Former first lady Imelda Marcos and two former ministry deputies have been cleared of charges of misusing P97.95 million in public funds in 1984.
Voting unanimously in full-court session, the Supreme Court (SC) affirmed a March 22, 2002 ruling of the Sandiganbayan acquitting Marcos, Jose Conrado Benitez and Gilbert Dulay of two counts of malversation of public funds meant for housing projects of the Ministry of Human Settlements.
“Hence, the Sandiganbayan did not commit any grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it granted the demurrers to evidence and, consequently, dismissed the criminal cases against the respondents,” read the SC decision.
The STAR obtained a copy of the ruling.
The anti-graft court held that the government prosecutors failed to prove the charges of malversation of public funds against the defendants.
Prosecutors did not oppose the defendants’ motion for demurrer to evidence.
In demurrer to evidence, the defendants waive their right to present evidence to allow the court to decide the case based on the prosecution’s evidence on the belief that the government has a weak case.
Court records showed the prosecution presented a lone witness, state auditor Iluminada Cortez, whose testimony was not corroborated.
The anti-graft court dismissed her testimony as “inadmissible hearsay.”
The SC also applied the constitutional principle on double jeopardy, which prohibits the prosecution of a person for the same offense in which he or she has already been acquitted.
“Unless the petitioner demonstrates, through evidence and records, that its case falls within the narrow exceptions from the criminal protection of double jeopardy, the Court has no recourse but to apply the finality-of-acquittal rule,” read the SC decision.
Two grounds of exception to this rule – grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction and/or denial of a party’s right to due process do not exist in this case, the SC added.
The SC ruled that allegation that the anti-graft court did not act in “a capricious, whimsical or despotic manner, amounting to lack of jurisdiction in the exercise of its judgment” lacked merit.
As to the issue of due process denied because of the special prosecutor’s alleged haphazard handling of the case, the SC ruled this lacks supporting facts.
The SC said the prosecution failed to locate more witnesses for reasons beyond her control.
“The State failed to establish the gross negligence on the part of the special prosecutor that resulted in depriving the petitioner of its due process rights; and, consequently prevent the application of the rule on double jeopardy,” read the SC decision.
Twelve other justices concurred with Justice Arturo Brion.
Justice Teresita Leonardo – de Castro, who was part of the Sandiganbayan division that issued the assailed ruling, and Justice Mariano del Castillo, who was on leave during deliberations, took no part in the voting. -By Edu Punay