Sandiganbayan reverses order for Marcos cronies’ relatives to pay exemplary damages
MANILA, Philippines — Sandiganbayan has reversed its initial decision requiring the heirs of former president Ferdinand Marcos’ cronies to pay exemplary damages after they lost a civil case against the government.
According to the resolution from the anti-graft court’s Special Third Division, the motion for reconsideration from the heirs of businessman Jose Africa was partially granted, in relation to the requirement to pay exemplary damages.
The court said in the resolution dated September 22 that there is no basis to require the heirs of Africa and Manuel Nieto Jr. to pay P1 million worth of moral and exemplary damages, contrary to what was stated in the December 2019 decision.
Last December 4, the same division ordered the relatives of the Africa and Nieto, both cronies of the late dictator, to return their shares and investments within the Eastern Telecommunications Phils. Inc. (Eastern Telecoms) to the government. This was because the money used to buy these shares was part of Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth, which he amassed during his 21-year stay in power.
“Defendants […] likewise claim that Jose Africa is not liable to pay the Republic exemplary damages because the Court itself found that the Republic has not established its claim for actual, temperate, nominal, moral damages or even attorney’s fees/litigation expenses; hence, the requisites for the award of exemplary damages has not been complied with,” the resolution penned by Presiding Justice and Third Division chair Amparo Cabotaje-Tang said.
“Upon a careful review of the facts of the cases and the relevant jurisprudence, the Court finds that there is no basis for the award of exemplary damages in favor of the Republic,” it added.
Despite this reversal, the decision last December stays, and the heirs are still required to return their shares within the said telecommunications company as the defendants did not present any new or valid arguments during the legal proceedings.
On the side of the government, it filed its own motion for reconsideration to include respondents former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile and former first lady Imelda Marcos, along with JAKA, Oceanic Wireless Network Inc., among those convicted in the civil case, and to reverse the lifting of the sequestration order against Polygon, a company where ill-gotten wealth shares were also placed.
But the Sandiganbayan maintained that the prosecution also presented the same set of evidence used during the trial proper, therefore junking the motion for reconsideration.
“In sum, except for the deletion of the award of exemplary damages in favor of the Republic, neither the Republic nor defendants substituted heirs of Jose L. Africa has presented any new or valid argument/s to warrant the reversal of the Court’s Decision promulgated on December 4, 2019,” the court noted.
This forfeiture case is one of the several filed against the Marcoses, as the late dictator was accused of using fronts to divert ill-gotten wealth to legitimate businesses. Most cases have been won by the Marcos, with this being the third case decided by Sandiganbayan in 2019 alone.
Two previous cases had been dismissed as state lawyers failed to prove guilt, largely because of a technicality—they did not present certified true copies of documents as evidence.
Marcos was in power for more than 20 years, accused of massive graft and corruption and attacks against political opponents. But in 1986, his regime was toppled by a peaceful movement, forcing them to flee in exile to Hawaii.
Despite these, Marcos’ kin has made a successful return to politics and national relevance in recent years.
Marcos daughter Imee Marcos is currently a senator, while Imelda last sat as a lawmaker in the 17th Congress. Another Marcos child in former senator Bongbong Marcos nearly won the race for Vice President and is still protesting alleged cheating in the 2016 polls. [ac]
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