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P267 million wealth case vs Marcoses junked over photocopies

Christina Mendez, Edu Punay, Elizabeth Marcelo, Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
P267 million wealth case vs Marcoses junked over photocopies
Citing insufficiency of evidence, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division dismissed the P267.371-million civil forfeiture case against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, former first lady Imelda Marcos and their five alleged cronies.
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MANILA, Philippines — The government suffered another blow in its efforts to recover the ill-gotten wealth allegedly amassed by the Marcos family during the martial law regime, bringing to 22 the number of civil forfeiture cases against the Marcoses and their cronies that were dismissed by the Sandiganbayan.

Nineteen more remain pending. 

Citing insufficiency of evidence, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division dismissed the P267.371-million civil forfeiture case against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, former first lady Imelda Marcos and their five alleged cronies.

The Fourth Division said a majority of the documentary exhibits presented were “mere unauthenticated photocopies,” which cannot be admitted as evidence as it would violate the Best Evidence Rule under Section 3, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court.

The court said state lawyers did not even offer any explanation as to why the original documents cannot be presented. 

Sen. Imee Marcos welcomed the ruling, saying: “Praise Him! Sabi justice delayed is justice denied at 34 years na ang nakalipas pero marubdob pa rin ang pasasalamat namin (They say justice delayed is justice denied and 34 years have passed but we are still deeply thankful).”

Malacañang distanced itself from the decision.

“The administration does not interfere with the judiciary. The rule of law must always prevail in courts regardless of who are the parties. Their decision must be accorded respect and obedience,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo in a text message.

Filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) in 1987, the suit, docketed as Civil Case 0007, sought to recover P29.599 million in shares of stocks and P237.772 million in real properties from the Marcoses, spouses Fe Roa-Gimenez and Ignacio Gimenez, Vilma Bautista and Gregorio Bautista and Oscar Cariño.

The court, in a 37-page resolution promulgated last Oct. 14, granted the demurrer to evidence filed by the Gimenez couple, who prayed for the dismissal of the case on the ground of the weakness of evidence of the PCGG as represented in court by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).

The Gimenez spouses were business associates of the Marcoses. 

Fe, who also served as a former aide of Mrs. Marcos, was accused of funneling government funds to her foreign bank accounts, which the PCGG said were later disbursed among the Marcoses and other defendants in the case for their “enrichment.”

Fe and Vilma also allegedly acted as “conduits” of the Marcoses in the purchase of expensive artworks as well as properties in New York City, such as the Crown Building and the Lindenmere Estate. 

Ignacio and Cariño, meanwhile, purportedly acted as “dummies, nominees or agents” of the Marcoses in several corporations. 

The court sided with the Gimenezes’ argument that the evidence presented by the PCGG and OSG has “no probative value.”

“Considering that the Republic is essentially seeking to prove the contents of the photocopied exhibits that it submitted, this court finds the violation of the best evidence rule in the case at bar to be fatal to the Republic’s cause,” the Fourth Division’s ruling read. 

“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,” it added.

The court found no weight in the OSG’s defense that the documents should not be treated as mere photocopies, but rather as public records. 

“In several decisions, the High Court (Supreme Court) has already held that the fact that these documents were collected by the PCGG in the course of its investigation does not make them per se public records,” the Fourth Division said.

It maintained that under the Rules of Court, before a private document can be admitted as evidence, it must first be authenticated by the person who authored or executed it, or by a person who has first-hand knowledge of the document’s execution.

“Without such presentation, the private document can still be considered hearsay evidence,” the court said.

The Fourth Division also said that the PCGG and OSG failed to present their key witnesses to testify on the veracity of their submitted affidavits and to undergo cross-examination by the defendants.

Thus, the court said, the affidavits are nothing but also hearsay evidence. “Basic is the rule in this jurisdiction that an affidavit is treated merely as hearsay evidence when its maker did not take the witness stand.”

“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 court said. “Accordingly... Civil Case No. 0007 is hereby ordered dismissed for insufficiency of evidence.” 

Early this month, the anti-graft court’s Second Division dismissed a P1-billion forfeiture case against the Marcos couple and alleged cronies – Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., Bienvenido Tantoco Jr., Gliceria Tantoco, Maria Lourdes Tantoco-Pineda and Dominador Santiago – also due to insufficiency of evidence. 

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and former representative Neri Colmenares questioned the Sandigan decision.

“This is an outrage, it is as if the Sandiganbayan is in overdrive to dismiss all the cases involving the Marcoses and revise history altogether. It is as if they are saying there is a crime but no criminal,” stressed Zarate, a deputy minority leader in the House.

For Colmenares, who also chairs Bayan Muna, “deciding on a historic case on a mere technicality but missing the spirit of accountability entirely is really deplorable and I think that the decision should be questioned.”

They lamented that this is the third case against the Marcoses dismissed by the anti-graft court just this year. The first was the P102-billion case involving crony Roberto Benedicto in August, followed by the P1-billion case involving the Tantocos in September. 

 

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