Hope and justice
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - August 7, 2014 - 12:00am

I do not know whether the owners of Phoenix chose the name deliberately, but it would seem it is an appropriate name. Phoenix is a bird in Egyptian mythology that consumed itself by fire after 500 years and renewed itself from the ashes.

The company, and its CEO Dennis Ang Uy, has just achieved two major or perhaps historical distinctions in the Philippine judicial system. I prefer not to use the word “victories” because the story is not yet finished.

The first distinction is that the Phoenix Petroleum is proof that a trial in our judiciary can be decided within a one-year period. Yes, the Department of Justice filed a resolution in August 2013, if I remember correctly, and the Court of Appeals made its decision this week of August 2014 which, in my calendar is one year later.

This is a near miraculous achievement considering that the cases involving Jocjoc Bolante, the Fertilizer Fund, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are still crawling through the judicial system waiting for resolution after several years. Think how much faster the Phoenix Petroleum case was decided than the Ampatuan  massacre trials, which do not seem any closer to resolution despite all the public clamor and publicity.

In fact after the initial brouhaha about this smuggling case, the trials disappeared from the public radar screen. The Court of Appeals decision hardly merited any public attention. The public and the business sector have been crying for speedier justice. The Philippines has gained a reputation as a nation where the wheels of justice hardly ever move unless they are properly greased.

I suggest the business sector consider hiring Dennis Ang Uy as a consultant on his magic formula for the relatively faster way the wheels of justice moved for him.

The second distinction is that the alleged P5 or P6 billion smuggler, Dennis Ang Uy, was acquitted because according to the Court of Appeals, he was deprived of due process. The court actually said “...that Cabanes’ [the customs broker] and Uy’s [Phoenix Petroleum CEO] right to due process has been disregarded by the Secretary of Justice...”

Since the court has decided that Dennis Ang Uy and Cabanes have legally never been oil smugglers and have declared that legally there was never any oil smuggling that  took  place, I wonder what all the fuss was about last year.

Last May 2013, the special division of the Court of Appeals issued a Temporary Restraining Order which prevented the Department of Justice from going ahead with its case against Phoenix Petroleum and its broker, Cabanes. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima was obviously upset and issued the following statement:

“TROs like this one effectively prevent the government from prosecuting smuggling. Our courts and court processes should not be used by a few to block our progress in enforcing customs laws and creating a level playing field for all.”

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also noted that two of the three Court of Appeals Justices, Francisco Acosta and Angelita Gacutan, were also the same Justices who issued the decision ordering the Department to withdraw its syndicated estafa case against Globe Asiatique official Christina Sagun. The two Justices were also the ones who invalidated a Department of Justice finding of probable cause to charge the former Palawan governor Joel Reyes for the death of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerardo Ortega in 2011.

Secretary de Lima has said that in the case of the court’s acquittal of the smuggling case against Phoenix Petroleum, the DOJ intends to file a Motion for Reconsideration. The DOJ held that the respondents [Dennis Ang Uy and Cabanes] “had personal knowledge of and direct participation in the operations of Phoenix, including the processing and release of shipments that were already abandoned in favor of the government for failure to file import duties within 30 days from discharge of goods.”

The Department of Justice also did not accept the alibi of Dennis Ang Uy that he was not aware of any violations because payment of taxes is the responsibility of the officers of the company in charge of operations. Obviously, as CEO of Phoenix Petroleum, Uy was held accountable.

The company’s customs broker, Cabanes, was also implicated because he had direct participation in the processing and release of the questioned shipments.

In a recent letter to the President, one of the items the business organizations cited was the need to address smuggling. The letter said: “In a forum with business organizations, the Customs Commissioner stated the value of smuggled merchandise in 2011 alone was estimated to be between P350 billion to P1.4 trillion. This hole must be plugged.”

The letter from the Philippine Business Groups and the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce also emphasized the need for “Institutionalizing Integrity and Good Governance. The letter said: “Connected to this, we also welcome your pronouncement during the same dialogue regarding the issuance of an Executive Order seeking to institutionalize a mechanism for public-private cooperation in instilling integrity in governance. On this note, as what was done by the Department of Public Works and Highways, we would like other government agencies to insist that companies wishing to bid for government contracts should sign the Integrity Pledge and submit themselves to doing clean ethical business. Finally, we encourage the Executive to closely coordinate with the Judiciary and the Legislative branch to address issues of competence, efficiency, and integrity in the justice system.”

As the DOJ’s Motion for Reconsideration moves on, will the story of Phoenix Petroleum be another rise from the ashes, or will we finally see a happy ending to the government’s struggle for good governance and ending smuggling in this country?

We can only continue to hope.


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