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It is interesting how lay people who are frustrated by the graft, corruption and other heinous offenses of public officials find judicial proceedings so baffling. Many comments reflect the lay person's belief that the rules of procedure prevent the revelation of truth, obstruct justice, and allow the guilty to go free. The ordinary citizen wonders when anybody will commit the revolutionary act of telling the truth (George Orwell). And so it is with the impeachment proceedings.
The thing is there are different kinds of law: criminal law, civil law, and remedial law. It is remedial law that tells us what the rules of procedure are. The rules of procedure are part of due process, the basis of the constitutional precept that all men are presumed innocent until proven guilty. And so it is with the impeachment proceedings.
The prosecutors in the impeachment proceedings today are manipulating the bafflement felt by the ordinary citizen when they seek to have the trial rules relaxed. The prosecutors do not seem to know how to prove their case in the ordinary course of a trial. Seeking a relaxation of the rules will cause the people to feel frustrated again after conviction by impeachment because later, he who was convicted by the Senate will probably never go to jail as the evidence for a criminal case is lacking.
The story of former Public Works Undersecretary Salvador Pleyto is interesting. In 2007 the Supreme Court made a ruling in a case involving the official's questioned wealth. It is instructive of how a trial should be conducted. It is instructive of what evidence proves, It is also instructive of what evidence does not prove. The ponente (the Justice who wrote the decision) and the majority of her colleagues in the division have since retired.
In 2003, the PNP filed a complaint which alleged that Pleyto amassed unexplained wealth, through which he and the rest of his family (wife and children) accumulated numerous real properties and business interests and enjoyed numerous foreign travels. After an investigation of his alleged lavish lifestyle, the Ombudsman dismissed Pleyto because he failed to satisfactorily prove that his acquisition of properties, as well as his foreign travels, were within his lawful income; and that he willfully concealed and misdeclared his assets in his 2001 and 2002 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
To prove their allegations, the PNP presented Immigration records, five TCTs registered in the names of the Pleyto spouses, and five TCTs registered in the names of their children. The PNP showed that the total value of the properties was about P16 million based on their 2003 values and thus “way over the total value of real properties declared by petitioner in his 2001 and 2002 SALNs.”
In their decision, the Court ruled that the PNP should have determined the valuation of the properties vis-a-vis the financial capacity of the accused on the basis of the value at the time of acquisition, as any appreciation or depreciation after acquisition has no bearing. The court also ruled, in effect, that the progressive, "albeit unexplained rise" in Pleyto’s net worth, is only prima facie evidence of ill-gotten wealth and should be used only as an initial evaluation tool to raise warning bells as to possible unlawful accumulation of wealth by a public officer or employee. The matters misdeclared in the SALN are not conclusive proof of unlawful accumulation of wealth.
The Court pointed out that real properties could be acquired by (1) purchase by installment; (2) inheritance; (3) dacion en pago (by which the defaulting debtor settles his outstanding account with property); and (4) foreclosure of mortgage. The burden of proof is always on the prosecution, thus, PNP must establish that the properties registered in the names of the children are actually owned by Usec. Pleyto. How is this done? PNP should have first proved that Pleyto's children had no financial means to acquire the properties. You cannot use the words "immediately deduced" as proof of guilt.
Even the allegations of "numerous foreign travels" were not properly proved by the PNP. The PNP estimated the cost of each trip - randomly and arbitrarily - to be P100,000. This is just not acceptable in court. An allegation is not evidence.
"The PNP-CIDG cannot just make bare allegations, with tremendous implications and damaging effects, then leave it to the public official charged to successfully and effectively defend himself with controverting evidence."
The Court also ruled in the same case that: "The court or the quasi-judicial agency must be detached and impartial, not only when hearing and resolving the case before it, but even when its judgment is brought on appeal before a higher court. When the court judge or the quasi-judicial officer intervenes as a party in the appealed case, he inevitably forsakes his detachment and impartiality, and his interest in the case becomes personal."
What a waste of time, money, and resources when investigators know not what they do.
One day, you may be accused and perhaps you may be innocent. The Constitution is there for you, as it is there for all who live in our country. Lynching (to punish a person without legal process or authority, especially by hanging, for a perceived offense) was outlawed when the Constitution and its implementing laws, rules and regulations were put in place by our duly-elected government.
Please send in your questions, if any, through firstname.lastname@example.org. I will not answer personally, OK? However, if the question or situation is interesting, I may write about it in this space. Till next time.