The decision by the Supreme Court to dismiss the government’s ill-gotten wealth case against former president Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies has been described by some lawmakers as “an insult to martial law victims,” “a go-signal for plunderers,” and a legal instrument meant “to revise martial law history.”
The case was filed on July 23, 1987, by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), an agency created in the early years of the Cory Aquino administration to track down and recover the billions of pesos in public funds lost during the profligate years of Marcos’ one-man rule.
The PCGG alleged that 46 companies, mostly owned by Marcos cronies, secured government loans without sufficient collateral or enough capitalization in violation of banking laws and practices.
Such companies built with public funds also obtained favored government contracts amounting to billions of pesos, among them the construction of sugar centrals, the Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corp., the Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corp. and the Light Rail Transit Project.
But the Sandiganbayan, in a ruling on Aug. 5, 2010, junked the complaint for insufficiency of evidence, prompting the PCGG to elevate it to the Supreme Court.
In a decision on April 4, but released only on June 19, the high court upheld the Sandiganbayan’s ruling, saying that “the Republic’s documentary and testimonial evidence” were not enough to prove the charges.
Particularly galling is the technicality around which the Sandiganbayan’s ruling revolved, and which the Supreme Court agreed with: “Except for documentary evidence consisting of reports, sworn statements, memoranda, board resolutions, letters of guarantee, deeds of undertaking, promissory notes, letters and loan agreements were excluded by the Sandiganbayan for being mere photocopies…”
Photocopies are not considered “the best evidence” by the Rules of Court, explained Sandiganbayan executive clerk of court Ma. Teresa Pabulayan.
“The documents must be original, otherwise these could be declared fictitious. In case it was lost or destroyed, the plaintiff must establish that it was lost or destroyed and they must also establish that they (exerted) efforts to locate original,” she added.
Disheartening as that was, what really sticks in the craw is the seeming negligence on the PCGG’s part to secure the original documents.
Noted the Supreme Court ruling: “When the Sandiganbayan inquired as to whether the Republic will present the original or certified true copy of its documentary exhibits, the Republic answered that it will do so if necessary, as the originals are kept in the Central Bank vault. Despite knowledge of the existence and whereabouts of the documents’ originals, the Republic failed to present the same and contented itself with the presentation of mere photocopies.”
Granted that, as former PCGG commissioner Ruben Carranza contended, the Marcoses and their aides had enough time to destroy the documents or spirit them away to parts unknown, the fact that the PCGG had photocopies of those papers indicates they had access to them at one point.
They were evidence and could have been sequestered somewhere neutral and secure.
Was this done at all?
Being a government agency created precisely to trace the Marcos ill-gotten wealth, the PCGG was certainly within its mandate to demand that the Central Bank open its vaults and surrender the documents needed to strengthen its case.
With the Marcoses out of power by 1987 when the case was filed, what — or who — could have prevented the PCGG from taking a more aggressive stance toward agencies and personalities identified with the former regime?
More than three decades since and several batches of PCGG officials later, who do we blame for the debacle we’re in now: neck-deep in and still paying the ruinous debt that Marcos and his cronies had incurred, and looking with horror at how such largesse — kept safe in hidden accounts abroad — is now being used on social media to spread fake news, revise history and rehabilitate the Marcoses?
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