SC awards $658-M in Marcos Swiss accounts

- Aurea Calica -
The Supreme Court awarded to the Philippine government yesterday the frozen Swiss bank deposits of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos amounting to $658 million as of Jan. 31, 2002.

The funds have been held in escrow by the Philippine National Bank after a Swiss Court transferred the Marcos deposits in 1999, then only $570 million, pending final resolution on ownership.

The ruling ends a 17-year legal battle with the late dictator’s estate. The funds represent the biggest known chunk of the Marcos assets that he allegedly filched from state coffers during his 20-year dictatorship.

In a 100-page ruling penned by Justice Renato Corona, the High Court said the Marcoses failed to justify that they lawfully acquired the deposits.

Voting 12-0 with one abstention, the SC said the money, plus interest, should be forfeited in favor of the government in accordance with Section 6 of the Republic Act 1379, which states that "whenever any public officer has acquired during his incumbency an amount or property manifestly out of proportion to his salary, the said property should be presumed to have been unlawfully acquired."

The High Tribunal said the respondents — the late President Ferdinand Marcos’ wife, Imelda and her children Maria Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand Jr., and Irene Marcos-Araneta — "indubitably failed to tender genuine issues in their answer to the petition for forfeiture."

The Court noted Mrs. Marcos merely insisted that the funds were lawfully acquired and most of their defenses were full of "lack of knowledge for lack of privity" or "inability to recall because it happened a long time ago."

The SC ruled that since the total amount of the Swiss deposits was considerably out of proportion to the known lawful income of the Marcoses, the presumption that the dollar deposits were unlawfully acquired was duly established in accordance with the procedure based on RA 1379.

The Sandiganbayan earlier determined that the combined salaries of Marcos and his wife, Imelda — who served as governor of Metropolitan Manila and as minister of human settlements — were equivalent to only about $304,300 over the 20-year period.

Records showed the late President Marcos only received a salary of P1.5 million from 1966 to 1985 while his wife got only P718,750 from 1976 to 1985.

The SC also contended Mrs. Marcos’ privity to the transactions was in fact evident from her signatures on some of the vital documents attached to the petition for forfeiture, which she failed to deny as required by the rules.

As for the Marcos children, the Court said their denial could not rightfully be accepted as a defense because they are legal heirs and successors-in-interest of their father and are therefore bound by the acts of the late dictator vis-a-vis the Swiss funds.

President Arroyo, who learned about the ruling while in Iloilo for a four-day "Caravan to the Visayas," also hailed the decision saying that it is "a milestone in the people’s decades-long pursuit of justice."

She said she would like to spend portions of the recovered Marcos wealth for her administration’s anti-poverty projects.

"The eventual release of the funds shall help in funding vital anti-poverty projects," the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, cited that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) mandated that all proceeds of ill-gotten wealth recovered by the PCGG should go to the funding of the government’s land reform program.

Nonetheless, Mrs. Arroyo promised that portions of this escrow account would be apportioned to pay for the monetary claims of thousands of Marcos human rights victims who were earlier granted $150 million by a Hawaiian Federal District Court. – With Marichu Villanueva, Des Ferriols, Rainier Allan Ronda, AP, AFP

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