Philippines’ 12 biggest cases of 2017

MANILA, Philippines – When we talk of prominent cases and investigations, 2017 will not be outdone by the year before it. 

If 2016 saw the Supreme Court (SC) acquitting former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of plunder and allowing a hero’s burial for dictator Ferdinand Marcos, 2017 will be remembered for having a sitting senator was jailed, giving Benigno Aquino III his first ever charge in court after his presidency, and debating President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs before the High Tribunal.

Here are the high-stakes judgments, decisions, preliminary investigations, and progress in the 12 biggest cases of 2017

 

 

 

1. The De Lima drug case

ARRESTED. Senator Leila de Lima is arrested on February 24, 2017. Photo sourced by Rappler

ARRESTED. Senator Leila de Lima is arrested on February 24, 2017.

Photo sourced by Rappler

After a public trial at the House of Representatives, the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecuted and charged Senator Leila de Lima for 3 counts of illegal drug trade in February. 

She lost her petition before the SC to a vote of 9-6.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio called it one of the "grossest injustice" in the Philippines, while Associate Justice Marvic Leonen called the case "quintessentially the use of the strong arm of the law to silence dissent."

Nine months since being jailed in Camp Crame, she has yet to go to trial, as the DOJ makes changes to the information it filed against senator. 

 

2. Martial law in Mindanao

The High Court’s ruling gave the President a free hand in determining the existence of rebellion, a constitutional pre-requisite to declaring martial law.

Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo’s ponencia also granted Duterte “the prerogative whether to put the entire Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.” 

Martial law was supposed to lapse December 31, but Duterte's request to extend it for another year was granted by Congress before it went on Christmas break. 

 

3. Aquino’s Mamapasano charges

A year and a half after stepping down, former President Aquino faced his first ever court charge before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

The former president is set to undergo trial for one count each of graft and usurpation of official functions over the botched 2015 Mamasapano operations that resulted in the deaths of 44 elite cops, as well as 18 rebels and 5 civilians.

Aquino is charged for allowing dismissed police chief Alan Purisima to participate in planning and directing the operation despite being under preventive suspension at the time. Aquino has posted bail. 

 

4. War on drugs

ORAL ARGUMENTS. Police chief Ronald u0022Batou0022 dela Rosa is compelled to the Supreme Court to defend Oplan TokHang. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

ORAL ARGUMENTS. Police chief Ronald u0022Batou0022 dela Rosa is compelled to the Supreme Court to defend Oplan TokHang.

Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

Duterte’s flagship anti-drugs campaign was debated before the Supreme Court in 3 days of oral arguments that ended early December.  (Read Highlights of the oral arguments: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3)

The two petitions covered all bases of the campaign.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) is questioning the constitutionality of the circulars that operationalized the war on drugs, while the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) is requesting protection orders for kin of victims of alleged police killings and a thorough investigation of those killings.

Before the SC could even reach a decision, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio made the bold move of compelling the Office of the Solicitor General to provide full documentation of not just the killings in cited in the petition but all 3,806 deaths that the police acknowledged had resulted from their operations. 

 

5. Jinggoy Estrada’s bail

FREE. After 3 years and 3 months in detention, former Senator Jinggoy Estrada is set free after Sandiganbayan Special 5th Division grants him bail. Photo by Jasmin Dulay/Rappler

FREE. After 3 years and 3 months in detention, former Senator Jinggoy Estrada is set free after Sandiganbayan Special 5th Division grants him bail.

Photo by Jasmin Dulay/Rappler

Under extraordinary circumstances, the Sandiganbayan granted bail to former Senator Jinggoy Estrada for the non-bailable charge of plunder over the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam.

The majority ruling cited the Supreme Court's 2016 acquittal of former President Arroyo, and said there was no sufficient evidence to say Estrada was the main plunderer. A source from the judiciary described the ruling as an "institutional impunity." 

Estrada’s trial is ongoing before the Sandiganbayan.

Instead of following in Estrada's footsteps, Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr went for the high-risk, high-reward strategy of moving for the outright dismissal of plunder charges against him. He, however, faced a giant roadblock after the Sandiganbayan First Division denied his motion to be excused from presenting his own evidence.

 

6. Napoles acquittal in detention case

In May, the Court of Appeals 12th Division acquitted alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles for the charge of serious illegal detention, reversing the conviction of a Makati court.

It followed a manifestation from Solicitor General Jose Calida recommending her acquittal. 

Though Calida claims that the acquittal will not affect the plunder cases, Napoles’ lawyers are using it nonetheless to undermine the credibility of pork barrel scam witness Benhur Luy. Luy was the complainant in the serious illegal detention case, alleging that Napoles and her brother detained him when they sensed he was doing his separate operations involving the discretionary funds of lawmakers.

Napoles’ lawyer Dennis Buenaventura is confident that the credibility issue will help them secure freedom for the businesswoman in "less than 2 years."

Her youngest daughter Jeane was also acquitted this year after the Court of Tax Appeals dismissed her P17 million tax evasion case after finding the DOJ's evidence insufficient.

7. Shabu shipment

Despite the Duterte government's policy of a crackdown on illegal drugs, P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China managed to pass through the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in May.

It triggered congressional investigations that dragged the names of presidential son Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and presidential son-in-law lawyer Manases Carpio. 

The Department of Justice dismissed the complaint against former customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, and only filed charges against broker Mark Taguba and other Chinese businessmen before the Valenzuela Regional Trial Court. 

 

8. Police killings

JUSTICE FOR KIAN. A thousand came for the burial of Kian Loyd delos Santos as he is laid to rest on August 26, 2017. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

JUSTICE FOR KIAN. A thousand came for the burial of Kian Loyd delos Santos as he is laid to rest on August 26, 2017.

Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

The DOJ is set to issue its resolution on the murder cases of Kian Lloyd delos Santos and Carl Angelo Arnaiz, who were allegedly killed by policemen.

The deaths of the young boys triggered public outrage, especially after CCTV footage, forensics, and conflicting police reports point to summary execution instead of the police’s often-used defense of "nanlaban" or the suspects fighting back.

 

9. Atio Castillo hazing case

The DOJ is also set to issue its resolution on the murder, hazing, and perjury complaint against members of Aegis Juris fraternity for the death of University of Santo Tomas freshman law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo III.

The preliminary investigation wrapped up with John Paul Solano – initially seen as a whistleblower – leading the pack of suspects with what they consider their strongest defense: that Castillo did not die of injuries or trauma from hazing, but possibly from a pre-existing heart condition. 

The DOJ’s biggest asset also came toward the tailend of the preliminary probe: frat member Mark Ventura submitting a tell-all affidavit and turning state witness.

 

10. Election protest

PROTEST. Former senator Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr pays a cash deposit of P36 million to the Supreme Court sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal for his electoral protest against VP Leni Robredo. Photo by Jasmin Dulay/Rappler

PROTEST. Former senator Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr pays a cash deposit of P36 million to the Supreme Court sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal for his electoral protest against VP Leni Robredo.

Photo by Jasmin Dulay/Rappler

Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo saw substantive developments this year at the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Election Tribunal or PET.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has begun decrypting ballot images for the 3 pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental.

On December 1, the PET approved Robredo’s request to be provided soft copies of the ballot images.

Marcos’ protest suffered a setback when the PET upheld in September the integrity of the 2016 automated elections. One of Marcos’ motions was to question the integrity of the automated system and so annul the results of the polls. 

 

11. Malampaya fund scam

After clearing Gloria Arroyo in the P900-million Malampaya fund scam, the Office of the Ombudsman also dropped the plunder charges against executives of the Arroyo administration.

Napoles, former budget chief Rolando Andaya Jr, and former agrarian reform secretary Nasser Pangandaman were instead charged this December for 97 counts each of graft and malversation.

The P900 million calamity fund scam is only a parcel of a total P38-billion disbursement anomaly, into which the Commission on Audit recommended a criminal investigation.

 

12. Imelda Marcos’ graft cases

Sandiganbayan is set to render judgement on 10 graft charges against former first lady, and now Ilocos Norte representative, Imelda Marcos in a corruption case that had lasted 26 years.

It involves the former first lady’s alleged private foundations in Switzerland until 1984. 

This development comes as the House of Representatives looks poised to pass the bill consolidating the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) – specifically created to go after the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses – with the Office of the Solicitor General, which is headed by Jose Calida, a supporter of the Marcos family. – 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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