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Technicalities triumph



Melito Salazar Jr.

Melito Salazar Jr.

It is any litigant’s expectation that a case brought before the courts will be decided on its merits. When it is perceived as not so, there will be objections coming from the losing parties. However an objective analysis of the court decision would show the limitations of the appellate courts discretion and indicate that the battle should have been fought in the lower courts.

The recent decision of the Supreme Court penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam ruled that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) failed to prove that Marcos, et al. conspired to accumulate ill -gotten wealth. The Supreme Court stressed that it can not rule on PCGG’s claim that it has established a prima facie against respondents since under Section 1 Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, the SC is limited to rule on appeals involving questions of law. Further, it stated that the limited and discretionary judicial review allowed under Rule 25 does not envision a re-evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence upon which the respondent court’s action was predicated.

The Supreme Court also agreed with the Sandiganbayan when it excluded the government’s documentary evidence for being mere photocopies. Despite the knowledge of the existence and whereabouts of the documents’ originals, the Republic failed to present the same and contented itself with the presentation of mere photocopies. The Court also noted that while the PCGG claimed that the documentary exhibits were public documents, it failed to show a copy attested by the officer that had legal custody of the record.

My take on all these is that one’s case is won or lost at the lower courts. The PCGG should have prepared a better brief tieing up all the issuances with specific cases supported by witnesses who could testify the link between all the executive orders and specific accumulation of wealth. Complete staff work would have led to photocopies being certified officially or original documents priduced. One is also led to wonder if government as the resources to pursue relentlessly these cases against the Marcos family and their alleged cronies.

Another instance when technicalities come in is when because of inordinate delay, the Supreme Court dismisses the case. We are reminded of the extortion case filed against former justice secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez by former Manila congressman Mark Jimenez in 2001. In December 2002, Jimenez submitted with the Office of the Ombudsman his sworn statement and a month later Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo approved the recommendation to set the compliant for a full blown probe. The probe at the Office of the Ombudsman took about five years and five months before a case for robbery with intimidation was filed at the Sandiganbayan in 2008. In 2009, the Sandiganbayan affirmed its 2008 ruling dismissing the case against Perez, et al. In its subsequent ruling, the high court opined, “Clearly, the Office of the Ombudsman has taken an unusually long period of time just to investigate the criminal complaint and to determine whether to criminally charge the respondents in the Sandiganbayan. Such long delay was inordinate and oppressive and constituted under the peculiar circumstances of the case an outright violation of the respondents’ right under the Constitution to the speedy disposition of their cases.”

While there have been insinuations that there are deliberate efforts to sit on cases and eventually have this technicality come in, my view is that the problem lies in the management of the justice system where such tools as aging of accounts are not utilised and automation has not been extensively used.

If technicalities should not triumph, reforms in the justice system must be adopted now.

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