Three-decade old behest loans
Barring any change in circumstances, the Office of the Ombudsman may put the Philippines in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most delayed complaint for graft and corruption ever filed.
According to reports, the anticorruption office has filed charges at the Sandiganbayan against three surviving directors of the then government-owned Philippine National Bank (PNB) for giving in 1980 and the succeeding years behest loans of about P200 million to a company owned by alleged cronies of former President Ferdinand Marcos.
The former directors are Gerardo Sicat, Manuel Morales and Fernando Maramba, all of whom are in their late senior years. Six other PNB directors who supposedly had a hand in the approval of the loans were not included in the complaint because they are already dead.
The respondents have been accused of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Acts for allegedly giving unwarranted benefits to private parties and entering into disadvantageous contracts on behalf of the government.
The officials of the company that got the loans, Hercules Minerals and Oils Inc. (HMOI), were also included in the complaint.
It took almost 37 years from Marcos’ ouster in 1986 for the government’s graft busting office to review the transactions, collate the evidence, and prepare the complaints against the respondents.
Sadly, the complaints run the risk of being dismissed by the Sandiganbayan due to inordinate delay in their filing. The same ground has been cited earlier by the court as justification for the dismissal of similar complaints against public officials.
The prosecutors would have a lot of explaining to do for the three-decade delay in demanding accountability from the former PNB and HMOI officials.
The records of the subject transactions could have been examined by the government lawyers shortly after Marcos and his cronies left the country in the wake of the People Power revolution in 1986.
In fact, the first official act of then President Corazon Aquino after she came to power was to create the Presidential Commission on Good Government to recover the money allegedly stolen by Marcos and his cronies. The resources of the first Aquino administration were mobilized to accomplish this objective.
While it is true that the law must be enforced regardless of the personalities involved and public officials should be held accountable for the offenses they have committed, these motherhood principles may have to yield to the reality on the ground.
By this time, it is doubtful if there are still PNB employees or officials knowledgeable with the loan transactions who are still alive or physically and mentally competent to testify on them.
We can just imagine the stress that the aging respondents would suffer in case the complaints go to trial. They cannot be faulted if they invoke lack of memory about the transactions due to dementia or other medical reasons. Some of them may be of so frail health that forcing them to go through the rigors of a hearing may hasten their appointment with the Grim Reaper.
Considering these circumstances, it is prudent to ask if it is still worth the time, money and effort of the government to pursue these complaints to their logical conclusion, something which may take from five or 10 years considering the slow pace of justice in our country.
Besides, assuming the respondents are convicted, they may be able to avoid imprisonment on account of their old age or serious medical condition, or (knock on wood) they kick the bucket in the course of their trial.
No matter how noble the intentions may be, the prosecution of these complaints may turn out to be an expensive exercise in futility. No doubt, the Office of the Ombudsman can find better use for its resources and staff in prosecuting more recent cases of graft and corruption.
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