Get Real
Rays of light
By Solita Collas-Monsod
Philippine Daily Inquirer

First Posted 23:21:00 03/25/2011
Filed Under: Judiciary (system of justice)

THAT FULL-PAGE ad taken out in this newspaper entitled “SO THAT THE PCGG AND OSG (and others) MAY HAVE THE FACTS RIGHT ON WHY THE PRESENTATION OF THEIR TESTIMONIAL EVIDENCE ON THE LUCIO TAN ILL-GOTTEN WEALTH CASE WAS TERMINATED BY THE SANDIGANBAYAN ON APRIL 23,2009” by Estelito P. Mendoza and Associates (lawyers for Lucio Tan) is an indication, from where I sit, that the actions of the new and revitalized Presidential Commission on Good Government may be starting to hit a nerve.

The reader will recall that I wrote last week that the PCGG/OSG had filed a motion with the Sandiganbayan for the justices hearing Civil Case 0005 to inhibit themselves because of their “manifest partiality and bias in favor of the powerful interests impleaded in this case (which) glaring inequity substantially eroded the Republic’s faith that this case would be resolved in accordance with law, justice and equity.”

The powerful interests adverted to is, of course, Lucio Tan who has so far managed to win all the cases filed against him, whether it be government agencies (i.e., the BIR) or his labor unions (the flight attendants’ union did win its case against him in the Supreme Court, won in Tan’s first motion for reconsideration, and then lost the second). For that matter, Tan has somehow managed to get his way with Congress as well. And let’s face it, Presidents, too, although so far P-Noy seems to have been able to resist his blandishments (it is my understanding that P-Noy himself refused any campaign contributions from Tan, but it has also been alleged that the latter managed to course it through some members of the Samar group).

It should not escape anyone’s notice that while the title of the ad refers to the April 23, 2009 open-court order of the Sandiganbayan terminating the prosecution’s presentation of testimonial evidence, what it reproduced is the July 20, 2009 Sandiganbayan resolution denying the motion for reconsideration filed by the PCGG/OSG. That is because the April 23 order was an oral one, and it is clear as a bell that it was done in a rush, with only the weakest attempts at justification, because the anti-graft court, presumably at the urging of Mendoza, was trying to stave off the possibility of Mariano Tanenglian (Lucio Tan’s brother) turning state witness. Whether or not a written order followed the oral one, I do not know. But even if there was one, the fact that Mendoza did not use that but preferred to reproduce a resolution handed down three months later is in itself very telling: they needed additional time to marshal the arguments necessary to justify the order of April 23.

Even then, I still am not buying their position. The partiality was manifest, and the explanatory note of Mendoza and Associates gives it away. Notice, dear reader, what Mendoza says: “The termination was not only justified but belated. The case has been pending since July 17, 1987, or now for nearly TWENTY-FOUR YEARS” (emphasis theirs).

And yet, when the Sandiganbayan talks about the “antecedent facts,” it starts with 2005, rather than 1987. And the reason becomes clear, when one sees the timeline (as provided to me generously by Catalino Generillo, who was hired by Haydee Yorac and whose judgment I will take over that of 10 Agnes Devanaderas).

So why did the Sandiganbayan start with 2005? Well because, dear reader, the delay between 1987 and 2005 was due to the collective efforts of the defendants, including Lucio Tan—dilatory tactics, including motions to dismiss, motions for bill of particulars, motions to suspend proceedings (even before the start of the formal trial). For example, it took Lucio Tan almost three years (March 1990) to file his answer to the initial complaint of the PCGG, and would you believe another nine years to answer the PCGG’s amended complaint? On the other hand, of the 17 postponements requested by the government, as cited by the court, only three are fully attributable to the government per the PCGG tally, while the rest were due to valid reasons, i.e., circumstances beyond its control.

Indeed, if the Sandiganbayan had taken cognizance of those defendant-caused delays, rather than just the prosecution-caused delays, there would clearly be no basis whatsoever to chafe at the delays they attribute to the prosecution, much less to terminate arbitrarily (justification three months later, as noted above) its presentation of evidence, in effect denying the latter the opportunity to fully present its case. How’s that for loading the cards against the good guys?

But lo and behold, it seems that some rays of light are appearing in what was heretofore a very dark horizon. The same day that the full-page Mendoza ad appeared in the Inquirer two days ago, the Sandiganbayan granted, in open court, the government’s motion to adduce additional evidence, and gave it an eight-month window to do so, the clock starting immediately.

Did the court change its mind because of the March 15 PCGG/OSG motion for the justices to inhibit themselves? One cannot tell. But in researching for this column, I came upon a report regarding a 2010 ruling by the Supreme Court (with Martin Villarama as ponente) that the Sandiganbayan (Second Division) committed grave abuse of discretion when it denied a PCGG plea to reopen a case for presentation of additional evidence.

The Villarama decision stated that the Sandiganbayan’s refusal would result in “miscarriage of justice”; and that, aside from this, the Sandiganbayan flouted EO 14, Series of 1986 issued by President Cory Aquino (when her word was law) that technical rules of procedure and evidence shall not be strictly applied to cases involving ill-gotten wealth.

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