SC backs Sandigan in throwing out evidence vs Marcoses
The Supreme Court has approved a decision by the Sandiganbayan that disallowed the admission of more than 100 pieces of evidence presented by the government in the civil case against former first lady Imelda Marcos and several members of the Tantoco family.
In a ruling dated April 21, the high court’s First Division said the Sandiganbayan did not commit a grave abuse of discretion when it excluded the documentary evidence due to the government’s failure to produce them at the pretrial of the case.
The case pertained to a civil suit filed in 1987 by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) for “reconveyance, reversion, accounting, restitution and damages” against Marcos, her late husband Ferdinand Marcos, Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., Bienvenido Tantoco Jr., Gliceria Tantoco, Ma. Lourdes Tantoco-Pineda and Dominador Santiago.
The Tantocos and Santiago were accused of acting as dummies of the Marcos couple and using outlets of Tourist Duty Free Shops Inc. (TDFSI) to defraud the government of millions of pesos in franchise taxes and obtain unlimited duty and tax-free importation benefits, among other things.
In 1989, Tantoco Jr. and Santiago, who was TDFSI chair until the company was sequestered by the PCGG, asked the Sandiganbayan to compel the PCGG to provide them with the documentary evidence against them so they could prepare for their trial. This was opposed by the PCGG but the respondents went to the Supreme Court and obtained a favorable ruling in 1991.
The PCGG produced the documentary evidence it had during the pretrial, which concluded on Sept. 10, 1996. However, Tantoco Jr. and Santiago made continuing objections on the marking of additional pieces of evidence produced by the PCGG during the Sept. 23 and 25 hearings.
In January 2009, the Sandiganbayan ruled against the admission of about 120 documents, citing doubts in their due execution and authenticity since many of them were photocopies or mere transmittals.
The PCGG, through the Office of the Solicitor General, elevated the case to the Supreme Court.
In the ruling written by the First Division chair, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, the court said the Sandiganbayan did not exercise grave abuse of discretion in excluding some of the new pieces of evidence for being inadmissible and for not being produced at the pretrial period, as required by court procedures.
Three members of the division, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Martin Villarama Jr. and Bienvenido Reyes, agreed with Sereno while one, Justice Lucas Bersamin, issued a concurring and dissenting opinion.
“After failing to submit the documentary evidence during discovery, when it was clearly ordered by both the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court to do so, petitioner (government), also repeatedly failed to prove the due execution and authenticity of the documents,” the justices said.
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