'Defects' in evidence: Another Marcos ill-gotten wealth case junked

MANILA, Philippines – Citing "defects" in the evidence submitted to the anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan dismissed a P267.371 million ill-gotten wealth case against Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, and dummies Ignacio and Fe Roa Gimenez.

"Considering the defects present in almost all of the pieces of evidence that were submitted by the Republic, this Court finds that the Republic has failed to discharge its burden and so rules that the respective demurrers of the Spouses Gimenez should be granted," the Sandiganbayan 4th Division said in a 37-page decision signed on October 14.

The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Alex Quiroz, with concurrences from Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega.

According to documents from the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), Fe, Marcos' Malacañang Social Secretary, earned only P87,972 per year.

Yet bank documents obtained by the PCGG showed she issued New York bank checks worth "substantial sums of money" to luxury brands like Cartier and Bulgari. 

The PCGG also obtained Bankers Trust Company checking statements showing Fe paid "substantial amount of money in dollars" to Vilma Bautista, who was Imelda's New York aide; and to the Waldorf Towers, a known residence of Imelda in New York.

The PCGG also has documents showing how Fe maintained accounts with Bankers Trust AG Zurich-Geneve Bank in Switzerland, and that she made time deposits to several banks like  Hypobank, Luxembourg, Societe Generale, Paris and Bank of Nova Scotia, London.

The government also had an affidavit from Oscar Cariño, vice president and manager of the Philippine National Bank New York branch, "narrating in detail how the funds of the PNB New York Branch were disbursed outside regular banking business upon the instructions of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos and Imelda Marcos using Fe Roa Gimenez and others as conduit," according to the Supreme Court (SC).

There were also documents showing real property acquisitions by Ignacio, and corporations under the spouses' control, assets worth so much more than their declared wealth.

Not the 'best evidence'

The Sandiganbayan 4th Division disregarded all these evidence for being mere photocopies.

Citing the Best Evidence Rule, the Sandiganbayan said, "Absent a clear showing that the original of these exhibits have been lost, destroyed or cannot be produced in court, the Republic's photocopied exhibits must be disregarded, being unworthy of any probative value."

Some of the documents obtained by PCGG were also private in nature – they were not official issuances of the government. Under the Rules of Court, private documents become admissible evidence if it is authenticated by the person who executed it, or by a person who witnessed the execution.

"The Republic failed to authenticate and identify its exhibits which are private documents," said the Sandiganbayan.

Supreme Court ruling

The Sandiganbayan had already dismissed the case in 2006 because the government, through the PCGG and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), filed its formal offer evidence past the original deadline and several extensions.

But in 2016, the Supreme Court 2nd Division, through a ponencia by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, ordered the Sandiganbayan to reopen the case, citing due process.

"[The Sandiganbayan] erred in making a sweeping declaration on the probative value of the documentary evidence offered by petitioner and in excluding other evidence offered during trial without full evaluation based on reasons grounded in law and/or jurisprudence," said the High Court.

In essence, the SC wanted the Sandiganbayan to make a full evaluation of the evidence before dismissing it.

The Sandiganbayan heeded that call, but still ultimately decided that the evidence were defective.

This is the third Marcos-ill gotten wealth case that the Sandiganbayan dismissed this year. The first was the P102 billion case involving crony Roberto Benedicto in August, followed by the P1 billion case involving crony Bienvenido Tantoco in September.

Imelda Marcos no more criminal cases before the anti-graft court.

With the latest case dismissal,  a total of 23 civil and forfeiture cases against Imelda have been dismissed, while at least 20 are pending and one archived at the Sandiganbayan.Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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