A special division of the Sandiganbayan on Friday ordered a $35 million account of the Marcos family forfeited in favor of the government, saying it forms part of their ill-gotten wealth.
In a 54-page decision penned by Associate Justice Norberto Geraldez, the graft court said the huge sum involved could not have come from the legitimate income of former President Ferdinand Marcos, his wife and children.
“Respondents (Marcoses) failed to dispute that as of 1983, the Arelma Inc. assets were already valued at $3,369,975. Suffice it to say that said value alone of the Arelma Inc. assets already demonstrates manifest and gross disparity with the known lawful income of the Marcoses in the amount of $304,372.43. The value of the asset is almost 10 times the amount of said income,” the court noted.
“This Court finds and so rules that Arelma Inc. forms part of the ill-gotten assets of respondent Marcoses. Accordingly, Partial Summary Judgment is hereby rendered declaring all the assets, investments, securities, properties, shares, interests and funds of Arelma Inc. … are hereby forfeited in favor of petitioner Republic of the Philippines,” it added.
The verdict came less than four months after the creation of the Special Division by a resolution of the Supreme Court dated December 10, 2008.
Aside from Geraldez, also sitting as members of the division are Associate Justices Efren N. dela Cruz and Teresita V. Diaz-Baldos.
The Special Division was specifically created to decide the ownership dispute over the Arelma deposits, which are now being held by the Merill Lynch Asset Management in New York, USA.
The Marcos family tried to block the forfeiture claiming a 1997 ruling of the Sandiganbayan deemed the proceedings "closed and terminated" after it denied the government’s previous motion for partial summary judgment’.
But the Sandiganbayan pointed out that the 1997 resolution "did not result in a final adjudication of the substantive merits" of the case as in fact, the court simply deferred such judgment to "await the outcome of the ongoing global settlement of the Marcos assets."
“Thus with the subsequent nullification of the compromise agreements by the Honorable Supreme Court…, petitioner Republic would not at all be precluded from pursuing partial summary judgment on forfeiture of the remaining assets and property involved,” the court said
The Sandiganbayan Special Division likewise clarified that its ruling cannot be subject to the jurisidiction of the Hawaii Court, which issued a "global freeze order" on all Marcos assets including those held by Swiss banks.
The graft court cited the pronouncement of the Supreme Court that the Hawaii court’s order "is a transgression not only of the principle of territoriality in public international law but also of the jurisdiction of the (local) Court."
In addition, it noted that even the US Supreme Court recognized the authority of Philippine courts over the Marcos ill-gotten wealth.
“There, it was clarified that even if the Arelma funds are within US territory and jurisdiction – the determination of their ill-gotten character rests with Philippine courts, and if Philippine judgment finds that the funds are ill-gotten and forfeits the same, such forfeiture judgment could be enforced on US soil pursuant to US Congress Act No. 2467 or to treaties like the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) to which the US and Philippine governments are both signatories,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Imelda's denials dismissed
Former First Lady Imelda Marcos’ claim of "lack of sufficient knowledge" about how her late husband formed the various Swiss foundations and the Arelma account as well as her contention that "the funds were lawfully acquired" were dismissed by the court as unworthy of belief.
“Respondent Imelda Marcos’ insufficient denials constitute admissions of material allegations… among which include averments …that Arelma Inc. was one of the corporations established to hide the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth,” the court said.
According to the court, the Marcos family adopted an "ambivalent posture" to disclaim ownership of the Arelma assets even as they do not deny control and beneficial interests over said funds.
“The fact that they waive any right, interest or participation in that Swiss foundation clearly proves their ownership thereof. We could not possibly find a way of ruling or deciding otherwise,” it said.