By: Artemio V. Panganiban
Why did it take all of 27 years? Why was she not jailed after being convicted? Why was she granted bail? Why was her ill-gotten wealth not forfeited? Why was she convicted only of graft? Why not of plunder, a nonbailable offense, given the enormous amounts involved?
Let me answer these questions befuddling readers.
Of the 10 cases lodged against Imelda, five were filed by the Office of the Ombudsman on Dec. 16, 1991, one on Dec. 21, 1993, and four on Aug. 17, 1995. Because of their different dates of filing, they were raffled to different divisions of the Sandiganbayan. But because they all alleged the use by Imelda and her husband, former president Ferdinand Marcos, of various Swiss foundations to hide their wealth, the 10 cases were later consolidated in the Fifth Division, which eventually decided them.
Apart from the consolidation, the other causes of delay are the (1) inhibitions of the former ponentes, (2) midstream amendments of the charges, (3) various motions to quash filed by the accused (which reached, and had to be decided first by, the Supreme Court), (4) reinvestigation of the charges by the Ombudsman, (5) many postponements asked by both the prosecution and the defense, etc. All told, it was only on Aug. 29, 2017, and Sept. 19, 2017, that the prosecution and the defense respectively submitted their memoranda.
Justice Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac, the ponente or writer of the decision, was appointed to the Anti-Graft Court only on Dec. 8, 2017. Clearly, she can’t be blamed for the delay. After the 10 cases were assigned to her, she immediately buckled down to work. Not having heard the witnesses personally during the trial, she had to peruse minutely the gargantuan 5-foot-thick court records.
That she carefully read the voluminous transcripts of stenographic notes and the 10 thick folders of exhibits, many of which came from Switzerland, is clearly evident from her detailed accounts of the testimonies of former prime minister Cesar Virata, former Central Bank governor Jaime Laya, former solicitor general Frank Chavez, former ambassador Luis Ascalon and many other witnesses.
Indeed, Justice Mañalac should be praised, not criticized, for diligently writing the 70-page, single-spaced decision that is authoritatively buttressed by 226 footnotes. With unassailable logic, she patiently traversed each element of the 10 offenses, seamlessly leading to Imelda’s conviction in seven and acquittal in three.
Imelda was convicted of violating the Anti-Graft Law (RA 3019) in relation to the 1973 Constitution. She could not have been charged with and convicted of plunder because her offenses were committed during the reign of (and ironically, under the Constitution imposed by) her husband. The Anti-Plunder Law was enacted after Marcos was ousted.
The judgment did not order the forfeiture of the assets and bank accounts of her Swiss foundations amounting to millions of US dollars because separate civil suits were instituted to recover them. But, aside from sentencing her to prison, it perpetually disqualified her from holding any public office.
Of course, the judgment cannot be enforced until it becomes final. Such finality cannot be attained unless her motion for reconsideration is denied; and, if she thereafter appeals, unless the Supreme Court affirms her conviction.
Not having been charged with capital offenses, Imelda was granted bail during the pendency of the 10 cases. But because she was absent during the promulgation of the judgment, her original bail bond of P150,000 was forfeited and an order of arrest, dated Nov. 9, 2018, issued against her.
A week later, on Nov. 16, she was directed to post a new bail bond of P150,000, which she posted on the same day. For this reason, the chairman of the Fifth Division, Justice Rafael R. Lagos, forthwith ordered her release.
Strange is her immediate release, because the order was signed solely by Lagos (the two Division members, Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega and Mañalac did not sign), and because her “Motion for Leave of Court to Avail of Post-Conviction Remedies” had not yet been ruled upon. Strange also why the prosecution did not object to, and meekly accepted, the grant of bail.