Duterte insists on Congress' nod for Marcos wealth talks

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte made clear yesterday he wanted Congress’ blessing before he would begin negotiating with the Marcoses for the return of their alleged ill-gotten wealth.

As a former prosecutor, Duterte said he recognized that the Office of the President cannot, on its own, negotiate with the Marcos family. 

He said Congress, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas as well as the Department of Finance should partner with the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) in getting a deal that is beneficial for the Filipino nation.

“It is a long process. It does not belong to me. It is just a signal of the Marcoses that they will bring back what the people believe to be theirs.  So kayong pa-bright, bright dyan sa labas, do not show your ignorance by exhibiting your brightness,” Duterte said, slamming critics for hitting him when he first bared a brewing deal with the Marcoses.

“I am a lawyer, and out of God’s grace, I passed the Bar. Do not try to outsmart me of my statement because I know as a lawyer that this cannot be done independently by the Office of the President,” he stressed.

But opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay believes otherwise, saying the President can negotiate on his own with the Marcoses.

“The President does not need any new law or authority from Congress. He has the continuing authority under existing law to recover the Marcos ill-gotten wealth with the assistance of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG),” he said in a news conference, citing Executive Order 1 issued by the late president Corazon Aquino creating the PCGG on Feb. 28, 1986 to recover the Marcos wealth.

Duterte said only the wealth that is not covered by any litigation would likely be covered in a negotiation or in any arrangement regarding legal immunity for any Marcos scion once the wealth is returned.

“The Marcoses will not allow that they will return (the wealth) and you bring them to jail. So I said, we have to craft the law on that, and that is immunity. Hindi naman bobo yang mga yan (They are not stupid),” Duterte said in Filipino.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was still unsure about which position to take. “I don’t know yet what we’re supposed to do. We’ll talk about that proposal – whether we have the power to give the President an authority to negotiate,” Alvarez said in English and Filipino.

Lagman said the PCGG is “charged with the task of assisting the President” in the recovery of the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses, their relatives, subordinates and close associates, whether in the country or abroad.

“Moreover, the President even on his own accord can negotiate the surrender of the ill-gotten hoard in the same manner that he can negotiate for the surrender of a high-profile suspected criminal without any act of Congress,” Lagman stressed.

He pointed out that the projected talks with the Marcos family “must conform to transparency, accountability and no conditionality.”

However, he expressed doubts on the sincerity of the Marcoses who, he said, “are at best ambivalent” in offering to return illegally acquired assets.

He said Duterte’s revelation about the willingness of the Marcos family to return its alleged ill-gotten wealth could just be propaganda.

Asked why the President is seeking authority from Congress to negotiate with the Marcoses, Lagman said, “Maybe he does not know that he has that authority under existing law.”

On Monday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said lawmakers should give such mandate to Duterte.

“We therefore urge Congress to authorize the President to proceed with negotiations and set parameters, taking into account concerns raised by critics and the citizenry. It would be best if we all work together for final justice, closure and national reconciliation,” he said.

He said Duterte did not want to go into negotiations with the Marcoses on his own.

The President himself has said Congress should pass a law for the negotiations with the Marcoses to proceed.

“The President cannot … it has to be a law. And the law must come from Congress, not from me,” Duterte said in Davao City on Saturday.

“Congress must authorize because that is money to be recovered by the government of the Philippines and that was the offer,” he said.

It was Duterte who revealed last week that the Marcoses had offered to return their alleged ill-gotten wealth.

In reaction, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos said there were no talks yet and that the government would have to deal with the Marcos family’s lawyers.  –  With Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez

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