At Ground Leve l Criminal justice system is working… for whom?

It’s generally conceded that the Philippine criminal justice system grinds exceedingly slow. But for the Marcos Jr. administration, the system has been working well after just one year of the family’s being back in Malacañang.

Already, the Sandiganbayan has dismissed, between July 2022 and July 2023, three civil forfeiture cases on alleged hundred-billion pesos worth of ill-gotten wealth against the Marcoses and their close associates or “cronies.”

The fourth such dismissal was the final decision handed down by the Supreme Court’s First Division, promulgated on March 29 but made public on July 21. It upheld the Sandiganbayan’s Sept. 25, 2019 ruling dismissing a civil forfeiture complaint, involving damage payment of P1.05 billion, against the Marcoses and their alleged cronies.

That latest judicial bonanza prompted Marcos Jr.’s elder sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, to gush: “We are grateful, of course, for this decision.” We, of course, are not surprised.

But then she added, “We are hopeful that justice will not take so long for the rest of our countrymen.”

What did she mean by that statement? Let’s leave this question meantime.

At least two online news outlets reported the same quote: GMANews Online and Politiko News. The latter even noted that Imee was “elated by the latest string of dismissal of cases against her family.” She made the statement at a press conference in El Salvador City, Misamis Oriental, where she had distributed ayuda to calamity victims.

The case ruled on by the Supreme Court on appeal was originally filed, way back in 1987, by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), first headed by the late former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga.

(The PCGG was tasked by the Cory Aquino government to assist in the recovery of government resources that were allegedly amassed by Marcos Sr., his immediate family, relatives and close associates over 14 years of dictatorial rule.

(All together the PCGG estimated that the Marcos family had plundered P589 billion, or $10 billion. Over the past post-dictatorship decades, the government claims to have gotten back P171 billion. However, the PCGG also concedes that the bulk – at least $6 billion – remains to be recovered.)

Named as respondents in the civil suit ruled on by the Supreme Court were Ferdinand Marcos Sr., Imelda Marcos, Imee and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The alleged cronies were Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., Gliceria Tantoco, Bienvenido Tantoco Jr., Ma. Lourdes Tantoco-Pineda and Dominador Santiago.

The advocacy group CARMMA (Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law) was quick to deplore the dismissal of yet another civil forfeiture case during Marcos Jr.’s watch, sensing what the group described as an “emerging pattern and scheme” under the current administration.

“It is deplorable that one case after another involving the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth were dismissed in just a year,” CARMMA said in a statement on Thursday. The group cited the record pertaining to the three other cases and their dates of dismissal by the Sandiganbayan:

• In July 2022, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division dismissed a lawsuit seeking the recovery of P200 billion worth of assets and properties held by the Marcoses.

• In February 2023, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division junked another civil suit over alleged ill-gotten wealth by the Marcoses and other defendants; no monetary value was cited.

• Last month, the Sandiganbayan dismissed another P600-million civil forfeiture case involving Imelda Marcos, Marcos Jr. and their alleged cronies.

Importantly, CARMMA also raised the issue of the huge estate taxes long unpaid by the Marcoses, that now amount to over P203 billion. Then there’s the sacking of Lilia Guillermo as director of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (first appointed by Marcos Jr.) after she publicly stated that all Filipinos, including presidents and the Marcoses, are accountable for ensuring the payment of estate taxes.

Why were the civil forfeiture complaints dismissed?

In its Sept. 25, 2019 ruling, the Sandiganbayan found the PCGG to have failed to prove its allegations in its complaint by a “preponderance of evidence.” The Supreme Court concurred. It pointed out that the PCGG made numerous allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the respondents, but the 11 exhibits it presented did not show any connection with the alleged illegal acts.

Invariably, the same ground was cited by the Sandiganbayan for dismissing the three other cases. For instance, instead of presenting as evidence the original copies of relevant documents, the PCGG submitted instead xerox copies or other type of reproduction that’s unacceptable by the courts. Or, the PCGG failed to present credible or competent witnesses who could have validated the allegations.

No reliable, acceptable or credible excuses have been made to explain the bungling by the PCGG cited by the court: Why was it unable to gather ample, if not preponderant, documentary evidence before going to court? If they had the evidence, why was this not preserved for proper presentation during the hearings?

Back to Imee’s quoted statement.

If they were ordinary people, her expression of gratitude to the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court might be easily appreciated as fitting and normal. But the implication that justice was done to her family after almost four decades of judicial proceedings? “We are hopeful that justice will not take so long for the rest of our countrymen,” she piously prayed.

No one will dispute that the dismissal of the cases means immense benefits, more comforts and enjoyment for a few: the Marcoses and their friends. On the other hand, they have unjustly deprived the government – and the Filipino people, much more so – of the benefits that urgently-needed economic development programs and social services could have been provided with those billions of pesos.

Published in Philippine Star
July 29, 2023

Share This Post