Why the recovery of Marcos 'ill-gotten wealth' has taken ages

Carolyn Bonquin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 07 2016 05:50 PM

MANILA - The legal battle to recover the alleged ill-gotten wealth of President Ferdinand Marcos’ family and his alleged cronies is far from over.

For 30 years, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) was able to recover P170.7 billion or $3.7 billion, accounting for almost half of the 5 to 10 billion US dollars of alleged ill-gotten wealth. 

The government is also still pursuing 248 cases against the Marcoses and their alleged cronies in various courts, with some appeals pending before the Supreme Court. 

There are 85 cases at the Sandiganbayan, 21 in Metropolitan Trial Courts, 41 in Regional Trial Courts, and 13 in Court of Appeals, respectively.

Thirty-four cases were filed against the PCGG by the respondents.

Nineteen of the civil forfeiture cases at the Sandiganbayan involve P32.017-billion worth of assets: P8.460-billion worth of 864 real property and P23.557-billion in shares of stocks.

DELAYS

Lawyer Ma. Theresa Pabulayan, acting Sandiganbayan executive clerk of court, said most cases dragged on for decades because of the legal remedies sought by the government and defendants' lawyers.

''These legal remedies are mainly availed by the defendants in order to protect their clients…(thru) several motions,'' Pabulayan said.

''Ang cases natin, meron tayong numerous defendants. In some cases meron tayong 70, as many as 90 and if each defendant…mag-file…napakarami ng motion ire-resolve ng court."

(We have numerous defendants in cases. We have as many as 90 defendants in a case. If each defendant files several motions, the court will have to resolve them all.)

Trials were also postponed after lawyers failed to appear, or when some witnesses went missing or became unavailable. Until now, some also respondents have yet to be located.

Former Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) commissioner Ruben Carranza blames the Marcoses for the slow disposition of cases.

“The first one is the delay caused by the Marcoses and Marcos’ cronies. They do that deliberately. They file all kinds of motions that are what lawyers call dilatory,'' he said.

''Second reason is the changes in the handling of the cases -- changes in the PCGG, changes in the OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) -- that also makes it difficult to maintain litigation,” said Carranza.

DISMISSED CASES

Aside from the turtle-paced disposition of cases, the government also faces the challenge of proving the Marcos cronies’ illegal acquisition of wealth.

Of the 63 cases involving the Marcos heirs, 25 forfeiture cases have been dismissed. Marcos' widow, Imelda, was also acquitted in six criminal cases of graft and malversation.

“(The dismissal) doesn't mean that these assets are not ill-gotten. The Sandiganbayan should take into account the 2003 ruling of the Supreme Court laban sa mga Marcos. Sinasabi dun na lahat ng mga ari-arian ng mga Marcos at crony nila na higit pa sa kita nila, lahat iyan nakaw, lahat iyan dapat ibalik sa gobyerno,” Carranza said.

(The dismissal doesn't mean that these assets are not ill-gotten. The Sandiganbayan should take into account the 2003 ruling of the Supreme Court laban sa mga Marcos where it is stated that wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies were beyond what could earn and should therefore be brought back to the government coffers.)

The Sandiganbayan said the cases were dismissed after state lawyers failed to prove that the assets sought to be forfeited were acquired through government funds or through their relationship with Marcos.

The Sandiganbayan explained, the cases against the Marcoses and cronies are being tried based on the Rules of Court. The law requires submission of the “best evidence” or original documents which can prove the government’s claims.

''The documents must be original, otherwise these could be declared fictitious. In case it was lost or destroyed, the plaintiff must establish that it was lost or destroyed and they must also establish that they established efforts to locate original,'' Pabulayan said.

Human rights victim Etta Rosales said losses reflect the state lawyers’ “very careless way” of handling the cases.

'''Pag kulang ang ebidensya, ibig sabihin hindi trinabahong mabuti ang mga kaso,” Rosales said.

(If there is a lack of evidence, it means the work was done haphazardly.)

''The prosecutors who were supposed to defend us did not do their homework enough.''

Carranza, meanwhile, explained securing the original copies of documents is a challenge because the Marcoses had ample time to destroy the paper trail.

He said, the only documents the government has are those left when the Marcoses fled Malacañang.

He also admitted that some of the evidence handed down to various PCGG managements were either possibly lost or stolen.

''Ang tagal ng panahon nilang magkaroon ng panahon para itago, ilabas ng bansa ang perang ninakaw nila. So, ‘yung mga dokumentong nagpapatunay kung nasaan ‘yung pera nilang ninakaw, wala na sa Pilipinas,” Carranza said.

(The Marcoses had enough time to hide the ill-gotten wealth. The documents revealing the whereabouts of these wealth are no longer in the Philippines.)

''Nagsimula ang pag-open ng Swiss accounts 1968 pa lang, ang PCGG nabuo 1987. 'Yung mga dokumento na kayang gamitin para patunayan ang pagnanakaw ng mga Marcos, matagal nang tinago, matagal nang pinamigay sa mga abogado nila sa Switzerland at ibang countries kaya hindi ma-access ng Pilipinas.''

(The Swiss accounts were opened 1986 and the PCGG was established 1987. The documents which can prove the existence of ill-gotten wealth are already beyond reach of the Philippine government.) 

While documentary evidence is important, Carranza said the government sought suitable witnesses who could prove their cases.

But finding witnesses remains a challenge to the government. The Sandiganbayan said some cases were dropped because those called to testify had no personal knowledge of the documents.

WINS

All is not lost for the government, however.

The government was able to claim P75.354 billion from its victory on coco levy cases, $42 million from the Arelma account in New York, and over $600 million from various Swiss accounts.

It was also able to seize P1-billion worth of Marcos assets including pieces of jewelry.

A total of P78.1 billion of the recovered money was remitted to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) which was used to support agricultural communities.

A total of 3,057 hectares of agricultural land were also given to farmers in Laguna, Cavite and Biliran.

P10 billion of the amount recovered from Marcoses’ ill-gotten Swiss bank accounts has been set aside for reparation of victims of human rights violations.