By Czarina Nicole Ong
The Sandiganbayan Special Third Division has dismissed the charges against former Philippine National Bank board member Gerardo Sicat, who was also the late President Ferdinand Marcos’ minister of economic planning.
Sicat was earlier slapped with two counts each of violating Sections 3(e) and 3(g) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for reportedly granting loans in favor of Hercules Minerals and Oils Inc. (HMOI) on December 18, 1981 and March 1, 1982.
On December 18, Sicat and his co-accused allowed HMOI to secure a $4.2-million loan to refinance the interest of the firm’s loans from PNB, while they granted a P4.4-million loan on March 1 to refinance the short-term loan of the company to purchase equipment for a copper project in Dingras, Ilocos Norte.
The loans were made even though HMOI was considered undercapitalized, and its collateral – valued at P94.656 million — was insufficient and was used in several other loans.
Government officials are indicted of Section 3(e) when they cause undue injury to the government, while they are indicted of Section 3(g) when they enter into contracts that are grossly disadvantageous to the government.
In his motion to quash, Sicat argued that the criminal actions and liabilities in his graft charges have already been “extinguished,” because the prescriptive period of the charges is only 10 years. This is prescribed under Section 11 of the anti-graft law.
While the reported crimes took place in 1981 and 1982, it was only on April 4, 2004 when it was discovered. Because of this, Sicat argued that the state already lost its right to prosecute him.
He added that the charges were flawed and he was deprived of his right to substantial and procedural due process of law, since there was no preliminary investigation conducted.
Sicat also claimed that he was never furnished with a copy of the complaint-affidavit, and he was not even given any opportunity to submit any counter-affidavit.
For its part, the Sandiganbayan found merit in Sicat’s motion. The Sandiganbayan highlighted that the prescriptive period mentioned by Sicat has actually been increased to 15 years on March 16, 1982.
However, the Supreme Court clarified that this does not apply to all graft violations, and the increase only applies to all violations which were committed after the effectivity of law. So by default, Sicat’s case still fell on the 10-year prescriptive period.
The Sandiganbayan then determined the reckoning point of Sicat’s case.
The court said the Presidential Ad Hoc Fact-Finding Committee made its report on Behest Loans entitled “Executive Summary” on April 4, 1994. It was then transmitted to the office of then President Fidel Ramos on April 11, 1994.
Thus, the court ruled that the prescriptive period in these cases should be reckoned from the date of discovery on April 11, or when the transactions were first reported to the president,
The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) filed its complaint on December 15, 2004. This was 10 years and eight months from the date of the discovery of the offenses — well beyond the prescriptive period of the law.
“Due to the extinguishment of the criminal liability of the accused-movant by virtue of prescription, the court sees no practical need to further discuss his allegation that he was deprived of his right to substantiative and procedural due process on the ground of the alleged lack of preliminary investigation of these cases with the Office of the Ombudsman,” the Sandiganbayan ruled.
The nine-page resolution was penned by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang with the concurrence of Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez and Sarah Jane Fernandez.