SC sustains Imelda Marcos acquittal of ‘dollar-salting,’ nixes plea for inhibition of ‘biased’ Manila judge
The Supreme Court (SC) has sustained former First Lady Imelda Marcos’s acquittal of “dollar salting,” or the crime of stashing US$863 million in Swiss bank accounts without the central bank’s approval.
This came as the SC 3rd Division, in a recent 53-page decision, denied the late Solicitor-General Francisco Chavez’s petition which questioned the refusal of Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 26 Judge Silvino Pampilo Jr. to inhibit from Marcos’s case.
Rejecting Chavez’s claim of bias in favor of Marcos, the SC even blamed her acquittal on the prosecution’s blunders during the trial.
The SC agreed with Pampilo’s unfavorable view of the prosecution’s presentation of hearsay evidence.
Although voluminous documents were presented to prove the existence of the Swiss deposits, these were not authenticated by the bank officers. Only Chavez and Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Caesario del Rosario were presented to identify the documents.
“This Court will also not allow itself to become an instrument to paper over fatal errors done by the petitioner and the prosecution in the lower court,” read the strongly-worded decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.
“The prosecution could have done better in this case. Sadly, it failed,” the decision added.
The case that reached the SC was complicated. Chavez first filed a petition before the Court of Appeals (CA) to reverse Pampilo’s rejection of the motion for inhibition during an April 24, 2007 hearing.
Chavez complained of Pampilo’s “over-eagerness” to decide the case, claiming that the way he denied the motion for inhibition in open court abruptly terminated his testimony and forced the prosecution to prematurely end its presentation.
The CA first issued on May 22, 2007 a writ of preliminary injunction (WPI) stopping Pampilo from proceeding with the case. However, it denied Chavez’s petition on February 28, 2008, due to an insufficient showing of bias and prejudice.
Pampilo then promulgated his March 10, 2008 decision acquitting Marcos and Hector Rivera due to the prosecution’s “various failures.”
Chavez claimed this violated the WPI and included the issue of Marcos’s acquittal in his appeal on the CA decision on Pampilo’s refusal to inhibit, but this did not succeed.
The SC, however, said the WPI was automatically dissolved when the CA denied Chavez’s petition on its merits.
Meanwhile, it said there was “no concrete proof of Judge Pampilo’s personal interest in the case” that should force his inhibition.
Although Chavez complained of the judge’s “railroading” and “noose-tightening” manner of scheduling his testimony, the SC said this was actually aligned with the rules on the speedy disposition of cases and continuous trial proceedings.
The SC also called “wildly speculative” Chavez’s claim that Marcos would not have been acquitted had he been allowed to continue testifying.
It added that the government’s efforts to prosecute Marcos had been “lackadaisical, to say the least,” because the prosecution and the witnesses, including Chavez, requested several hearing postponements.
“Apathetic prosecution allows impunity. It is difficult as enough as it is to discover wrongdoing, protect key witnesses, preserve the evidence, and guard against the machinations of powerful and moneyed individuals,” the decision read.
“Prosecutors must not only be courageous but must also show their dedication to public interest through their competence. Otherwise, the system will invite suspicion that there had been unholy collusion,” it added.