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With Due Respect

Closure of graft cases needs IBP’s help

The Sandiganbayan 4th Division (SBN) directed the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) via a Resolution, dated Feb. 28, 2020, “to inform the Court within five (5) days from notice hereof the proper legal action it has undertaken or intends to undertake” in Republic v. Estate of Africa (Civil Case No. 0178). I will take time out from the COVID-19 crisis to take this up, lest its lessons be forgotten.

That case was filed in the SBN on Oct. 29, 1997, to recover certain shares of stock held in the name of alleged cronies of the late president Ferdinand Marcos. Incredibly, despite the lapse of 22 years, “some of the defendants have not been properly served summons…” because they were abroad. Since then, the case had been in limbo — no pretrial, no trial, and of course, no judgment.

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To remedy the problem, the OSG, as counsel for the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), filed a motion 21 years later, on Sept. 24, 2018, to suspend “the preliminary conference for sixty (60) days…” because “it intends to serve summons by publication” on the said defendants. The SBN promptly granted the motion four days later, on Sept. 28, 2018.

The 60 days lapsed but nothing was heard from the OSG. Its patience probably exhausted, the SBN issued this Feb. 28 resolution directing the PCGG’s counsel to advise whether, as promised, it had indeed served summons by publication (or by any other means) on the absent defendants.

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Sadly, aside from previous losses they had suffered due to simple mistakes (or negligence) in authenticating documents, the OSG and the PCGG should indeed wake up, follow the Rules of Court, and hasten this and other ill-gotten wealth cases that have slept far too long in the judicial crevices. (See related Inquirer editorial on 3/19/20.)

The failure to move this pending case after the lapse of two decades is bad enough. However, even in those with final judgments already, lapses and gaps still abound.

For example, in Estate of Marcos v. Republic (Jan. 18. 2017), the Supreme Court listed the properties, here and abroad, of the former president and his wife that have been adjudged to be ill-gotten, consisting of cash, bank deposits, shares of stock, land, buildings, condominiums, paintings, etc. (For details, see my column on 2/26/17.)

While it may be easy to account for the cash and cash equivalents, it is not as easy to trace the whereabouts of, and forfeit, the properties located in foreign countries which may have been acquired by third persons during the long periods of litigation.

This lack of closure is not limited to the Marcos cases. Take for example People v. Estrada (Sept. 12, 2007) in which the SBN forfeited in favor of the government over P549 million deposited in the name of the Muslim Youth Foundation, P180 million deposited in the name of “Jose Velarde” and the so-called “Boracay Mansion” in New Manila, Quezon City.

This decision has become final, no appeal having been taken. And the accused, Joseph Estrada, was pardoned by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Nonetheless, to quote the pardon document itself, the “forfeitures imposed by the [SBN] remain in force and in full.”

Since the forfeited bank deposits and mansion were not in the name of the accused but in the name of, and claimed by, third persons who were not parties in the case and therefore not bound by the judgment, I wonder whether they have in fact been recovered by the government. No closure yet, insofar as I know.

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Another example. In a split decision on Dec. 7, 2018, the SBN acquitted Sen. Bong Revilla but convicted his co-accused, Richard Cambe and Janet Lim Napoles, of plunder, and held the accused “solidarily and jointly liable to return to the National Treasury” P124.5 million. Despite the “solidary” liability imposed, Revilla, claiming innocence, refused to pay. I wonder whether this adjudged sum will ever be recovered.

To conclude, the PCGG is mandated to chase not only ill-gotten wealth but also other assigned graft cases. Since the public is not familiar with its work, I urge the private sector, especially the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), to help in the chase and, more so, in the closure of these cases. The IBP can entice the legal academe, principally patriotic law students and their professors, to monitor the cases and assure their complete closure.

Comments to [email protected]

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TAGS: Artemiio V. Panganiban, graft cases. IBP, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, With Due Respect
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