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Undue delay: SC junks graft raps vs. Enrile, others over alleged coco levy use

The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the graft complaint filed against former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and several other personalities for allegedly siphoning of funds amounting to P840 million from the Coconut Industry Development Fund (CIDF).

In a 53-page decision promulgated on January 16, the SC First Division junked  the complaint filed against Enrile, now the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, Jose Concepcion, Rolando dela Cuesta, Narciso Pineda, and Danila Urusa due to violation of their right to speedy disposition of cases.

“With this case pending for over 30 years and possibly more without assurance of its resolution, the Court recognizes that the tactical disadvantages carried by the passage of time should be weighed against petitioner Republic and in favor of the respondents,” it said.

“Certainly, if this case were remanded for further proceedings, the already long delay would drag on longer. Memories fade, documents and other exhibits can be lost and vulnerability of those who are tasked to decide increases with the passing of years,” it added.

The Court said there was a “clear violation” of the respondents' right to a speedy disposition of cases when the government "failed to provide sufficient justification for the delay in the termination of the preliminary investigation." 

“While this Court has no doubt that the Republic had all the resources to pursue cases of corruption and ill-gotten wealth, the inordinate delay in this case may have made the situation worse for respondents,” it said.

“As the Supreme Court, we dutifully exercise cold impartiality while demanding accountability from the government and protecting the rights of all people,” it added.

Meanwhile, the Court also dismissed the complaint against Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., Jose Eleazar Jr., Maria Clara Lobregat, and Augusto Orosa due to their supervising deaths.

“However, for civil liability based no sources other than delict, petitioner Republic of the Philippines may file a separate civil action against the respective estates of Cojuangco… Eleazar… Lobregat, and Orosa may be warranted by law and procedural rules,” it said.

“Or if already filed, the said separate civil action shall survive notwithstanding the dismissal of the criminal case in view of their deaths,” it added.

The case stemmed from the complaint filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in February 1990 before the Presidential Commission on Good Government against the respondents over the alleged siphoning of funds from the CIDF to the Agricultural Investors Inc. (AII), a corporation owned by Cojuangco.

The CIDF is a permanent fund "which shall be deposited with, and administered and utilized by the Philippine National Bank through its subsidiary, the National Investment and Development Corporation

The PCGG then referred the complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman, which in 1998 dismissed the charges.  This prompted the filing of the petition before the high court.

In 2001, the SC granted the petition of the OSG which reversed and set aside the Ombudsman's dismissal and directed it to proceed with the preliminary investigation of the graft complaints.

In 2004, the SC issued a resolution "setting aside our August 23, 2001 decision as the case was not yet ripe for decision."

The petitioners said that "respondent Cojuangco, Jr. took advantage of his close relationship with then President Marcos for his own personal and business interests through the issuance of favorable decrees."

"As to respondents Emile, Dela Cuesta, Concepcion, Ursua, and Pineda, petitioner Republic averred that as members of the UCPB Board of Directors, their act of allowing the BOA's (Board of Attorneys) March 29, 1983's Decision to lapse into finality resulted in the successful siphoning of PHP 840,789,855.33 from CIDF to All, a corporation owned by respondent Cojuangco, Jr." they added.—LDF, GMA Integrated News