SANDIGAN DROPS GRAFT CHARGES VS. DANDING

Quezon City, April 25, 2003 -- After 14 long years, the Sandiganbayan finally threw out yesterday the graft charges filed by Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) against former ambassador Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco.

The Sandiganbayan's Fifth division said it is merely complying with the June 2001 order of the Supreme Court ordering the PCGG to turn over the two graft cases it filed to the Ombudsman for its proper disposition, since the PCGG cannot conduct an investigation on the issue.

"One cannot be a prosecutor and a judge at the same time. A law enforcer cannot be allowed to conduct the preliminary investigation. It is, to say the least, arbitrary and unjust. He cannot be expected to handle the case with impartiality," stated the Sandiganbayan in taking quotes from the Supreme Court order.

The dismissal is without prejudice to refiling another case against Cojuangco.

The tribunal held that finding out whether Cojuangco can be criminally held liable for unlawfully holding shares in Bulletin Today Publishing Co., is not PCGG's problem.

It also ruled that it cannot encroach upon the jurisdiction of another entity, since it has no express authority to do so.

In an eight-page ruling penned by Justice Ma. Christina Cortez-Estrada, the anti-graft court dismissed the graft charges stemming from Cojuangco's alleged acquisition of 54 percent shares of Bulletin, which allowed former strongman Ferdinand Marcos to have "beneficial ownership" and "indirect control" of the newspaper.

In the information filed November 1989, the PCGG said Cojuangco, a close associate of Marcos, "acted as dummy" of the former leader in Bulletin and Liwayway Publishing Inc. shares from 1973 to 1985, a year before the former dictator was ousted by a popular uprising.

The Sandiganbayan said "this court finds the amended information as null and void, inasmuch as the PCGG had no power to conduct the preliminary investigation."

While the Sandiganbayan also has the power to investigate the issues, the court admitted these can only be "related to ill-gotten wealth." (Delon Porcalla, Star)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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