PCGG strives to stay relevant
Editor’s Note: Starting Sept. 21, the 42nd anniversary of the proclamation of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos, we have been running a series of articles to remember one of the darkest chapters in Philippine history. The articles are necessarily commemorations and more so a celebration of and a thanksgiving for the courage of the men and women who endured unspeakable pain and loss to overcome the Marcos dictatorship and regain our freedoms. These are some of their stories.
MANILA, Philippines–When Cory Aquino replaced strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, her very first act was to create an agency with specific goals: to recover the Marcoses’ and their cronies’ billions of dollars in ill-gotten assets and to help prevent such instances from ever occurring again.
That agency, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), has succeeded in recovering some of the Marcos wealth through stakes in valuable companies, jewelry and numbered accounts despite allegations of mismanagement and ironically, corruption, through the years.
But decades since it was established, the agency has yet to complete its goals even as it faces new challenges, with the memory of atrocities during the Marcos regime fading and cases languishing in the country’s cumbersome justice system.
Clean up tarnished image
The PCGG that its current chair, Andres Bautista, inherited when he took over the post four years ago had to assume new roles on top of its original mandate: to clean up the agency’s tarnished image while ensuring that future generations remember the mistakes of the past.
Indeed, the burden of its poor image prompted some people in the government to consider abolishing the agency while continuing its purpose through other means or institutions.
“Before, the PCGG really was a scorned agency. Definitely, there was mismanagement and the PCGG was not looked upon very highly by the community. But I think we have been able to reverse that perception,” Bautista told the Inquirer in an interview.
He said reforms went from increasing transparency, ending excessive bonuses to doing road shows for the public, the youth in particular, to whom the agency also reaches out through social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter.
“Before we came in, the PCGG had no website. There were no annual reports, basic things like that. But we have to be transparent and accountable,” Bautista said.
Bautista came from the private sector, serving as CEO of the Philippine unit of Malaysia’s Kuok Group, and the academe, as dean of Far Eastern University’s Institute of Law. That background was also key in helping professionalize the way things were run at the PCGG, which oversees various sequestered corporations, several of which are now turning a profit.
“I’m a bottom-line kind of guy. So to me, we wanted to make sure that we set targets and that we will be able to achieve these,” Bautista said.
The figures so far should be able to speak for themselves. The PCGG remitted as of 2013 a total of P166.2 billion, about 44 percent of which came in during the last four years, with much of the amount finding its way to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
So far this year, the PCGG remitted about P1.3 billion, mainly from the West LB accounts, placing it ahead of its P450-million target for the full year, Bautista said.
The seven main sequestered companies under the PCGG, including Cocolife and UCPB-CIIF Finance and Development Corp., earned a combined
P4 billion in profit last year, its annual report showed.
The agency, for a second year in a row in 2013, was also named the best agency for turning in the best performance against budget among the 11 attached agencies or offices under the Department of Justice.
While these were notable achievements for an agency that Bautista said could use more funding, challenges still abound, with recovery efforts now literally racing against time and the ever-changing political climate.
“You have to contend with the issue of time. It’s been 28 years,” he said. “In terms of evidence, the witnesses and documents are old or dying.”
“And the people we are going after are all back in power,” he said, citing members of the Marcos clan occupying various influential positions in politics.
Marcos’ widow, Imelda, who has gained worldwide notoriety for her extravagant tastes, including owning a vast shoe collection, is a member of the House of Representatives, while the strongman’s only son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is a senator. A Marcos daughter, Imee, is governor of Ilocos Norte.
“Even the so-called cronies—you name them and they are there,” Bautista said.
There is also the question on the true size of the Marcos wealth, which was never fully accounted for. Bautista said the PCGG had so far recovered $4 billion, but estimates in 1986 pegged the figure between $5 billion and $10 billion—though that figure could be much bigger today.
“That was an estimate in 1986. So, that could have tripled or quadrupled,” Bautista said.
Recovery takes patience
Most of the time, recovery takes patience, like the case of those prime properties in the Jolly Bugarin case, which dragged on for 27 years before being transferred to the government.
To recall, the PCGG filed this case way back in 1987 for land that Bugarin, a former National Bureau of Investigation director, acquired from 1980 to 1986. It turned out that the Sandiganbayan ruled in Bugarin’s favor early on but this was eventually reversed by the Supreme Court.
An account in the PCGG’s annual report showed that it took another four years, or from 2002 to 2006, for the Sandiganbayan to order the forfeiture and the immediate issuance of a writ of execution pursuant to the high court’s decision. It took another seven years before the writ of execution was finally issued in June 2013.
The transfer was completed only last year. These assets included houses and lots in North Greenhills, Valle Verde and Capitol Hills, vacant lots in Tagaytay City, Calapan City and Puerto Galera as well as a Makati Sports Club share.
Another prime asset tied up in litigation is the 18.5-hectare “Payanig sa Pasig” property in the Ortigas central business district, which includes the popular Metrowalk commercial development. That could be worth as much as P14 billion, the PCGG said.
Sometimes, the hunt also involves plain luck. In 2011, the PCGG learned of the suspicious sale of a $32-million painting by French impressionist master Claude Monet with the help of US authorities. The painting was sold by Vilma Bautista, a confidante of Imelda, who was eventually arrested and convicted.
“I think there is so much more Marcos wealth out there. But if you really want to go after that you have to allocate resources,” Bautista said. Among those assets identified, about P30 billion to P50 billion, are being battled over in the courts, the PCGG said in its 2013 annual report.
“The PCGG had many failings in the past but our failings are also mirrored by failings in the justice system,” Bautista said.
Meanwhile, getting more financial support and succession at the PCGG are important for the agency’s future, Bautista said.
“In the same way President Aquino is stepping down in 2016, we need to be able to elect the right leader to continue the reforms,” he noted. “The PCGG will continue to have relevance for so long as there is support being provided by the administration in power.”
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