THE PHILIPPINES’ anti-graft court has junked an ill-gotten wealth case against business associates of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. and his wife Imelda due to lack of evidence.

In a 156-page decision dated Feb. 21, the Sandiganbayan said government prosecutors had failed to prove that Peter A. Sabido, Luis A. Yulo, Nicolas Dehesa, Rafael Sison and Don M. Ferry, aided Mr. Marcos in amassing ill-gotten assets.

“The totality of the evidence against the defendants failed to show the alleged schemes and strategies employed by herein defendant to hide the supposed ill-gotten wealth,” according to the ruling written by Associate Justice Maria Theresa VB. Mendoza-Arcega.

“The plaintiff failed to submit proof that the accused acquired said assets from the government through their connection with the former president,” the court said. 

It also lifted sequestration orders on Lianga Bay Logging Co. and Yulo King Ranch, companies allegedly owned by the Marcoses and their associates.

The court said the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) relied on a 1987 affidavit from Roland Gapud, a former financial advisor of Mr. Marcos, which it deemed unreliable since he did not testify in court.

An affidavit must be considered hearsay when its writer does not take the witness stand, it added.

“It is true that the recovery of ill-gotten wealth should be relentlessly pursued,” the court said. “But the pursuit should not be mindless as to be oppressive towards anyone.”

The PCGG filed the case in 1987, accusing the associates and the Marcoses of illegally accumulating funds and properties resulting in their “unjust enrichment through their flagrant breach of trust and fiduciary obligations as public officers.”

A popular street uprising toppled the dictator’s regime in February 1986, forcing him and his family to flee into exile in the United States.

That same year, his successor, the late Corazon C. Aquino set up the PCGG to go after ill-gotten assets of the elder Marcos, his family and cronies that were amassed during his two-decade rule.

His son and namesake is now the Philippine president.

The Sandiganbayan last month denied the Marcos family’s appeal to regain control of some frozen bank accounts and properties seized by the government.

Ruling in a separate case in July, it upheld a December 2021 ruling that dismissed the state’s lawsuit seeking to recover at least four Marcos properties in the absence of sufficient evidence that these had been illegally acquired.

Last year, several congressmen sought the abolition of the PCGG, saying it had outlived its usefulness.

Political analysts have said an unfavorable judgment against the Marcoses could lead to a constitutional crisis since law enforcers are under the president.

In 2003, the Philippine Supreme Court awarded the Philippine government $658 million (P36 billion) of the dictator’s frozen Swiss bank deposits.

Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio had said the former president’s unpaid estate tax, worth P23 million in 1997, had ballooned to more than P200 billion due to interests and other fees. — John Victor D. Ordoñez