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SC gives green light for Sandigan to try alleged Marcos crony

The Supreme Court has given the Sandiganbayan the go-signal to hear a corruption case against businessman Herminio Disini, an alleged crony of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

In a unanimous decision by its First Division, the SC ruled that the anti-graft court has "exclusive jurisdiction" over the case, contrary to claims made by Disini -- in his petition contesting a January 2005 Sandiganbayan ruling -- that as a private individual, his case should be heard in a regular court.

“The Sandiganbayan has exclusive original jurisdiction over the criminal action involving petitioner notwithstanding that he is a private individual considering that this criminal prosecution is intimately related to the recovery of ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses, their immediate family, subordinates and close associates,” said the SC Public Information Office in a summary.

In its ruling, the SC said the anti-graft court still have jurisdiction over the cases against Disini because they were filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which has the mandate defined by Executive Order Nos. 1, 2, 14, and 14-A to recover Marcos' ill-gotten wealth.

"That Disini was a private individual did not remove the offenses charged from the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. EO No. 1, Sec. 2 expressly granted the authority to the PCGG to recover ill-gotten wealth and this covered Marcos’s immediate family, relatives, subordinates,without distinction as to their private or public status," the SC said.

In its January 2005 ruling, the Sandiganbayan denied Disini's motion to quash the two criminal complaints lodged against him. In August of the same year, the high court denied Disini's motion for reconsideration.

The two cases, filed on June 30, 2004, involved allegations of "corruption of public officials penalized under Article 212 in relation to Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code;" and  violation of Section 4(a) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

In the first case, Disini was accused of offering his shares in Vulcan Industrial and Mining Corporation (2.5 billion shares of stock having a book value of P100 each) and The Energy Corporation (4 billion shares at P100 each) to Marcos through the Engineering and Construction Company of Asia, which was owned and controlled by Marcos, to allow Disini to seek and obtain for Burns and Roe and Westinghouse Electrical Corporation (Westinghouse) the contracts to do the engineering and architectural design and to construct the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant Project at Morong, Bataan.

The contracts were eventually awarded to Burns and Roe and Westinghouse.

The second case accused Disini of using his close personal connection to Marcos and the husband of former First Lady Imelda Marcos’ first cousin, who was the Marcoses' family physician, to request and receive from Burns and Roe $1 million and from Westinghouse $17 million. Both entities had had transactions and applications with the Philippine government.

The two amounts were given to Disini in consideration of his seeking and obtaining the contract for the construction of the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant. He was able to obtain the contract, allegedly through the intervention of Marcos, for Burns and Roe and Westinghouse, the SC PIO said.

On August 2, 2004, Disini said the cases should be dismissed because they had already been "extinguished by prescription." He latter pleaded not guilty to both charges.

"Consequently, in this case, prescription did not yet set in because only five years elapsed from 1986, the time of the discovery of the offenses charged, up to April 1991, the time of the filing of the criminal complaints in the Office of the Ombudsman," it added. -- KBK, GMA News