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Court: No more evidence vs Lucio Tan

Sandigan can’t wait ‘forever’ for gov’t witnesses

By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:03:00 07/24/2009

Filed Under: Graft & Corruption, Litigation & Regulations

MANILA, Philippines ? Saying it could not wait ?forever,? the Sandiganbayan has shut the door to any more evidence the government had promised to present in a P51-billion Marcos ill-gotten wealth case involving assets of businessman Lucio Tan.

In a nine-page resolution dated July 20, the anti-graft court?s Fifth Division denied with finality a motion for reconsideration filed by the Office of the Solicitor General seeking to set aside the court?s April 23 decision which ended the presentation of government evidence in Civil Case No. 0005.

The court noted that it had granted the government?s ?repeated requests? for cancellation of hearings in the 22-year-old case despite protests from the defendants.

It can?t linger

?This Court cannot forever be waiting for the plaintiff to present all its witnesses. There comes a point when the case should be put to rest and not be allowed to linger in its docket with no end in sight,? said the ruling penned by Justice Ma. Cristina Cortez-Estrada.

The Fifth Division?s two other associate justices?Roland B. Jurado and Napoleon E. Inoturan?concurred.

Respondents in the lawsuit are the Marcos estate, former first lady Imelda Marcos, former Central Bank governor Gregorio Licaros and former Philippine National Bank president Panfilo Domingo, both deceased, and others.

The Marcos family has alleged that many of Tan?s assets actually belonged to the late President Ferdinand Marcos for whom Tan held shares in trust.

17 extensions

The resolution noted that between May 16, 2006, and April 23, 2009, the court granted no less than 17 extensions for government lawyers to complete their presentation.

The court?s patience ran out on April 23 after Solicitor Mauricia Dinopol, who took over the case just a few weeks before, failed to present a single witness.

In open court, Cortez-Estrada refused to grant another extension and ordered the government lawyers to submit their formal proffer of evidence.

?This Court has warned the plaintiff to be ready with all of its witnesses. It clearly appears from the record that the plaintiff has established a pattern of continuously asking for postponement of hearings on the grounds its witnesses are not available,? the resolution said.

The government is seeking P50 billion in damages and P1 billion in legal expenses from the defendants, on top of the confiscation of any assets the Sandiganbayan may declare as part of their unlawfully acquired wealth.

?Although this Court is of the belief that all efforts must be exerted to recover ill-gotten wealth amassed by the Marcos regime and to protect the interest of the people through orders of sequestration or freezing of assets or accounts, this, however, should not violate the right of defendants to a speedy disposition of this case,? the Sandiganbayan said.

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