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With Due Respect

More questions on Imelda’s conviction

Why was Imelda granted bail despite the conflicting reasons for her absence during the promulgation of the judgment convicting her? Why did she withdraw her motion for reconsideration in the Sandiganbayan (SBN) and appeal directly to the Supreme Court?

On the first question, in her “Motion for Leave of Court to Avail of Post-Conviction Remedies,” Imelda justified her absence “solely because she was indisposed,” attaching thereto a medical certificate attesting she was suffering from “multiple organ failure.”

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However, during the hearing on the said motion, she testified that her lawyer, who was also allegedly sick, failed to advise her of the scheduled promulgation. Nonetheless, had she known of it, she would have attended, even if sick, “as it was never her intention to disobey the directives of the Court.”

Last Nov. 28, the SBN Fifth Division unanimously held that though there were “inconsistencies in her reasons,” her foregoing “statements invite leniency…considering that in the process, Ms. Marcos surrendered and placed herself within the reach and arm of the law.”

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In my humble view, had the SBN rejected her reasons, Imelda, per Villarin vs People (Jan. 31, 2011), would have lost her post-conviction remedies; that is, her pending motion for reconsideration would have been ipso facto denied and her appeal to the Supreme Court summarily dismissed. Thus, she would have been jailed pronto.

However, having accepted her reasons, the SBN allowed her to post a cash bail of P300,000 which is double the original P150,000 earlier required of her, per my column on Nov. 25 titled “Imelda convicted, but why only now?”

To justify the grant of bail, the anti-graft court, citing Enrile vs Sandiganbayan (Aug. 18, 2015), took “into account primarily the fact that she is of advanced age and for health reasons.” Penned by now CJ Lucas P. Bersamin, this 2015 Enrile decision is the prevailing jurisprudence that all courts are bound to follow.

More significantly for Imelda, the SBN allowed her to withdraw her pending motion for reconsideration and accepted her notice of appeal to the Supreme Court, both of which, to repeat, would not have been granted had the SBN rejected her reasons for her absence.

On the second question, I am not privy on why Imelda’s lawyers withdrew her motion for reconsideration. I can only surmise that after examining the SBN’s ably-written decision, they probably thought it was not possible to get a reversal of their client’s conviction or a reduction of the penalties imposed.

Worse, if the SBN found the motion to be pro forma, in the sense that it raised no new arguments, the antigraft court may deny it outright and bar her notice of appeal to the Supreme Court. In which case, the decision would become final and enforceable.

By immediately appealing to the Supreme Court, Imelda’s lawyers avoided the aforesaid risk of losing their client’s recourse to the high court. True, the Supreme Court, as a rule, does not review the factual findings of the SBN (and other lower courts). But equally true, the Court en banc can initiate new doctrines or reverse/modify existing jurisprudence that could lead to Imelda’s acquittal.

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A good example is Arroyo vs Sandiganbayan (July 19, 2016), in which the petitioner was acquitted, among other reasons, because the Supreme Court ruled, for the first time, that in a prosecution for plunder, the “main plunderer” must be identified in the information and proven during the trial before any alleged coconspirator can be convicted. Again, this novel ruling was penned also by CJ Bersamin and is now a binding jurisprudence in plunder cases.

So, the lawyers’ strategy may not be so much to contest the factual findings of the SBN as to persuade the Supreme Court to forge a new doctrine to acquit their high-profile client, as Estelito P. Mendoza did in the case of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Finally, by going straight to the Supreme Court, the lawyers may be hoping for a speedier way to finally put an end to these consolidated cases, the first five of which began 27 years ago.

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, graft conviction, Imelda Marcos, Marcos hidden wealth, Sandiganbayan, Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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