Sandiganbayan denies move to suspend proceedings in 1997 ill-gotten wealth case

Published May 27, 2022, 2:55 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki


The Sandiganbayan has denied the motion of 11 defendants to suspend the proceedings in their ill-gotten wealth case pending before its fourth division due to alleged violation by another division of the court of their right to due process and with the pendency of their appeal with the Supreme Court (SC).

Denied by the anti-graft court’s fourth division was the motion filed by Rosario N. Arellano, Victoria N. Legarda, Angela N. Lobregat, Benito V. Nieto, Carlos V. Nieto, Manuel V. Nieto III, Ma. Rita N. Delos Reyes, Carmen N. Tuazon, Ramon V. Nieto (deceased and now represented by his lawyer Ramon V. Nieto Jr.), Rafael C. Valdez (represented by his lawyer Benigno Manuel Valdez), and Victor Africa.

They are defendants in Civil Case No. 0178 (for reconveyance, reversion, accounting, restitution and damages) filed against the so-called cronies of the late former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

On Dec. 4, 2019, the 11 defendants were adjudged by the Sandiganbayan’s third division as liable to the government. Since they were “aggrieved” by the decision, they appealed their “unwarranted” inclusion before the SC and their petition has been pending resolution.

They said that as “small individual shareholders,” their right to due process was clearly violated since they were not given the opportunity to be heard before their respective shares of stocks were forfeited.

By declaring their shares as “ill-gotten wealth,” the defendants accused the court’s third division of violating the well-established doctrine of non-interference.

They claimed that “it would be futile for this Honorable Court (fourth division) to proceed further, unless and until the Supreme Court has resolved with finality the issue of undue interference perpetrated by the third division against the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court.”

But the Sandiganbayan’s fourth division was not persuaded by their arguments.

If it is true that the third division committed a “palpable mistake in not affording due process to movants/defendants,” the fourth division said that they should have applied for a temporary restraining order. However, they did not do so.

Without a TRO or writ of preliminary injunction from the SC, the fourth division does not have any other option but to deny their motion for suspension “on account of pendency of the Petition for Review.”

It said that Section 7, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court states that “the petition shall not interrupt the course of the principal case” unless a TRO or writ of preliminary injunction has been issued.

“It is imperative for this Court (fourth division) to carry on with the instant case because of the clear command of the Rule to proceed with the principal case within 10 days from the filing of the petition with a higher court, otherwise we will be exposing this Court from possible administrative liability,” the resolution denying the motion stated.

Associate Justice Lorifel L. Pahimna wrote the nine-page resolution with the concurrence of Fourth Division Chairperson Alex L. Quiroz and Associate Justice Georgina D. Hidalgo.

Civil Case No. 0178, which was filed before the anti-graft court on Oct. 29, 1997, involves 20 private individuals who reportedly held 3,305 shares of stock in Eastern Telecommunications Philippines Inc. (ETPI) allegedly for the benefit of the Marcoses.

Meanwhile, Civil Case No. 0009 is based on the complaint filed by the government in 1987 for reconveyance, reversion, accounting, restitution and damages filed against the Marcoses and their close associates Africa, Manuel H. Nieto, the late Roberto Benedicto, and former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

The government, through the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), sought to recover P2.756 billion worth of shares of stocks and P2.274 million worth of real properties.

Case records showed that the properties involved in the case include ETPI, Philippine Overseas Telecommunications Corporation (POTC), Philippine Communication Satellite Corporation (PHILCOMSAT), Domestic Satellite (DOMSAT), and Oceanic Wireless Network Inc. (OWNI).