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Due to inordinate delay, SC clears late Danding Cojuangco of 6 ill-gotten wealth suits

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Due to inordinate delay, SC clears late Danding Cojuangco of 6 ill-gotten wealth suits
This file photo shows the late Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr.
The STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has cleared the late Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., a Marcos crony, of six civil cases involving ill-gotten wealth as it held that the Sandiganbayan violated his rights to due process and speedy disposition of cases.

The SC Third Division also ordered the anti-graft court from taking further proceedings in the cases. “A Writ of Prohibition is hereby issued enjoining the Sandiganbayan from taking further proceedings in Civil Case Nos. 0033-B, 0033-C, 0033-D, 0033-E, 0033-G, and 0033-H,” the ruling, penned by now-retired Associate Justice Edgardo Delos Santos, read.

“An order is hereby issued dismissing the said cases for violation of the constitutional rights to due process and speedy disposition of cases of petitioner Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., the principal defendant therein,” the SC added.

Cojuangaco, who passed in June 2020, accused the Sandiganbayan of allowing the cases to remain pending “32 years without commencing trial proper and without exerting any effort to dispose them, in violation of petitioner’s constitutional rights to due process and speedy disposition of cases.”

The case was first filed on July 31, 1987, and the Sandiganbayan divided it into eight cases.

Two have since finished proceedings, while the six others — involving creation companies out of, and unlawful disbursement of Coco Levy funds, and behest loans and contracts — never reached trial.

In the course of the cases, the Presidential Commission on Good Government filed motions to render judgment, but the Sandiganbayan had rejected it. Cojuangco had also asked the anti-graft court to calendar the cases but was ignored, prompting him to run to the SC.

Speedy disposition of cases

The SC explained that speedy disposition does not only involve “mathematical reckoning of the time involved” as it also considers the facts and circumstances of each case.

In the cases at hand, the court pointed out: “In total, upon the filing of the present petition, the subject cases have been pending with the Sandiganbayan for 32 years from the time of the filing of the original complaint and 24 years from the subdivision thereof, yet, trial proper has not commenced.”

The SC said: “Absent any justifiable excuse, these incidents in the Sandiganbayan proceedings depict more than a perfect picture of an inordinate delay which is violative of one’s right to speedy disposition of cases.”

The Sandiganbayan had argued that the delay was due to the complexity of issues and voluminous records of the case. It also cited the dilatory motions of Cojuangco and the need to resolve these.

But the SC was not convinced of these justifications.

“At its best, that petitioner contributed to the delay remains to be an allegation which does not warrant the Court’s consideration… The Court observes that there is no elucidation in the PCGG’s pleadings or in the Sandiganbayan’s resolutions was to what specific issue is to complex or what voluminous records are involved with what particular motions that justify the delay,” it added.

The SC also noted the Sandiganbayan’s “grave indiscretion” in resolving pending motions before it that contributed to the delay in the disposition of the said cases.

The high court also noted that the anti-graft court could have proceeded to trial after it dismissed the PCGG’s motion for partial summary judgment, but it still failed to include the cases in its trial calendar, ignoring Cojuangco’s plea—which the petitioner said was the last straw that prompted him to run to the SC.

“Said latest indifference of the Sandiganbayan actually confirms its gross disregard and violation of petitioner’s rights. Taken in its entirety, the acts of the Sandiganbayan pertaining to the subject cases show a pattern constituting an abominable example of vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delay in the dispensation of justice that greatly prejudiced the constitutional rights of petitioner to due process and speedy disposition of cases,” it said.

The SC also said that if the trial was to proceed at this point would “result to a very tilted judicial system,” as the petitioner would be deprived of his right to property without due process. It pointed out that the late Marcos crony is not in the position to defend himself now.

The ruling has concurrences from Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Ramon Paul Hernando, Henri Jean Paul Inting and Jhosep Lopez. The decision is dated April 28 but was made public only on Thursday.

A Marcos era crony, Cojuangco ran but lost to Fidel Ramos for president in a controversial 1992 election. Prior to that, his connection with the Marcoses caused his estrangement from his cousin, Corazon Aquino, who succeeded dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. after a bloodless revolution in 1986.

Outside politics, Cojuangco built San Miguel into a business empire now with diversified interests in food, beverage and infrastructure, among others.

DANDING COJUANGCO MARCOS WEALTH PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON GOOD GOVERNANCE SUPREME COURT
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