SC reverses Sandiganbayan on PICC official’s travel abroad

Published March 13, 2019, 6:24 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Rey Panaligan

The Supreme Court (SC) has reversed a Sandiganbayan ruling that denied the travel abroad last year of businessman Joseph Sy, a top official of the Philippine International Chamber of Commerce (PICC).

Supreme Court of the Philippines (MANILA BULLETIN)

In a decision written by Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas Bernabe, the SC granted the petition of Sy, vice chair of PICC, chair of the Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc. (FNI) and committee chair for mining of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).

Sy, who has a pending case with the Sandiganbayan, would have traveled to Hongkong and China from Jan. 17 to 31 in 2018 but his trip was not allowed by the anti-graft court in a resolution issued on Jan. 17, 2018.  He elevated the issue before the SC.

The decision on Sy’s petition was made public only early this year.

In effect, the SC decision refuted claims against Sy’s citizenship.  It said the based on his birth certificate, Sy is a Filipino citizen.

Case records showed that Sy’s Filipino citizenship was challenged in a complaint filed by Nestor Cas, an Olongapo city resident, who claimed that the businessman faked his citizenship to legalize his mining investments in the Philippines.

Sy was charged with violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act filed before the Sandiganbayan.

His request to travel abroad was denied by the anti-graft court with a ruling that he failed to convince the court that he is not a flight risk in view of his strong business connections in China and his Chinese lineage.

Also, the Sandiganbayan said that Sy failed to show the indispensability of his business trip. It likewise cited the pendency of his citizenship issue before the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

In granting Sy’s petition, the SC: “Settled is the rule that public documents such as birth certificates are prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein such as on citizenship. No evidence was even presented to counter Sy’s status as a Filipino citizen or show that he is a citizen of his destination country that would enable him to have a prolonged stay therein.

“For these reasons, the Sandiganbayan should have given more weight to Sy’s birth certificate stating that he is a Filipino citizen rather than the unresolved claims to the contrary, which were not even presented by the prosecution before the Sandiganbayan.”

At the same time, the SC said that Sy’s positions in the PICC, PCCI and as chair of FNI necessitate the need for his travels abroad in the performance of his corporate duties. In this case, Sy has shown his critical function in the strategic cooperation between FNI and China’s Baiyin Nonferrous Group Co., Ltd. to improve the nickel value chain in the Philippines and has argued that the restriction on business travels overseas economically threatens the companies he represents,” the SC said.

Thus, it said, the Sandiganbayan should not have restricted Sy’s travel abroad but could have imposed travel requirements to ensure his return such as the deposit of a travel bond, submission of a detailed and confirmed flight and travel itinerary, appearance before Philippines consul upon arrival in the destination country, and personal appearance or written advice to the court upon his return.