Within two months, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) bungled two major cases against the late President Ferdinand Marcos and his associates that took the agency all of its 32 years of existence to pursue, the latest of which was the P1.052-billion ill-gotten wealth complaint against the late strongman, his wife Imelda and businessman Bienvenido Tantoco Sr.
The Sandiganbayan Second Division disclosed in a decision dated 25 September but only released this week, that the government, represented by the PCGG failed to present enough evidence for the high-profile case.
Tantoco who founded the upscale Rustan’s chain of stores is a close associate of the former President.
This is the second time that the PCGG lost a billion-peso case which this time was in connection to the Tantoco clan’s 11 real estate properties located in the Philippines, Hawaii and Rome; shares of stocks in 19 companies; cash on hand and in bank; jewelry; notes, loans and mortgages receivable; motor vehicles and three Cessna aircraft.
The anti-graft court said only four witnesses were presented while further presentation of evidence was waived in October 2006 due to the unjustified non-appearance of the government’s counsel;
The court denied the admission of a handful of evidence marked as ”MMM” to “AAAAAAA” because the government failed to present the same in the discovery proceedings despite directives of the anti-graft court and the Supreme Court.
Photocopies not best proof
“The other exhibits were also denied admission by the anti-graft court for being mere photocopies which is not compliant with the Best Evidence Rule,” according to the Sandiganbayan.
“Secondary evidence of the contents of writings, (on the other hand), is admitted on the theory that the original cannot be produced by the party who offers the evidence within a reasonable time by the exercise of reasonable diligence,” it added.
The court added “(e)ven then, the general rule is that secondary evidence is still not admissible until the non-production of the primary evidence has been sufficiently accounted for.”
Tantoco and the others was also accused by the government of acting as dummies of the Marcos couple in acquiring its franchise to operate Tourist Duty Free Shops Inc. for the purpose of concealing the ownership of illegally-obtained assets and that the defendants managed to secure the approval of Marcos to operate and manage exclusively Duty Free shops and pay only a minimum franchise tax of 7 percent.
Court not convinced
Proceeds from the 7 percent franchise tax were then allegedly shared with the Nutrition Center of the Philippines with the defendant Imelda Marcos as President, the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation with defendant Tantoco as President, as well as with the Mount Samat Reforestation Project — all but only 2 percent went to the government coffers and the remaining 5 percent supposedly becoming Imelda’s source of petty cash since these funds were funneled to her private foundations.
The anti-graft court, was not convinced of these allegations. It argued that the pieces of evidence submitted by the state prosecutors such as the letters sent by the Commission on Audit to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs only referred to tax deficiencies of Tourist Duty Free Shops, Inc.
It added the letters did not show that the defendants are dummies of the defendants Marcoses in its operation of the duty-free shops. In addition, the alleged participation of the defendants in securing the issuance of the presidential decree was not established.
“Moreover, the claim that five percent of the franchise tax paid by Tourist Duty Free Shops Inc. went to defendant Imelda Marcos has no evidentiary support. Clearly, these documents are palpably insufficient to prove that defendants are concealing illegally obtained assets or even amassing ill-gotten wealth,” it added.
Having said that, the anti-graft court said that there is no proof that defendant Tantoco acquired assets, funds and other property grossly and manifestly disproportionate to his salaries, lawful income, and income from legitimately acquired property when he served as public officer during the Marcos administration.
With Elmer N. Manuel