unlawfully acquired bank deposits and investment accounts” of Ligot, his wife, and other co-accused.
Ligot, a former comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), was involved in one of the biggest corruption scandals in Philippine military history where he and other officials were accused of amassing unexplained wealth, including receiving send-off money.
The first to be exposed in 2004 was his successor, retired Major General Carlos Garcia, who also once faced plunder charges until he entered into a plea bargain deal with the government under then-Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. (READ: General Garcia: How the big fish got away)
Ligot tried to invoke the bank secrecy law in arguing that his foreign deposit records were accessed without his consent. The Philippine bank secrecy law got Ligot acquitted in a related P428-million tax case in the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA).
But the Sandiganbayan said that while Section 2 of Republic Act No. 1405, enacted in 1955, declares bank records confidential except in certain conditions, Section 8 of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act amended that when it said bank deposits “shall be taken into consideration” in the investigation into unexplained wealth.
The anti-graft law was enacted in 1960. The later law typically prevails over earlier laws.
In the CTA decision that acquitted Ligot, tax court justices strictly applied Section 2 of R.A 1405 which waives confidentiality of bank records “in cases of impeachment, or upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials, or in cases where the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of the litigation.”
The CTA said the Ligot tax case did not fall under any of the exemptions.
The Sandiganbayan, however, applied the last exemption and said: “Bank representatives are allowed to testify on the subject bank accounts because the accounts allegedly contain the unlawfully required money of respondent Jacinto during his service, the same constitute the subject matter of the present litigation.”
The anti-graft court also said that the bank investigation “is an exercise of the power of the Anti-Money Laundering Council under the law.”
In April 2019, the Sandiganbayan convicted Ligot of 6 counts of perjury over misdeclarations in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs). – Rappler.com