MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Supreme Court (SC) affirmed the Office of the Ombudsman in dismissing graft charges against business tycoon Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile for alleged behest loans and investments made by the United Coconut Planters Bank in the United Coconut Oil Mills, Inc. (Unicom) during their stint as members of the Board of Directors of the United Coconut Planters Bank during the Marcos administration.
The high court en banc, in a decision penned by Associate Justice Roberto Abad dated June 26 but released to the media today, junked the petition of the Philippine government and ruled that Cojuangco, Enrile and 16 others could no longer be prosecuted since the charges against them had already prescribed.
While the Constitution states that the recovery of ill-gotten wealth does not prescribe, the prosecution of criminal offenses does. In the case of respondents, who were charged by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) for violation of Sec. 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the prescriptive period is 10 years.
"Prescription of actions is a valued rule in all civilized states from the beginning of organized society. It is a rule of fairness since, without it, the plaintiff can postpone the filing of his action to the point of depriving the defendant, through the passage of time, of access to defense witnesses who would have died or left to live elsewhere, or to documents that would have been discarded or could no longer be located," the high court said.
The high court affirmed the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman on May 14, 1999 on the ground of prescription in connection with the Unicom investment.
On April 25, 1977 Regala, Lazatin Reyes, Escueta and Palma incorporated Unicom with an authorized capital stock of P100 million.
On Aug. 29, 1979, the Board of Directors of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) composed of Cojuangco, Enrile, Lobregat, Eleazar, Concepcion, Dela Cuesta, Almeda, Zayco, Pineda, Mendezona and Ursua approved Resolution 247-79 authorizing UCPB, the Administrator of the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CII Fund), to invest not more than P500 million from the fund in the equity of Unicom for the benefit of the coconut farmers.
On Sept. 4, 1979 Unicom increased its authorized capital stock to 10 million shares without par value, later increased to P495 million.
On Sept. 18, 1979, another amendment to Unicom's capitalization was authorized by the Board of Directors composed of Cojuangco, Enrile, Lobregat, Eleazar, Regala, Lu Ym, Veloso, and Gandiaga, increasing its authorized capital stock to one billion shares.
After 10 years or on March 1, 1990, the OSG, under then President Corazon Aquino, filed a complaint for graft against Cojuangco, et al. before the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which subsequently filed the case before the Office of the Ombudsman.
About nine years later or on March 15, 1999, the Office of the Special Prosecutor stated that while "it found sufficient basis to indict respondents for violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019, the action has already prescribed." On May14, 1999, the Office of the Ombudsman approved the said recommendation.
In its ruling, the high court stressed that "[t]here is an absolute need in the interest of fairness to bar actions that have taken the plaintiffs too long to file in court."
Absolved along with Cojuangco and Enrile are Jose R. Eleazar Jr., Jose C. Concepcion, Rolando P. Dela Cuesta, Emmanuel M. Almeda, Hermenegildo C. Zayco, Narciso M. Pineda, Inaki R. Mendezona, Danilo S. Ursua, Teodoro D. Regala, Victor P. Lazatin, Eleazar B. Reyes, Eduardo Escueta, Leo J. Palma, Douglas Lu Ym, Sigfredo Veloso, and Jaime Gandiaga.