The Senate is planning to start 2020 by investigating the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) for its series of failures in seeking to recover billions of alleged ill-gotten wealth from the family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. About time such an official probe happened.
In just five months, the agency tasked to recover the Marcos ill-gotten wealth managed to lose four civil cases, with the latest ruling handed down earlier this month allowing the Marcoses to keep P200 billion of their alleged loot.
The reason? The PCGG lawyers, once again, violated the elementary best evidence rule, according to the court — by presenting mere photocopies of their main pieces of evidence instead of the required originals.
Last August, the Sandiganbayan second division junked the P102-billion civil suit involving government corporations and dummies, including former ambassador Roberto Benedicto, who were allegedly used by the Marcoses to plunder the national till.
“It saddens the Court that it took more than 30 years before this case is submitted for decision and yet, the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain any of the causes of action against the remaining defendants,” the court said in dismissing Civil Case 0034.
In September, the same Sandiganyaban division junked Civil Case 0008, which alleged that Marcos crony Bienvenido Tantoco “acquired assets, funds, and other property grossly and manifestly disproportionate to his salaries, lawful income and income from legitimately acquired property.”
Tantoco and Dominador Santiago, chair of the Tourist Duty Free Shops Incorporated, were allegedly used as dummies by the Marcoses to acquire expensive artworks, clothes and jewelry. But, in junking the case, the court said the PCGG submitted insufficient evidence; specifically, submitted exhibits were rejected “for being mere photocopies, which failed to comply with the best evidence rule.”
The fourth division of the Sandiganbayan also cited the same grounds when it junked Civil Case 0007 in October — a P267.371-million suit against the Marcoses and Fe Roa Gimenez, Imelda’s social secretary, and her husband Ignacio.
Again, the court said, most of the documents the PCGG submitted were unauthenticated copies; thus, “This Court finds the violation of the best evidence rule in the case at bar to be fatal to the Republic’s cause.”
Then 10 days ago, the same division likewise junked Civil Case 0002 involving P200 billion of the Marcoses’ alleged ill-gotten wealth, citing that “the photocopied documents are in violation [of] Rule 130, Sec. 3 of the Rules of Court, otherwise known as the best evidence rule, which mandates that the evidence must be the original documents itself.”
The court could barely disguise its contempt at the sloppy work of the government prosecutors, noting that the petitioners “did not even attempt to provide a plausible reason why the originals were not presented, or any compelling ground why the court should admit these documents as secondary evidence absent the testimony of the witnesses who had executed them.”
The PCGG could claim that all wasn’t lost, as a special division of the antigraft court also ordered last week the forfeiture of 896 pieces of artworks from the Marcoses estimated to be worth $24.32 million, and ordered the family to stop disposing, transferring or selling these artworks.
The court’s ruling in Civil Case 0141 said the Marcos couple failed to substantiate how they got a massive art collection despite their aggregate salaries of only $304,372 during their entire terms.
This is only one case, however, compared to the 24 civil and forfeiture cases against Imelda that have been earlier dismissed; 18 other Marcos-related cases remain pending — and to go by the PCGG’s recent record, they may end up in the dustbin as well, dealing further damage to the fight to recover the people’s money.
The PCGG needs to publicly account for its string of embarrassing losses — especially in light of the Sandiganbayan’s repeated admonitions that the government lawyers lost their cases due to basic lapses in the presentation of evidence. Who should be held responsible for such grave incompetence and neglect, deliberate or otherwise?
The PCGG currently has 131 personnel, including three full-time lawyers and seven special legal counsels deputized by the Office of the Solicitor General to prosecute cases lodged at the Sandiganbayan. In addition, the three PCGG commissioners are all lawyers.
A swarm of lawyers — and yet time and again, in serial fashion, failing their cases at the most elementary level. The PCGG has much explaining to do — and, just like photocopies, facile reasons won’t cut it.
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