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With Due Respect

Dismissals, convictions and acquittals

My recent columns on the dismissal by the Sandiganbayan (SBN) of the three ill-gotten wealth cases of former president Ferdinand Marcos (11/24/19) and on the conviction by the same Court of former Isabela governor Grace Padaca (12/1/19) drew a barrage of questions. “Why was an honest official convicted, and yet, the ill-gotten wealth cases against the Marcoses (and their alleged cronies) were dismissed by the same Court?” readers asked.

For that matter, they continued, “Why were former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) and Senator Bong Revilla acquitted of humongous plunder? And why was former senator Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE), who was facing a capital offense, granted bail by the Supreme Court?”

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Moreover, “What do these rulings make of former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales who filed and initially prosecuted (through her assistants) the cases against Arroyo, Revilla and Ponce Enrile?”

Note that during her incumbency, Morales was acclaimed for investigating and prosecuting them. She was conferred an honorary doctorate in law by the University of the Philippines, her alma mater, and granted the “Ramon Magsaysay Award” [for being] the fearless and indefatigable Ombudsman whose integrity and dignity restored the people’s faith in the rule of law.”

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No common answer can be given to these tough questions, some of which are really rhetorical. The cases have their own unique facts and features which should be examined one by one. And the justices concerned may have differing philosophies of law and may have viewed the cases from different perspectives.

First, the three ill-gotten wealth cases were dismissed because the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) failed to observe the elementary rules of evidence, per my column on Nov. 7. I will no longer repeat why.

Readers still chimed, “Why were the solicitor general and the PCGG chairman not penalized for their incompetence, negligence and malfeasance?” Well, these cases languished for 30 years in the judicial dockets. Consequently, there were many solicitors general, OSG prosecutors, PCGG chairs, commissioners and other officials who bungled them. I agree that a thorough investigation should be conducted as to who among them may be held accountable.

The latest SBN decision (People v. Africa, Dec. 4, 2019) showed that when the prosecution presents sufficient proof, the Republic could recover ill-gotten wealth from the cronies; however, it dismissed “the case against defendants Juan Ponce Enrile, Imelda Marcos and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for failure [again] of the Republic to establish preponderance of evidence against them.”

Second, the decision convicting Padaca will still be reviewed by the SBN pursuant to the motion for reconsideration she is filing. Without preempting the SBN’s action thereon, may I just say that much would depend on the legal philosophy of the SBN justices.

If they continue to apply the law strictly and literally, they may just reiterate the judgment of conviction. However, if they will be more liberal in their interpretation, there may be a chance for an acquittal.

Third, the decision acquitting GMA was based on the failure of the prosecution to identify the “main plunderer,” and to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt. On the other hand, the grant of bail to JPE was grounded on his advanced age and fragile health, not on the constitutional provision allowing bail in capital offenses “when the evidence of guilt is strong.”

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Both rulings, penned by then Associate Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, were subjected to strong dissents to no avail. “If these rulings were wrong or misplaced, why was Bersamin later named chief justice?”his supporters argue. In any event, criticisms and all, these verdicts now “form a part of (our) legal system,” per Art. 8 of the Civil Code.

Lastly, the 186-page SBN decision acquitting Revilla, penned by Justice Geraldine Faith A. Econg, blamed the prosecution yet again for its failure to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Despite this repetitive finger-pointing, esteem for Morales remains vibrant. In fact, at 9 o’clock this morning, Dec. 8, she will be conferred an “Honorary Doctorate in Management” by the Asian Institute of Management.

[Comments to [email protected]]

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, court acquittals, court convictions, court dismissals, With Due Respect
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