THE COUNTRY’S anti-graft court has rejected for insufficient evidence a 31-year-old lawsuit accusing the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and his wife Imelda of using dummies to amass more than P1 billion in ill-gotten assets.

The Sandiganbayan Second Division in a 30-age decision dated Sept. 25 junked the civil suit against them and Rustan Commercial Corp. founders Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr. and Gliceria Tantoco, whom the government had accused of acting as Marcos dummies.

“Evidently, plaintiff republic failed to prove by preponderance of evidence that the defendants by themselves, or in conspiracy with defendants Marcoses obtained ill-gotten wealth,” according to a copy of the court ruling obtained by media yesterday.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government in 1998 accused the Marcoses and Tantocos of conspiring to obtain expensive artworks and jewelry, designer clothes, properties in New York and several companies including Rustan International Marketing using state funds.

The late President Corazon C. Aquino created the body in the 1980s to go after billions of dollars worth of assets that the Marcoses allegedly stole from Philippine coffers.

The government later expanded the civil suit to include properties in Hawaii, Rome, Italy and Forbes Park in Makati City as well as personal properties such as cars, cash, notes, loans and three Cessna planes.

The government had also accused the Tantocos of acquiring a franchise, through a presidential decree, to operate duty-free shops that tried to conceal real ownership.

The couple allegedly paid only a franchise tax of 7%. But only 2% of the tax went to the state, the rest allegedly becoming Imelda Marcos’s source of petty cash.

“The alleged participation of the defendants in securing the issuance of the presidential decree was not established,” according to the decision written by Justice Michael Frederick Musngi. “The claim that 5% of the franchise tax went to Imelda Marcos has no evidentiary support.”

The court noted that the prosecution presented only four witnesses, and the court admitted only 11 documents.

During the late president’s 20-year rule, his wife, who served several terms as congresswoman after returning from exile in the US, amassed a large collection of art, jewelry, property and — most famously — at least 1,000 pairs of designer shoes.

The Marcoses collected paintings by Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Cezanne, Rembrandt and Rafael and Michelangelo, palatial homes in the US and the Philippines, gold necklaces and diamond tiaras before they were ousted in a popular uprising in 1986. At that time, investigators put their wealth at about $10 billion.

The same court in August rejected for insufficient evidence a 30-year-old government lawsuit seeking to recover P102 billion of alleged ill-gotten wealth of the dictator, his family and their associates.

The Sandiganbayan Second Division said the state had miserably failed to prove that Mr. Marcos and his widow Imelda had illegally given out loans to several companies at the government’s expense.

“It takes 30-plus years to prove our innocence,” Marcos daughter Imee R. Marcos, now a senator, told reporters yesterday.

Solicitor General Jose C. Calida would have to decide whether to appeal the case, presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said at a briefing in Malacañang.

“If it’s ill-gotten, then we should always run after it,” he said. “It should be the policy of all governments to run after ill-gotten wealth.” — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras