Gov’t, Filipino lawyer ‘dickering over dollars’ from Imelda paintings

Gerry Lirio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 10 2019 06:17 PM

Gov’t, Filipino lawyer ‘dickering over dollars’ from Imelda paintings 1
The artwork "Algerian View" painted in 1946 by Albert Marquet, is seen in this handout photo from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office on November 20, 2012.

MANILA -- The Philippine government has been awarded US$4 million from the proceeds of the sale of three paintings once owned by former First Lady Imelda Marcos, but more than one month after the award, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) hasn't been able to take the check just yet.

The $4-million check remains in limbo, according to a source in the New York court, because the PCGG has yet to settle its financial obligation to its Filipino lawyer who vigorously opposed the distribution of some $10 million to 6,500 human rights victims during martial law under the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

As of Thursday, the government was still negotiating an amount lower than what was agreed upon with the lawyer based in New York, according to the source. 

 “(The lawyer) has a fee agreement (with the government) for partial payment of his hourly rate plus a small percentage for any recovery (of the stolen paintings). I think it totals $300K,” the source said.

What we have here, the source added, are “just Filipinos dickering over dollars,” noting that the US court had nothing to do with the delay.

In contrast, the distribution of $1,500 checks to each of 6,500 human rights victims has been running without any problem since May 1 in various cities in Mindanao, without any government support and interruption. The distribution will continue till July.

It was the third distribution in the Philippines, and the lawyers who handled the case—Robert Swift and Rod Domingo and their team—were surprised at the turnout.

“Yes, the distribution is going smoothly with many, many claimants coming to receive checks,” one of the lawyers told ABS-CBN News.

The third claimant to the three paintings worth $13.75 million—the estate of the Golden Buddha, or the family of treasure hunter Roger Roxas—collected less than $1 million and is expected to have more once the court finds and liquidates more stolen treasures.

The fourth claimant—Vilma Bautista, a former diplomat and Imelda’s aide—is still fighting the legal battle Swift put up on the paintings in New York the past six years.

Swift initiated and won the litigation in New York following the sale of a famous “Water Lily” painting by Claude Monet for $32 million. The British billionaire who bought it is still willing to cough up some $30 million more if only to stop the Philippine government from threatening him with legal suits.

Swift said the $13.75 million will come from the proceeds of the sale of four paintings—another one by Monet, leader of the French impressionist movement, and three others sold in auction last November for over $3 million.

The government had opposed the distribution, supposedly because Swift and Domingo would get more in legal fees than what the government could get, but the court rejected the government opposition.