SC junks PCGG's ill-gotten wealth claims vs. Marcos, cronies

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The Supreme Court rules that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) lacked documentary evidence to show the amassing of supposed ill-gotten wealth by former President Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies through behest loans.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 19) — The Supreme Court (SC) junked the government's bid to collect damages against the estate of former President Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies for lack of documentary evidence on how their supposed ill-gotten wealth was amassed.

In a 28-page decision penned by SC Associate Justice Noel Tijam, the high court's First Division affirmed a 2010 Sandiganbayan ruling dismissing the complaint filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) for reconveyance, reversion, restitution and damages.

"Juxtaposing the specific allegations in the complaint with the Republic's documentary and testimonial evidence and as against the respondents' documentary and testimonial evidence," the ruling reads, "the Court agrees with the Sandiganbayan that the weight of evidence fails to preponderate in the Republic's favor."

The PCGG filed the complaint on July 24, 1987, which accused Marcos and his cronies of taking part in "schemes, devices and strategems" to acquire wealth through behest loans.

Among the respondents are former First Lady Imelda Marcos, construction magnate Rodolfo M. Cuenca and his son Roberto Cuenca, former Philippine National Bank President Panfilo Domingo, former Trade Minister Roberto Ongpin, former Development Bank of the Philippines officer Don Ferry, and 11 others.

Cuenca was primarily accused of conniving with the Marcoses by creating the Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines (CDCP) — what is now the Philippine National Construction Corporation — and other corporations to use for collecting ill-gotten wealth.

The complaint said Cuenca won contracts amounting to billions of pesos from then-called the Department of Public Works, the National Irrigation Administration, the Light Railway Transit (LRT) Project, among others "under terms and conditions manifestly disadvantageous to... the Filipino people."

Apart from construction contracts, the PCGG said the CDCP secured a "favored rescue arrangement" of funds from government financial institutions, without  enough collateral.

Cuenca was also accused of organizing the Universal Holding Corporation — a holding company for the CDCP, Sta. Ines Medale and Resort Hotels with the participation of the other defendants — which served as a "conduit of deposit" of illegally-obtained funds and properties.

But the Sandiganbayan on August 5, 2010 dismissed the PCGG's complaint, citing documentary evidence used in PCGG's complaint that consisted of executive issuances of then-President Marcos and of court decisions.

The anti-graft court said these issuances aren't illegal per se, considering public officials are entitled to presumption of good faith in the discharge of official duties.

The PCGG appealed the ruling to the high court,  claiming the Sandiganbayan erred in dismissing the complaint after it established having a prima facie case against the respondents.

But the high court said it cannot rule on PCGG's claim.

"In order to determine the veracity of the Republic's main contention that it has established a prima facie case against respondents through its documentary and testimonial evidence, a reassessment and reexamination of the evidence is necessary," the ruling read. "Unfortunately, the limited and discretionary judicial review allowed under Rule 45 does not envision a re-evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence upon which respondent court's action was predicated."

The SC also affimed the Sandiganbayan's decision to exclude PCGG's other evidence for being photocopies. It referenced the best evidence rule — the presentation of the original document — in cases related to the recovery of ill-gotten wealth.

"The Republic failed to prove that the respondents by themselves or in unlawful concert with one another, accumulated or participated in the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth insofar as the specific allegations in the subject complaint are concerned," the ruling said.

But the PCGG, in a statement, said they will continue to lobby government interest.

"Although the complaint was filed by the PCGG more than 31 years ago, and the Supreme Court decision was a mere affirmation of the Sandiganbayan ruling 8 years ago, the present officials of PCGG will still exhaust all possible legal remedies to pursue the case and to protect government interest," it said.