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‘Return of Marcos wealth should be all or nothing’

Alvarez described this as a “welcome development” that would best serve the government’s interest. But he stressed: “The Marcoses should give it all, nothing less.” File

MANILA, Philippines -  It should be all or nothing. 

This was the stand of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and other lawmakers yesterday with regard to the purported plan of the Marcoses to return their alleged ill-gotten wealth to help the government solve its financial deficit.

President Duterte on Tuesday said the Marcos family had agreed to return their vast unexplained wealth, including a “few gold bars,” to the government.

Alvarez described this as a “welcome development” that would best serve the government’s interest. But he stressed: “The Marcoses should give it all, nothing less.”

But Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, the dictator’s eldest daughter, said their family still had to discuss the matter.

Her mother, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos, is fighting the government’s efforts to recover at least 156 expensive paintings, including priceless works of Old Masters Michelangelo, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. Also in the collection are paintings of Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin.

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 Alvarez said the previous leaderships of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) had miserably failed in 31 years to find out how much was really amassed by the Marcoses and their cronies. 

The PCGG was created with the sole mandate of recovering the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies following the ouster of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

“That’s the problem with the PCGG. Despite the number of cases, nothing is happening,” he said.

Alvarez led congressmen in filing House Bill 5233 seeking to transfer the task of recovering the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies to the office of Solicitor General Jose Calida. 

Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, however, pushed for the creation of a truth commission, if only for purposes of letting the whole world know on record about the excesses of the late dictator. 

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, for his part, expressed doubts on the veracity of reports the Marcoses had in their possession about 7,000 tons of gold.

“I don’t think we can produce that kind of tonnage from the manner by which we are mining gold,” he remarked.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the Marcoses should first confirm Duterte’s statement.

At the same time, Lagman asked Duterte not to give immunity from criminal prosecution to the Marcos family in case they surrender part or all of such wealth.

“There is need for a categorical statement from the Marcos heirs confirming President Duterte’s report that they are willing to surrender a part of the Marcos’ ill-gotten hoard,” he said.

Lagman said the confirmatory statement must include identification of hidden wealth that would be returned, persons or parties in possession of such wealth, its location, timeline for return and conditionality, if any.
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin also said Duterte should not offer immunity in exchange for the return of hidden assets of the Marcos family.

Villarin said something concrete must result from the President’s statement about the Marcoses’ offer. 

“Otherwise, this is just pure propaganda to lure the public to a false sense of reality where public outrage over killings has risen to a crescendo. Filipinos should know better when we are taken for a ride or not. This could be much ado over nothing,” he added.

Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. said he found it “a bit odd that the President is speaking for the Marcos family on this issue when the latter has the media stature to make the commitment itself.”

“Would this also mean that they are willing to admit that they had indeed amassed ill-gotten wealth and are willing to subject themselves to the justice mill for crimes against the people?” he asked.

No loose change

Senators, for their part, are also wary of the reported offer of the Marcoses to return their alleged unexplained wealth.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III noted there are still no details on the offer disclosed by Duterte on Tuesday even as he said “donations to the government are welcome.”

“I’m sure they’re (Marcoses) facing criminal cases. I’m sure they’re returning maybe with the hope of compromising some of this or if not, all,” Pimentel said.

If the proposed turnover of the Marcos wealth was in the form of unconditional donation, like to help reduce the budget deficit, the government can accept it, he said.

“But if the dismissal of cases – first of all, compromise is not allowed in criminal cases – we must be careful, step on the brakes, if there’re strings attached, there are conditions,” he said.

Pimentel said lawyers for the Marcoses should study the matter carefully before formalizing their offer.

If the offer was a form of settlement for the alleged accumulation of ill-gotten wealth during Marcos’ 20-year reign, “the Republic of the Philippines is not cheap,” he said.

“Total stolen wealth must be returned. It’s not like we’ll be given loose change and everything’s OK,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the Marcoses should be more definite and detailed on their offer.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said it was right that the Marcoses return their ill-gotten wealth but the amount should be in current values and take into account the estimates of the PCGG and the victims of atrocities of the Marcos regime.

He said by this time, the estimated ill-gotten wealth should be in the billions of dollars.

“If they really kept the money for the sake of the country, then they should have returned it a long time ago,” Aquino said.

Sen. Francis Escudero described the offer as “a step forward” but predicted that the return of ill-gotten wealth might not satisfy certain sectors, including victims of Marcos’ atrocities, who seek “admission, accountability and complete reparation.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said there was no reason to believe in the sincerity of the Marcos family.

“Return the ill-gotten wealth, seek forgiveness for the sins of the dictatorship and that’s the only time we’ll believe in their sincerity,” he said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said recovering the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth is just one aspect of the campaign to hold them accountable for the atrocities that were committed during martial law regime.

Hontiveros said the government must not exchange the people’s pursuit of justice for all the victims of martial law for “a few gold bars, like 30 pieces of silver.”

Spirit of transparency

Malacañang yesterday defended the President from critics who accused him of being a spokesman for the Marcos family in revealing efforts to return the alleged ill-gotten wealth.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte revealed details about the Marcos family’s wealth “in the spirit of transparency.”

Abella said the President has the “best interests” of the Filipinos in mind when he was talking about the Marcoses’ wealth.

Abella in particular disputed the statements made by the group Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang (CARMMA) that has branded Duterte as a spokesman for the Marcoses.

The group claimed that Duterte was explaining why the Marcoses “plundered the Philippine economy and hid the loot.” 

It also accused him of sponsoring the “official rehabilitation of the dictator” and facilitating the “exemption of the Marcos heirs from accountability and punishment.” 

Abella said the group had entirely missed the point.

“(The President) disclosed about the issue of the Marcos wealth in his speech in the spirit of transparency. The Chief Executive has the best interests of the Filipinos in mind, which is, how our people would benefit from the recovery of the Marcos wealth,” he said.

On Tuesday, Duterte said a spokesman for the Marcoses had told him that the family is willing to return questionable wealth accumulated during the late strongman’s 20-year presidency. 

As for the gold bars, Duterte said it was not that big, and the unnamed spokesman explained that the accumulation of wealth was due to the dictator’s belief that he would be able to regain the presidency after he fled in 1986.

“He (Marcos) thought of regaining Malacañang and that is why it came out this way. It seems that he hid it,” Duterte said.

“I will accept the explanation, whether or not it is true… And they are ready to return (the wealth).”

Duterte said he would form a team that would negotiate with the Marcoses to facilitate the turnover of the wealth to the government. 

Duterte admitted that he would have wanted to abolish the PCGG but decided not to do so as it would create speculations.    

Legal repercussions

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the government may consider a possible compromise agreement with the Marcos family should their reported plan to return ill-gotten wealth proceed.

“The President is authorized and has the power to make compromise or any agreement with the Marcoses. If there will be a new agreement, there should be enabling law or initiative law to be issued by the President himself,” he said.

But Aguirre, whose department supervises the PCGG, said this option of compromise agreement would need further study.

“This should be carefully studied – do we need a new EO or could we do it in with just the present power of the President. We will study it first,” he said.

Aguirre believes the possible return of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses would have legal repercussions in the cases against them.

“That (return of Marcos wealth) could be done under the framework of the law. There could be repercussions of cases being handled by the PCGG,” he explained further.

Aguirre said the reported plan to return the ill-gotten wealth by the Marcoses is still in the preliminary stage, as details have not been ironed out.

Aguirre also pointed out Duterte’s plan to form a new body to replace PCGG should be taken into consideration.

“Although we support the President in the formation of that body, he can consider the option of giving new powers to the PCGG by appointing additional two commissioners to strengthen its jurisdiction,” he suggested.

Aguirre said the decision to abolish the PCGG and create a new body would be for Duterte to make.

He added that should the President decide to abolish PCGG, it would take another two years to completely wind up its operations as the commission is still holding more than P200 billion in sequestered money and several assets.    

PCGG chairman Reynold Munsayac said the agency would welcome any action that would result in the recovery of ill-gotten wealth and its return to national coffers.

“To be sure, one of PCGG’s main mandate is to recover these illegally obtained assets and ensure that they would be used to benefit the Filipino people,” he said.

Munsayac, however, did not address issues regarding accountability of the wealth that the Marcoses reportedly offered to return.

Initial estimates said up to $10 billion were plundered by the Marcoses and their cronies during the 20-year rule.

The PCGG has so far recovered about $3.6 billion.

Admission of plunder

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairman Chito Gascon said the offer of the Marcoses to “open everything” should not stop the government from seeking accountability for violations committed during the martial law regime.

“Our question from a human rights perspective, how was the wealth taken? If you will return something, that means you have taken it in the first place,” Gascon said.

“Of course this is an issue of accountability, of the martial law legacy and we will monitor that,” he added.

Gascon, however, said the issue of ill-gotten wealth and human rights violations committed under the Marcos regime has long been settled.

“There are laws and jurisprudence saying that there is corruption,” he said, pointing out various cases involving ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies.

He also cited the law that created the Human Rights Victims Claims Board, which recognizes individuals who suffered human rights violations during the dictatorship.

Claimants 1081, a group of human rights victims during the Marcos regime, said the supposed plan of the Marcos family to return some of their alleged ill-gotten wealth is “unacceptable.”

“First, this is a clear admission that the Marcoses still have ill-gotten wealth stolen from the Filipino people during Marcos’ regime,” Claimants 1081 executive director Zenaida Mique said in a statement.

Mique said the Marcoses “have no moral or legal rights to choose to return ‘some’ of these ill-gotten wealth.”

“We’re talking here of Filipino people’s money. The government should vigorously pursue the so many forfeiture cases against the Marcoses pending in Sandiganbayan, Supreme Court and other courts,” Mique said.

“If the Marcoses are sincere in their offer, they should return all their ill gotten wealth,” she added.  – Paolo Romero, Edu Punay, Alexis Romero, Janvic Mateo, Jess Diaz, Perseus Echeminada, Elizabeth Marcelo, Artemio Dumlao

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