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SC cuts fine on Disini estate to P100m from P1b in Bataan nuke plant ruling

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The Supreme Court has ruled with finality on its 2021 decision that ordered the estate of the late businessman Herminio Disini, founder of the Herdis Group of Companies, to pay the government damages for the mothballed $2.3-billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in Morong, Bataan.

But instead of P1 billion in temperate damages to be paid by Disini’s estate as it earlier ordered, the SC modified the amount to “P100 million, or about 3.5 percent of the total money being claimed by the government,” saying it “is more appropriate.”

“The original award of P1 billion represents about 35 percent of the amount being claimed by the Republic ($50,562,500). Clearly, such an amount is excessive and out of proportion, and must therefore be reduced,” it stressed.

In June 2014, Disini died due to organ failure and was buried at the Manila Memorial Park in Paranaque City.

In a resolution made public on Feb. 20, the modified SC decisiondenied with finality the government’s Oct. 28, 2021 motion for reconsideration, as it partially granted Disini’s comment and omnibus motion.

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“The award of temperate damages is reduced to P100,000,000. All other aspects of the assailed Decision stand. No further pleadings or motions shall be entertained in this case. Let the entry of judgment be issued immediately,” it said.

The resolution denied the motion filed by the government on the SC’s Jan. 15, 2021 decision. The motion insisted that the estate of Disini should also pay the more than $50 million as ordered by the Sandiganbayan.

In denying the government’s motion and modifying the ruling, the SC pointed out that “as regards the amount of damages imposed, we find it imperative to revisit our pronouncement.”

“To recall, we held that the Republic has duly proved by preponderance of evidence that petitioner (Disini) acquired ill-gotten wealth in the form of commissions from Westinghouse Electric Corporation and Bums & Roe, Inc. by acting as their Special Sales Representative.

“Consequently, we directed petitioner to pay the Republic temperate damages in the amount of P1 billion and exemplary damages in the amount of P1 billion with a legal interest of six percent per annum from the finality of the Decision until full satisfaction,” the court said.

In the court’s comment on the motion for reconsideration with Omnibus Motion, Disini’s estate asserted that the entitlement of the Republic to temperate damages has not been proved by preponderance of evidence.

“This argument fails to persuade. There is no equivocation that the Republic suffered some pecuniary loss due to the illicit acts of petitioner of collecting commissions in connection with a government project. This is already a subject of a lengthy discussion in the assailed Decision and demands no reiteration,” the SC ruled.

“However, upon closer examination, we find that there is a need to modify the amount of the award of temperate damages. In the assailed Decision, we noted that the Republic’s witnesses did not specifically quantify the amount of commissions received by petitioner aside from the fact that it was substantial. In short, the amount obtained by the petitioner was uncertain,” the SC said.

The SC pointed out that the government proved through evidence that the petitioner acquired ill-gotten wealth in the form of commissions.

However, the government failed to quantify “with specificity the pecuniary loss it suffered” as well as the amount of commissions received by Disini, hence the grant of temperate and exemplary damages, the SC emphasized.

“Upon another closer examination, we find that the award of temperate damages in the amount of P100 million is more commensurate under the circumstances. The Court notes that the petitioner’s liability has nothing to do with the present condition or status of the BNPP.”

“(Disini’s) liability lies in his illicit use of influence, power, and government connections to secure special concessions in relation to the BNPP project. Such illicit use is clearly independent of the status or condition of the BNPP today, which is predominantly a product of legislative and/or executive discretion,” the high court said.

“Besides, despite the illicit acts committed by the petitioner, the subject nuclear power plant was completed and delivered to the Republic. The fact that the subject nuclear plant has remained inoperable despite the considerable amount invested and allocated for its construction should thus not be imputed to the acts of petitioner,” the SC added.

Then-President Corazon C. Aquino, by virtue of Executive Order No. 55, series of 1986, decided not to operate the nuclear plant for reasons of safety and economy, the court noted.

“Clearly, it was not due to the illicit acts of the petitioner. Hence, whatever happened to the BNPP should not have been a factor in assessing the amount of temperate damages,” it added.

“Finally, the Court stresses that there is nothing on record that links former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and his wife Imelda R. Marcos to the commissions received by petitioner in relation to the BNPP project,” the court said.

“Upon a careful re-examination of the records, the Court sustains such finding and affirms that the Marcoses were not, in any way, shown to have acted illicitly in the award of the BNPP contracts to Westinghouse Electric Corporation and Burns & Roe, Inc. by reason of petitioner’s acts.”

“The evidence on record only pointed to the petitioner receiving ill-gotten wealth. Hence, only the petitioner may be held liable to pay damages in this case,” the SC emphasized.

The construction of the BNPP started in 1975 and was finished in 1984.

In 1986, former Aquino mothballed the BNPP on safety concerns. The government then filed a suit in the United States against Westinghouse and Burns & Roe for bribery, fraud, and racketeering. In 1993, the New Jersey court dismissed the case.

In 1995, the administration of then-President Fidel V. Ramos signed a $100 million settlement agreement with Westinghouse.

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