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With Due Respect

Why did SC acquit Imelda?

Did she not brag to media that they own everything in the Philippines? Who bungled her case? Who was the negligent prosecutor? Why did Frank Chavez stop attending the hearings? Friends bombarded me with these questions in reaction to a recent Inquirer story titled “SC upholds Imelda acquittal, scolds gov’t.”

First, the facts. After the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, documents were found in Malacañang showing that President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda kept several million dollars in Swiss banks via front “establishments” and foundations.

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The new government led by Cory Aquino treated them as ill-gotten wealth and asked the help of the Swiss authorities to recover them. Swiss magistrate Peter Cosenday, at the request of then Solicitor General Sedfrey Ordoñez, issued a decision freezing the accounts.

On Dec. 21, 1990, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court sustained Cosenday and gave our government one year to file “appropriate cases,” otherwise the freeze order would be lifted.

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Accordingly, Ordoñez’s successor, Francisco Chavez, filed several criminal cases against Imelda (Ferdinand, having died in 1989, was no longer indicted) in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) presided by Judge Silvino Pampilo Jr., for violation of the then law banning the use of foreign currency accounts.

As witnesses, the prosecution presented Caesario del Rosario, a commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), and Chavez. Del Rosario testified on certain Swiss bank papers and documents signed by the Marcos couple.

However, Chavez’s testimony was hampered by several postponements and absences on the trial dates scheduled by the judge on Jan. 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31, and Feb. 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28, 2007, which were ordered to be “intransferable.”

Despite this order, the judge canceled, at Chavez’s request, all the settings except those on Feb. 21, 27 and 28. Subsequent dates were similarly moved to April 11 and 24. Chavez attended on April 11 but failed to identify some vital documents in the custody of Prosecutor George Yarte Jr., who was at a prosecutors’ convention in Boracay.

A little later, the prosecution filed a motion to inhibit Judge Pampilo grounded on alleged bias, and the hearing for it was set on April 24. Chavez was absent on that date, despite the scheduled continuation of his direct examination.

Meanwhile, a lawyer from the PCGG, Napoleon Galit, appeared at the hearing on April 24 with a letter from then Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales authorizing him to prosecute the cases, resulting in contentious exchanges between him and Yarte on who should represent the prosecution.

To shorten the proceedings, Imelda’s lawyer Roberto Sison and the prosecutors stipulated on the “existence” of the documents that Chavez was to testify on, “but not on the truth” of their contents. Whereupon, Judge Pampilo denied the inhibition motion and ended the proceedings.

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Chavez appealed the inhibition order to the Court of Appeals (CA), which issued a writ of preliminary injunction stopping the RTC proceedings. However, on Feb. 28, 2008, the CA promulgated its decision upholding the judge’s refusal to inhibit.

On March 10, 2008, the RTC rendered its decision acquitting Imelda on the ground that the testimonies of Del Rosario and Chavez were hearsay, as they could not even authenticate the signatures of the Swiss officials who issued them.

Chavez vs Marcos (June 27, 2018, but released only last week, penned by Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen) affirmed the CA and RTC decisions and lamented the “apathetic prosecution” of the case.

Indeed, I agree that Del Rosario and Chavez did not have personal knowledge of the Swiss documents. They should have simply taken the depositions of the Swiss officials who issued or certified them, given that the duo frequented Switzerland precisely to find the evidence to fortify their cause. One thing is knowing a fact, quite another to prove it in court using the stringent rules of evidence.

The “existence-but-not-truth” stipulation was worthless. It was like agreeing to the existence of a witness but not to the truth of his/her testimony. As Justice Leonen wryly concluded, “The prosecution could have done better in this case. Sadly, it failed.”

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, Ferdinand Marcos, Frank Chavez, Imelda Marcos, Marcos hidden wealth, Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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