Perhaps it was a case of out of sight, out of mind. Perhaps government prosecutors and those tasked to run after ill-gotten wealth were overwhelmed by work. Whatever the reason, 23 graft cases filed by the government against a brother of former first lady Imelda Marcos were dismissed last week by the Supreme Court after the 15-year period for prosecuting the case lapsed.
The Office of the Ombudsman argued that the cases, filed by the Office of the Solicitor General on May 8, 1987 with the Presidential Commission on Good Government, could not move forward because Benjamin "Kokoy" Romualdez was abroad. The Ombudsman required Romualdez to file his counter-affidavit only on March 3, 2004, upon his return to the Philippines.
The Supreme Court ruled that with the cases filed by the OSG before the Sandiganbayan in 1989, the prescriptive period for the cases ran and, with no action from prosecutors, lapsed this year. Thus the cases, filed in connection with Romualdez’s failure to file annual financial statements from 1963 to 1985 when he held various positions in the Department of Foreign Affairs, were all dismissed.
This is another legal victory for the Marcoses, and they didn’t even have to work hard for it. If such victories continue, people may actually start believing Imelda Marcos’ stories about the source of her family’s fabulous wealth: her late husband Ferdinand, she said, was an enormously successful international gold trader, and he found the fabled treasure of Japanese World War II Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita. Among those who believe her, it seems, are some PCGG officials, who have given up trying to recover ill-gotten wealth through legal processes and are instead eagerly pursuing a compromise settlement with the Marcoses.
Some people will shrug off the dismissal of the 23 cases against Benjamin Romualdez. After all, Imelda Marcos, when she was a member of the House of Representatives, filed a financial statement that made her the poorest member of Congress. And she got away with it. In this country, if you have good lawyers and accountants, you can get away with anything. You might even get some help from government prosecutors.