By: ATTY. MEL STA. MARIA
Source: Manila Bulletin
What are the salient points of the recent Imelda Marcos conviction by the Sandiganbayan?
First. Imelda Marcos was convicted of Section 3 (h) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act making it unlawful for a public official to “directly or indirectly have financial or pecuniary interest in any business, contract, or transaction in connection with which he (she) intervenes or takes part in his (her) official capacity, or in which he (she) is prohibited by the Constitution or by any law from having any interest.” To convict, proof beyond reasonable doubt was required. That means moral certainty, not absolute certainty, that the accused feloniously committed the crime. That was achieved.
Second. Approximately US$200,000,000 were involved in the seven private foundations of the Marcoses in Switzerland despite their salary only estimated as not even reaching US$1,000,000. Imelda Marcos was, at that time, minister of human settlements and member of the Batasan Pambansa. The positions were full-time government jobs. No strong countervailing evidence was effectively presented to debunk such proven facts despite chances for Imelda Marcos to present witnesses for such purpose.
Third. The “trier of facts” was a collegiate body of three justices of the Sandiganbayan’s fifth division. Their determination was unanimous. At this point, only a stretching of the imagination can say that these three magistrates — trained in the appreciation of evidence and with lengthy experience in deciding criminal cases — can be so negligent or, borrowing the words of the Supreme Court in abuse-of discretion-cases, acted “whimsically or arbitrarily in a manner so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined.” Neither can they be accused of partisanship considering the patience they showed and the opportunities they gave to Imelda Marcos to present witnesses for her defense.
Fourth. It is quite revealing that, at the very end, Imelda Marcos seems to take the case nonchalantly. Neither she nor her lawyers attended the decision’s promulgation. While the accused may be excused due to very meritorious reasons, such as being ill-disposed, the lawyers must at least be present. The Sandiganbayan’s order of arrest could have been prevented had the lawyers, in open court, requested the availment of her exising bail for her provisional liberty during the motion for reconsideration or appeal. It is interesting to see the explanation on their absence. At any rate, bail will most likely be granted.
Fifth. In the event that the case is appealed, the Supreme Court cannot entertain new evidence. The limit of its review is to examine only the proofs deliberated upon by the “trier of facts.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court is duty-bound to give the greatest weight to the Sandiganbayan’s factual findings.
But all those who rejoice in the Sandiganbayan’s decision must manage their expectations. The Supreme Court has lately favored the family of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in their decisions: the grant of the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the exoneration of Imelda Marcos in the LRT-PGH graft and dollar-salting charges, and the dismissal of the Imee Marcos case involving the damages sought against her concerning the death of Archimedes Trajano.
Many ask: would the final outcome be any different in this latest Imelda Marcos conviction? Will a majority of the members of the Supreme Court again save her from this ignominy which, to many, is so deserving? Will Associate Justice Marvin Leonen’s eye-opening observation in his dissent in the Enrile bail case once again come to fore that, in our justice system, “there are just some among us who are elite” and “who are powerful and networked to enjoy privileges not shared by all”? Let us hold our breath.
But there is one surprising revelation emerging. We are now witnessing the courage of the courts to decide against those who are considered as powerful and close to the “powers that be.”
And there is a greater revelation. Judicial independence is now perceived by many, not as emanating from majority of the Supreme Court justices but, astoundingly, as coming from the lower court judges. We have seen this first in Judge Andres Soriano of the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148 who rendered ineffective President Duterte’s arrest-order against Senator Trillanes. Now, it’s Sandiganbayan Associate Justices Rafael Lagos, Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega, and Maryan Corpus-Mañalac.
Truly, this emerging exhibition of judicial courage exponentially elevates the significance of Imelda Marcos’ conviction to an institutional level. Hopefully it continues.