What a banner year 2019 is turning out so far for the Marcoses. Imee Marcos got elected to the Senate despite the revelation that she had lied about her academic record, Bongbong Marcos saw his election complaint allowed to proceed despite the defeated vice presidential candidate’s abject failure to show irregularities in the vote recount in pilot precincts he himself had picked, Imelda Marcos remains scot-free despite her 77-year graft conviction by the Sandiganbayan in November last year, and the late dictator’s family has just seen another corruption case against them dismissed by the Sandiganbayan — the third time in a row this year.
The latest blow for government prosecutors, and by extension the people whose stolen tax money is the subject of the raft of ill-gotten wealth cases against the Marcoses, is the junking last week by the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division of the P267.371-million civil forfeiture case against the Marcos couple and a number of their associates.
In September, the court threw out a P1.052-billion civil suit against the Marcoses and Rustan’s Commercial Corp. founders Bienvenido Tantoco Sr. and Gliceria Tantoco. In August, a P102-billion forfeiture case filed in 1987 against the Marcoses and their associate Roberto Benedicto was also junked.
What accounts for these series of losses? The antigraft court cited one main reason — the common denominator among all three dismissals: “insufficiency of evidence.”
Specifically, the work done by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to argue the people’s case was found to be sorely wanting, characterized by sheer incompetence, carelessness, a stark lack of rigor and seriousness.
Aside from the “unjustified nonappearance of government lawyers” during the case trials, the PCGG, for instance, submitted evidence that were rejected for being “mere photocopies,” a violation of the “best evidence rule” of the Rules of Court, which mandates that original documents, not just copies, must be presented as evidence.
“Considering that the Republic is essentially seeking to prove the contents of the photocopied exhibits that it submitted, this Court finds the violation of the best evidence rule in the case at bar to be fatal to the Republic’s cause,” said the court.
It added that state lawyers did not even offer any explanation as to why the original documents could not be presented. “(Without) a clear showing that the original of these exhibits have been lost, destroyed or cannot be produced in court, the Republic’s photocopied exhibits must be disregarded, being unworthy of any probative value.”
How low could the prosecutorial bungling go? Consider this detail: The reproduction of the photocopied documents was “so poor in quality that the letters and numbers stated therein are already unreadable thereby making it impossible for the Court to discern the points being sought to be established by the Republic.”
More: The PCGG and Office of the Solicitor General — under Jose Calida, a staunch Marcos loyalist, it should be noted — failed to present their key witnesses to authenticate or testify on the veracity of their submitted affidavits and to undergo cross-examination by the defendants. Thus, the court ruled, the affidavits were nothing but hearsay evidence.
So what is happening here? Are these defeats merely a case of sloppy work? Where are the original documents — the bank statements, tax documents, summary of stock transactions, Central Bank of the Philippines papers, statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, local and foreign bank statements—that were the source of the photocopied exhibits?
To be fair, it wasn’t easy gathering these documents, protested former PCGG commissioner Ruben Carranza. The Marcoses had spirited out the incriminating contracts in tax havens abroad, or hidden them under false identities before they were even ousted out of the country. Witnesses who had initially agreed to testify had vanished, while the shifting loyalties of subsequent PCGG heads meant treading lightly on some cases.
But the serial court wins the Marcoses are enjoying of late, on account of flagrant elementary lapses by the prosecution, raises the question of whether these cases are somehow being deliberately lost. Never mind the Marcoses — they are expected to fight tooth and nail to keep their plundered wealth. But government lawyers representing the people are expected to put up as great a fight, if not more.
According to the court, however, they are showing consistently lousy work, leading to humiliating losses for the State. So — is the ball being purposely dropped? If not, who should be held responsible for such criminal negligence and harmful breach of duty?
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