THE Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the ruling of the Sandiganbayan that nullified the result of the preliminary investigation conducted by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) against businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. in connection with a criminal case filed against him in 2003.
In a ruling penned by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and concurred in by Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin and Estela Perlas-Bernabe, the SC’s First Division denied the petitions filed by the state as it upheld the resolutions of the anti-graft court on April 24, 2003 and November 30, 2003.
The PCGG charged Cojuangco for violation of Section 4(b) in relation to Section 3(h) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, alleging that from 1973 to 1985, Cojuangco, then a close associate of former President Ferdinand Marcos, acquired shares of stock in the Bulletin Today Publishing Company and Liwayway Publishing Inc., both private corporations.
The PCGG, through its Security and Investigation Department, gathered additional evidence against Cojuangco and later sought to amend the charge sheet it had filed before the Sandiganbayan to conform with the new pieces of evidence that it obtained.
The Sandiganbayan, however, junked the agency’s plea, prompting the PCGG to challenge the ruling at the High Court.
In its November 16, 2016 ruling, which was released only recently, the SC noted that the PCGG cannot gather evidence against a respondent, file a criminal complaint, and then conduct a preliminary investigation of the case without violating Cojuangco’s right to due process.
“The due process violation was compounded by the fact that the PCGG had filed a civil complaint against the same respondent alleging substantially the same illegal or criminal acts: In our criminal justice system, the law enforcer who conducted the criminal investigation, gathered the evidence and thereafter filed the complaint for the purpose of preliminary investigation cannot be allowed to conduct the preliminary investigation of his own complaint,” the SC said.
“It is to say the least arbitrary and unjust. It is in such instances that we say one cannot be ‘a prosecutor and judge at the same time.’ Having gathered the evidence and filed the complaint as a law enforcer, he cannot be expected to handle with impartiality the preliminary investigation of his own complaint, this time as a public prosecutor. The circumstances of the instant petition are even worse,” it added.
“We already declared in that case that it was improper for the PCGG to conduct preliminary investigations and initiate criminal proceedings against individuals whose properties were previously sequestered by the PCGG itself for the same acts and transactions,” it held. “We made clear that the procedure adopted in the [case]Cojuangco could not be countenanced because it violated the basic tenets of due process. Not only did the court expect the PCGG to act in accordance with this ruling in all future cases, it relied on the institution to rectify all past proceedings suffering from the same defect by transmitting the records of these cases to the Ombudsman for proper action. This would have allowed the criminal actions to proceed with dispatch.”