Six civil cases linked to the recovery of ill-gotten wealth against the late billionaire Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. were recently dismissed by the Supreme Court on the grounds of “inordinate delay”. The Sandiganbayan reportedly failed to set a trial for these cases for over 30 years.
The highest court’s third decision prohibited Sandiganbayan from moving forward with these cases, filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) in 1987. They said that the anti-graft court flouted Cojuangco’s constitutional right to due process because of the delays in hearing.
The decision read, in part: “The inordinate delay attending the cases is primarily due to the Sandiganbayan’s vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays in the resolution of pending motions in the subject cases and to its patently unreasonable and baseless refusal to proceed to trial in utter disregard of petitioner’s constitutional rights.
“Memories fade, documents and other exhibits can be lost and vulnerability of those who are tasked to decide increase with the passing of the years. All of these pales[sic] in comparison to the infringement of rights, the resources – of the government especially and also of the respondents – that have been wasted; and significantly, the faith of our people in the ability of the respondents to identify, prove and recover alleged ill-gotten wealth.”
Cojuangco filed the petition for prohibition in 2019, accusing the Sandiganbayan of letting the cases stagnate for 32 years without reaching trial stage. From 2013 to 2015, the tycoon filed motions to dismiss five cases on the basis of being denied due process and speedy disposition of cases, all of which were junked by the anti-graft court. He also filed a motion to have all six included in the court’s calendar, but nothing came of this.
“The fact that 32 years has elapsed from the time of the filing of the original complaint and 24 years from the subdivision thereof without trial proper being commenced, on its face, constitutes delay by any reasonable standard,” the Supreme Court said.
Cojuangco died just last year at age 85, the cases against him unresolved.
“That he is not in the position to defend himself now or that his defense has been greatly prejudiced by the delay or passage of time is very obvious,” said the highest court.
A known ally of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Cojuangco’s cases revolved around companies, purchases and disbursements from the coco levy funds, behest loans and contracts and the acquisition of Pepsi Cola.
Coco levy was a tax on coconut farmers enforced from 1973 to 1982. Marcos officials, including Cojuangco, purchased the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) using levy funds, and the bank later acquired shares in San Miguel Corporation (SMC). It was administrator of a block that has a 27% share in SMC, consisting of companies formed with the coco levy fund.
In 2001, the SC declared coco levy funds public funds and that shares appropriated and administered by UCPB were obtained with these funds.
Two years later, the Sandiganbayan ruled that Cojuangco and his associates illegally acquired UCPB during the Marcos regime and forfeited these shares to the government.