Philippine court drops ill-gotten wealth cases vs Danding Cojuangco

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The Philippine Supreme Court dismissed six civil cases filed against a known crony of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr., citing the snail’s pace of the Sandiganbayan proceedings, making it harder for the country to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the late dictator.

The high court’s third division ruled in April this year to junk six civil suits against Marcos crony Eduardo “Danding” M. Cojuangco, Jr. who died in June 2020.

The ruling, a copy of which was only made public on Nov. 11, barred the anti-graft tribunal from taking any further action on the cases, which involved the creation of dummy companies and purchases and disbursements related to coco levy funds which had been levied against coconut farmers.

The case was filed in 1987. The Sandiganbayan divided it into eight suits in 1999. Two of them were resolved, while the remaining six never reached the trial stage.

Mr. Cojuangco went to the high tribunal in 2019 to assert his right to a speedy trial.

“These incidents in the Sandiganbayan proceedings depict more than a perfect picture of an inordinate delay which is violative of one’s right to speedy administration of justice,” the high tribunal said in the decision.

The ruling was penned by now-retired Associate Justice Edgardo delos Santos. Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, Ramon Paul Hernando, Henri Jean Paul Inting, and Jhosep Lopez concurred.

The 34-year-old cases were originally filed by the Philippine Commission on Good Governance (PCGG), which was created in 1987 to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family and their cronies.

The Supreme court blamed the anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, which did not act on the PCGG’s motion to schedule the cases in 2018, for the delay in hearing the cases. “Accordingly, the subject cases remained idle and trial therein never commenced.”

The delay violated Mr. Cojuangco’s right to a speedy disposition of cases, the Supreme Court said.

The fact that 32 years had elapsed from the time of the filing of the original complaint, and 24 years from the subdivision thereof without a trial proper being commenced constitutes a delay by any reasonable standard, the high tribunal said. “Needless to say, the delay is beyond the time periods provided in any of the rules applicable to the Sandiganbayan at any given point in time since the termination of the pre-trial hearings. Thus, the burden of proof that there was no violation of the right to speedy disposition of cases clearly lies with the Republic.”

The Philippines’ highest court said the Sandiganbayan has the habit of delaying the resolution of simple motions from months to years when it could have resolved them immediately.

“At this point, the Court recognizes that the inaction of the Sandiganbayan for more than 30 years has placed petitioner at a disadvantage in fully preparing and presenting his case,” it said.

The government has recovered about P174 billion in ill-gotten wealth, according to the PCCG.

More than 70,000 people were jailed, about 34,000 were tortured, and more than 3,000 people died under the dictator’s martial rule, according to Amnesty International. — Kyle Aristophere Atienza