Sandigan forfeits Marcos’ $24 million ill-gotten paintings

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
Sandigan forfeits Marcos� $24 million ill-gotten paintings
Sandigan Bayan
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has ordered the forfeiture of over 160 paintings and artworks valued at $24.325 million amassed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, former first lady Imelda Marcos, during their family’s 20-year reign, as it declared that these were unlawfully acquired.

In a 42-page partial summary judgment promulgated yesterday, the court’s Special Division said the Presidential Commission on Good Government, represented in court by the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG), was able to establish that the Marcos spouses’ art collections were illegally acquired as their total value was “significantly out of proportion” to the couple’s combined lawful income as government officials.

“In sum, petitioner Republic was able to establish the prima facie presumption that the paintings and artworks valued at $24,325,500 acquired by the respondent spouses were significantly out of proportion to their aggregate salaries of $304,372.43 as public officials,” the ruling, penned by Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz read.

“Aside from the unsubstantiated ‘lack of sufficient knowledge’ in their Answer, respondents failed to present evidence to overturn the presumption that the paintings and artworks were unlawfully acquired. Hence, the forfeiture of said properties in favor of petitioner Republic is warranted,” it added.

The ruling has the concurrence of Associate Justices Alex Quiroz and Oscar Herrera Jr.

Among those ordered by the court to be forfeited in favor of the government were the items listed in the PCGG’s “List of Missing Artworks;” the Grandma Moses paintings; the artworks listed in a “Report on the Metropolitan Museum of Manila’s Art Collection” and “other similarly acquired valuable artworks which may also be found to be under the control or possession of respondents, their agents, representatives, nominees or persons acting on their behalf.”

The court directed the Marcos family to “cease and desist from disposing, transferring and/or selling any of the above-mentioned paintings and artworks” and instead “surrender the paintings and/or divulge their current location.”

Furthermore, the court ordered the Marcoses to render an accounting of the paintings and artworks that are still under their control and possession as well as those that were already sold. The court said the Marcoses must “surrender the proceeds” of the sold artworks to the government.

Filed by the PCGG in 1991 and docketed as Civil Case No. 0141, the forfeiture case seeks to recover from the Marcos family over 200 art pieces, including those in the museums abroad. Named as respondents in the case were Marcos’ and his wife’s heirs. 

In its list attached to the complaint, the PCGG specifically sought the forfeiture in favor of the government of 152 paintings in the US with an estimated value of $11.84 million; 27 paintings and sculptures discovered at the sequestered Metropolitan Museum of Manila with assessed value of $548,445; and 12 paintings by American artist Anna Mary “Grandma Moses” Robertson said to have been purchased at around $372,000.

Early this year, the OSG informed the Sandiganbayan that three of the paintings covered by Civil Case No. 0141 were sold at auction in New York City in November last year for more than $3 million. The OSG said the paintings were sold by the auction house Christie’s by virtue of an order from a New York court.

In ruling in favor of the government, the Special Division said the PCGG was able to present sufficient documentary evidence showing that the Marcos spouses actual participation in the acquisition of the artworks, including their correspondences with auction houses and galleries in the United States. 

“Without doubt, petitioner has presented an overwhelming amount of documentary evidence to establish the acquisition by respondent spouses of hundreds of valuable paintings and artworks worth at least $20 million,” the decision read.

“From gallery documents, invoices, receipts, sales reports and even correspondences to respondent Imelda or her representative, petitioner has established a prima facie presumption that the subject paintings acquired by respondent spouses are ill-gotten, as their total value is manifestly disproportionate to respondents’ lawful income,” it added.

The court said the PCGG was also able to present key witnesses who were personally involved in the investigation on the whereabouts of some of the artworks. 

“The witnesses who testified on the PCGG documents are PCGG high-ranking officials who have been involved with the recovery of the ill-gotten assets for more than 20 years now. They have competently testified on how the documents were collated, filed, reviewed and safekept by the PCGG,” the court said.

The Special Division pointed out that under Republic Act 1379, “whenever any public officer or employee has acquired during his incumbency an amount of property manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer and to his other lawful income, said property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.”

Marcos served as congressman, senator and president while Imelda served as a member of the Interim Batasang Pambansa, Metro Manila governor and concurrently minister of human settlements.

“In the case of respondents, they failed to state and substantiate how they lawfully acquired the funds used to purchase the paintings. Respondents likewise failed to show proof that they had other legitimate sources of income aside from their combined salaries of $304,372.43,” the Special Division said.

“Hence, this sum legally and fairly serves as basis for determining the existence of a prima facie case of forfeiture of the artworks,” it added.

In 2014, the Special Division had awarded in favor of the government the jewelry collection of the Marcoses with assessed value of $110,055 to $153,089. The collection was also part of Civil Case No. 0141.

The jewelry pieces were discovered at Malacañang when the Marcos family fled to the US following the 1986 people power revolt.

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