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Philippines' hunt for Marcos loot goes on
Publication Date : 03-01-2013
Philippine Senator Joker Arroyo, the executive secretary when President Corazon Aquino issued her first executive order that created the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) in 1986 to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses, and other lawmakers are supporting the PCGG recommendation to wind down its work as it has outlived its usefulness.
Other lawmakers and a group of victims of human rights violation during the 20-year regime of Ferdinand Marcos object to the abolition of the PCGG. They said dissolving the commission would send the signal that those in power could commit crimes and get away with it.
Although Edwin Lacierda, spokesperson of President Benigno Aquino, said that the president was still studying the recommendation to abolish the PCGG, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the “mindset” of the president was that the commission need not continue its work.
At a news conference at the PCGG headquarters yesterday, chairman Andres Bautista said his proposal to the Palace was to transfer the prosecution of Marcos ill-gotten wealth cases to the DOJ and to transfer the sequestered assets to the Department of Finance.
The PCGG made the recommendation in January 2011 as part of its 100-day accomplishment report.
“Our recommendation was to wind down work, to turn over cases to the DOJ and the sequestered assets to the Privatisation Management Office,” Bautista said.
“But in no way have I said we’re ending the hunt for the Marcos ill-gotten wealth. I didn’t say that. I believe that that should continue because a substantial portion (of the ill-gotten wealth) remains unrecovered,” he said.
Winnowed by time
Arroyo said the PCGG had outlived its purpose and it was about time the Department of Justice (DOJ) took over its cases.
“[Its] mandate has run its course. It is problematic whether the government can gather additional evidence after 26 years. The main task of the PCGG—to gather evidence and build up the cases—has been winnowed by time,” Arroyo said in a statement.
“The position of the PCGG makes practical sense,” Arroyo said.
Sen. Francis Escudero, the chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, saw no reason for the PCGG to stop going after Marcos’ alleged ill-gotten wealth unless it could no longer prove a claim against the late dictator’s estate.
Escudero told the Philippine Daily Inquirer the PCGG’s difficulties were a lame excuse to wrap up its mandate after 26 years of going after the supposed multibillion-dollar loot of the Marcoses and their cronies.
“That it is difficult should not be an excuse if there is indeed a cause of action. Nobody ever said that it was going to be easy,” Escudero said in a text message.
“That’s a lame excuse unless they are throwing in the towel and saying that they can’t prove the cases versus the Marcoses anymore,” Escudero added.
In a statement, angry victims of martial law said the proposal to wind down the hunt for the late dictator’s embezzled billions would give the signal that people in power could commit crimes with impunity.
“We cannot just forgive and forget what the Marcoses did to us, nor must the Aquino government stop pursuing justice for martial law victims and the rest of the Filipinos,” Selda, an anti-Marcos activist group, said in a statement.
De Lima said that the PCGG “cannot exist forever” and that it had a “limited lifetime”.
She said the DOJ was ready to take on any remaining work of the commission.
“If there is still residual work that the PCGG has to do, it has to be taken over by a competent office or competent authority. So if it’s the DOJ, we can always do that if that will be the plan,” De Lima told reporters.
She said the DOJ would study if there was a need to create a unit for this.
There was also a need to study the PCGG’s performance, on why no favourable ruling was made on some big cases. “We need to review where were the shortcomings, what cases need to be pursued,” the justice secretary said.
Arroyo said that while the recovery of ill-gotten wealth, mandated by Cory Aquino’s EO Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 14-A, was a valid advocacy, the PCGG’s mandate was “time-limited by the very nature of the campaign.”
He noted that Congress had extended the life of the PCGG quite a number of times.
“It was one of the centrepieces of Cory’s crusade for good governance. And the campaign has had a good run,” Arroyo said.
“Now, the thrust of the work has become the humdrum of legal work, essentially dealing with litigation. It is about time the work is devolved to the Department of Justice,” he added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed with Bautista’s recommendation to Aquino that the commission start winding down its operations since going after the Marcos wealth had ceased to be cost-effective.
Bautista also cited the return to power of former First Lady Imelda Marcos as Ilocos Norte representative, and Marcos’ children Ferdinand Marcos Jr., as senator, and Imee Marcos as Ilocos Norte governor which doesn’t make the PCGG’s job any easier.
Bautista reiterated the government would not abandon the ill-gotten wealth cases against the heirs and cronies of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos even in the event of the PCGG’s abolition.
200 cases pending
About 200 ill-gotten wealth cases against the Marcoses and their cronies are pending in the antigraft court Sandiganbayan.
Bautista said the commission would likely not file new cases due to the difficulty of getting evidence and witnesses against the Marcoses and their cronies more than a quarter of a century after the dictatorship was overthrown in 1986.
Since its creation, the PCGG has recovered 164 billion pesos (about US$4 billion), less than half of the $10-billion fortune believed to have been amassed by the Marcoses.
The single biggest recovery was made last year—70 billion pesos worth of coco levy funds from the sale of the government’s 24-per cent stake and other dividends in San Miguel Corp.
Bautista acknowledged that the PCGG had no idea how much remained unrecovered of the wealth illegally amassed by the Marcos family and their cronies.
“As in any ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ situation, the longer you take to get your target, the lesser the opportunity becomes as the quarry manages to dig deeper,” said Lacson.
Lacson said that with the alleged mismanagement of the PCGG through the years, the commission was bound to fail.
Should Aquino heed Bautista’s recommendation, he would need Congress to pass a law abolishing the agency.
In fact, efforts to abolish the PCGG are underway in the House of Representatives, following the filing of a bill seeking to transfer part of its responsibilities to the DOJ.
House Bill No. 4049 has been pending in the committee on government reorganisation since January 2011.
Under HB 4049, “the powers and functions of investigations and prosecution of criminal (cases) exercised by the PCGG shall be transferred to the Department of Justice”.
Civil cases would be handled by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel. These would include the “management, administration and the disposition of the assets, as well as the sequestration of the properties considered to be ill-gotten”.
“More than 20 years and four administrations have passed, and the PCGG has not produced significant accomplishments that would justify its continued existence,” said the explanatory note of the bill, which was jointly introduced by Representatives Sergio Apostol and Pedro Romualdo.
“Through these years, the work performed by the commission is not commensurate to the annual expenses needed to maintain the office. The time is ripe to abolish the PCGG in line with the cost-saving efforts of the government.”
To block abolition
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares assailed Bautista, saying the PCGG should continue going after the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses.
“They owe it to the victims of human rights violations during Marcos’ time and the Filipino people,” he said in a statement.
“The lesson to be learned if the search for the Marcos wealth stops is crime pays and if you steal big, you can get away with it,” he added.
Colmenares said his party-list group would block efforts to abolish the PCGG in the House.
“They should still go after the Marcoses whatever happens. The ill-gotten wealth should be returned to the people. PCGG officials and prosecutors who weakened the cases should be prosecuted,” he said.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, one of the victims of martial law, said the President should veto a plan for the PCGG to wind down the chase for the Marcoses’ plundered wealth.
Principles of Edsa I
Ocampo said the PCGG should continue its task, but also said it must receive clear support from the administration.
“By abandoning the pursuit of ill-gotten wealth and the prosecution of the Marcoses, the government is abandoning the principles of Edsa people power,” he added.
In the event that Congress decides to abolish the PCGG, Escudero wants an audit of all the assets sequestered by the commission.
“There have been pending bills in Congress seeking its abolition but not without a proper accounting of all the assets that the PCGG sequestered since its creation,” Escudero said.
“What’s sad is that recovered assets were again stolen,” he added.
Bautista himself acknowledged the alleged mishandling of the commission through the years.
“These accusations (against the commission officials) are not without basis. They were in charge of guarding the chicken coop and some of them helped themselves to the eggs,” Bautista was quoted as saying.
With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, TJ Burgonio, Leila B. Salaverria and AFP