CASE DIGEST: Republic v. Reyes-Bakunawa

G.R. No. 180418 : August 28, 2013




Civil Case No. 0023 is an action for reconveyance, reversion, accounting, restitution and damages brought by the Republic against respondents Luz Reyes-Bakunawa, Manuel Bakunawa, Jr., Manuel Bakunawa III, President Marcos and First Lady Imelda R. Marcos.

The complaint alleged that respondent Luz Reyes-Bakunawa (Luz Bakunawa) had served as Imelda Marcos Social Secretary during the Marcos administration; that it was during that period of her incumbency in that position that Luz Bakunawa and her husband Manuel Bakunawa had acquired assets, funds and other property grossly and manifestly disproportionate to her salaries and their other lawful income; and that Luz Bakunawa, "by herself and/or in unlawful concert with Defendants Ferdinand E. Marcos and Imelda R. Marcos, taking undue advantage of her position, influence and connection with the latter Defendant spouses, for their benefit and unjust enrichment and in order to prevent disclosure and recovery of assets illegally obtained, engaged in devices, schemes and stratagems,"

Sandiganbayan ruled in favor of the respondents and dismissed the complaint. It ruled that as the evidence stands, neither the presence of the link with the Marcoses, nor the irrefutability of the evidence against the Bakunawas for their misuse of that connection exists to justify the instant action by the PCGG.

Republic filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied hence, an appeal to the SC.

ISSUE: Whether or not the Sandiganbayan erred in dismissing the complaint

HELD: No. Sandiganbayan decision sustained.

Political Law- Assets or properties, to be considered as ill-gotten wealth, must be shown to have originated from the Government itself, and should have been taken by former President Marcos, the members of his immediate family, relatives, close subordinates and close associates by illegal means

The evidence of the Republic did not preponderantly establish the ill-gotten nature of the Bakunawas wealth. The mere holding of a position in the Marcos administration did not necessarily make the holder a close associate within the context of E.O. No.1. According to Republic v. Migri, the term subordinate as used in E.O. No. 1and E.O. No. 2 referred to a person who enjoyed a close association with President Marcos and/or his wife similar to that of an immediate family member, relative, and close associate, or to that of a close relative, business associate, dummy, agent, or nominee. Indeed, a prima facie showing must be made to show that one unlawfully accumulated wealth by virtue of a close association or relation with President Marcos and/or his wife. It would not suffice, then, that one served during the administration of President Marcos as a government official or employee.

The Republic particularly insists that Luz Bakunawa served as the Social Secretary or the Assistant Social Secretary of First Lady Marcos; and mentions several other circumstances that indicated her close relationship with the Marcoses, such as her assumption of office in the early part of the Marcos administration, the accommodations extended to her during her various travels,the fact that her close relationship with the Marcoses was of common knowledge among the Masbates,and the negotiated contracts the Bakunawas entered into during the Marcos administration.

However, Luz Bakunawa maintains that she was not First Lady Marcos Social Secretary but a mere member of the staff of the Social Secretary; and that the assets of the Bakunawas were honestly earned and acquired well within the legitimate income of their businesses.

We hold that the Sandiganbayan correctly ruled that the evidence of the Republic was able to establish, at best, that Luz Bakunawa had been an employee in Malacang Palace during the Marcos administration, and did not establish her having a close relationship with the Marcoses, or her having abused her position or employment in order to amass the assets subject of this case. Consequently, Luz Bakunawa could not be considered a close associate or subordinate of the Marcoses within the context of E.O. No. 1 and E.O. No. 2.

The determination by the Sandiganbayan of the equiponderance or insufficiency of evidence involved its appreciation of the evidence. We cannot undo such determination unless the Republic makes a strong demonstration to us that the determination was whimsical or capricious. Alas, the Republic did not make such demonstration. Its evidence could not sustain the belief that the Bakunawas had used their influence, or the Marcoses influence in acquiring their properties. Nor did it prove that the ties or relationship between the Bakunawas and the Marcoses had been "similar to that of an immediate member of the family or a dummy."