Striving to Lose

By Solita Collas-MonsodPhilippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: October 24, 2009

MANILA, Philippines — I just watched for the first time a tape of Cheche Lazaro’s Aug. 15, 2007 “Probe” episode, featuring Civil Case 005 against Lucio Tan and the estate of Ferdinand Marcos. Speculation was rife at the time about a deal brewing between the Presidential Commission on Good Government and the Marcos heirs, fueled possibly by the fact that Catalino Generillo, then a special counsel of the PCGG, had subpoenaed Bongbong Marcos as a hostile witness in the case. That public speculation was baseless, as I have subsequently learned. It turns out that Generillo had a difficult time even getting the PCGG and the Office of the Solicitor General to approve the subpoena of Bongbong as a witness.

But let me not stray from the “Probe” episode. In it, Cheche showed interviews with PCGG head Camilo Sabio, with Generillo (who had been assigned the case since January 2007) and with former Sen. Jovito Salonga, the first head of the PCGG. What floored me was what Cheche said about Sabio: “’Nung tinanong ko sa kanya (Sabio) kung may ebidensiya, sabi niya na sinabi sa kanya ng mga dating abogado na humawak ng kaso ni Tan na walang ebidensiya ang gobyerno (When I asked him if there was evidence, he said that the former lawyers handling the case of Tan told him that the government had no evidence).”

Can you imagine, dear reader, the head of the government’s prosecution team in an ongoing P51-billion case (in 1987 pesos—this is the figure mentioned in the complaint), publicly admitting, for all to hear, including the defendants and the court, that the government had no evidence? And equally damning, can you imagine the one in charge of this important case virtually admitting that he knew nothing about it, but relied solely on the word of underlings? Does that sound like someone who has even the faintest desire to win?

No evidence? What rot. The PCGG had copies of the deeds of assignment and deeds of sale from Tan and his associates to companies (Shareholdings, Falcon, Supreme) that were owned by Marcos. But at the pretrial stage (it took almost 20 years for the case to reach trial), the defense apparently did not accept the authenticity of these documents because they were mere copies. And the PCGG left it at that—as did, apparently, the Sandiganbayan.

Until Generillo appeared on the scene and did a great deal of homework. For example, in 1998, Imelda Marcos had given a much-publicized interview to the Inquirer, in which she revealed that Ferdinand Marcos was the real owner, or a major stockholder of Tan’s companies. While Generillo’s predecessors may have not realized the value of that interview, Generillo, in going over the case files, did—and he used it as a basis for asking for the tape of the Inquirer interview, for copies of the reports based on that interview—and more importantly, for issuing a subpoena to Bongbong to shed light on the matter. The publicity surrounding that event was what led Cheche and her Probe Team to do those interviews.

I understand that when Bongbong did testify, he brought with him copies of those deeds of assignment and sale as supplied by his mother Imelda, in effect validating the PCGG documents. Why the pre-Generillo PCGG did not attempt to authenticate these documents in the imaginative way that Generillo did is anybody’s guess. Why did Bongbong give testimony that could be construed as damaging to the Marcoses? Because apparently, the Marcoses contend that the Marcos ownership of the Tan corporations is not because of unexplained wealth. But whatever the case may be, the fact is that his testimony certainly made the government case against Lucio Tan much stronger. And Generillo, as I previously wrote, was able to dig up documents from the archives, and from the Malacañang museum (such as the letters of Mariano Tanenglian to Marcos, asking for loans and exemptions), piling up a mountain of evidence.
Generillo remedied another PCGG omission and subpoenaed Salonga as a witness. What could Salonga’s contribution possibly have been? The “Probe” tape shows it: Salonga talked about how Lucio Tan, in the early days of the Aquino regime, offered a P500-million cash settlement for the case to be withdrawn (or not filed). President Corazon Aquino turned down the offer. Question: Why would Tan want to settle that large a sum if he was not guilty?

But the most glaring omission of the PCGG that Generillo caught and tried to remedy was that it totally ignored the admission of Imelda in her Amended Answer (to the complaint) that 60 percent of the Tan companies were owned by Marcos, with Tan as trustee. It also ignored the cross complaint filed by Imelda against Tan for the recovery of those shares. This, by the way, occurred way back in 2001.

Generillo was assigned to the case in January 2007. The next month, after reading the case files, he filed a motion in the Sandiganbayan for a summary judgment on the case. After all, what was there left to try, when the defendant admitted this crucial relationship? Alas, the Sandiganbayan turned it down. Undaunted, Generillo filed a motion for reconsideration—which after 20 months, has still not been decided. But I will leave the Sandiganbayan’s role in this sorry affair for a later time.

Generillo was getting too successful. He was fired. Tanenglian’s testimony would have been the final nail on the coffin of Tan’s assertion that Marcos had no share in his corporations. His offer to testify was turned down.

The whole thing stinks.

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