US lawyer says PCGG merely grandstanding
(Last of two parts)
MANILA, Philippines–The claim of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) was not to the paintings of Imelda Marcos, “which were never government property,” but to the money that was allegedly stolen, according to Robert Swift, the lead counsel of the 9,539 rights abuse victims during the martial law regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“The PCGG has no judgment against Mrs. Marcos for the paintings,” Swift said in an e-mail to the Inquirer. “Its claim is that money was stolen from the Philippine government in the 1960s and 1970s, and some of the money may have been used to purchase the paintings.”
He said Imelda, whom Forbes Magazine had estimated as being worth $5 billion, should be made to repay the government, “should the PCGG ever prove the theft.”
“Any money that Imelda Marcos could have stolen from the republic should be recoverable from her $5-billion fortune. She lives in Metro Manila and the PCGG should simply ask her to return the money. If she refuses, attach her bank accounts in Manila,” he said.
Hence, Swift sees the attachment of the paintings ordered by the Sandiganbayan last week as mere “grandstanding” by the PCGG.
“The PCGG has known about the paintings since 1986—28 years ago—but never filed a case until now, and that is just for attachment. I am not aware of any case it filed for forfeiture of the paintings,” he said.
“Instead, the PCGG is playing the game of pursuing paintings that Imelda may or may not have purchased using (the Filipino people’s) money,” he said.
Swift said this was being done as part of the PCGG’s strategy to nullify the $2-billion judgment. In 1995, a US federal court in Hawaii awarded the victims the $2 billion in damages after it found the Marcos dictatorship liable for the torture, summary executions and disappearances of about 10,000 people.
“For the 19 years since entry of the [$2-billion] judgment, the Republic of the Philippines has been relentless in trying to nullify any enforcement and preclude compensation to the class members, who are predominantly old and live in abject poverty,” Swift said.
“This has included refusal to recognize the class’ judgment in Philippine courts,” Swift wrote in a brief he filed last month in the New York appellate court that is adjudicating the case of the so-called Arelma account.
The Arelma case refers to Marcos assets, originally amounting to $2 million (now grown to $40 million), deposited through the Marcos dummy corporation Arelma S.A. with Merrill Lynch Securities in New York in 1972 in the name of the foundation.
The claimants’ lawyers have been able to block the Philippine government from recovering the funds by laying claim to them to satisfy the $2-billion judgment.
The case is now being adjudicated in the New York court, which is weighing the competing claims of the Marcoses, the class suit claimants and Philippine National Bank that holds the Arelma certificates as an escrow agent.
In 2013, President Aquino signed into law Republic Act No. 10368 “providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime.”
The law appropriates funds for this purpose, which means that tens of thousands of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos years can claim compensation from the government.
A P10-billion package to be funded from the Marcos Swiss bank deposits, which the Swiss government turned over to the Philippines, was to be distributed among legitimate claimants whose cases are being processed from May until November this year by a claims board.
The law also provides for the building of a memorial museum that will preserve for posterity the cases, memorabilia and other proofs that the 14-year martial rule indeed happened and that countless Filipinos bravely fought tyranny.
However, the P10-billion compensation package being offered by the government is much smaller than the $2 billion (P90 billion) awarded by the Hawaii court in the class suit.
Treasure hunt continues
And so the class-suit lawyers’ hunt for Marcos assets continues even as the PCGG is doing its own hunting.
Still, the P10-billion compensation from the government is ready for disbursement, while the class compensation trickles down only whenever a hidden Marcos stash or property is found.
The class suit members continue to litigate a “writ of execution and turnover order” that they filed in 2012 against Vilma Bautista, Imelda’s aide, and her conspirators who shared the $32-million payment for Monet’s “Water Lilies,” Swift said.
They are seeking the turnover of two other paintings that the New York district attorney seized from Bautista—another Monet and a Sisley—as well as a list of other paintings that disappeared at the same time as the “Water Lilies.”
The petition, filed in New York in 2012, seeks to “transfer all property held for or belonging to Imelda R. Marcos to a certain Settlement Fund maintained by the Clerk of the US District Court for the District of Hawaii.” The petition also invoked the 2011 second judgment of $353.6 million in favor of the class-suit members.
Swift did not want to disclose his source for the list of paintings that he was trying to recover for the claimants but he had an idea of how the PCGG got its list.
“It is my understanding that the list compiled by the PCGG derived from wall labels where paintings had hung in the New York City townhouse occupied by the Marcoses. The paintings were removed from the townhouse contemporaneously with the People Power Revolution in 1986. About 24 paintings were recovered by the US and sold at an auction at Christie’s in 1991, with the proceeds going to the Philippine republic,” he said.
“Our list of paintings is based on our research on paintings purchased by Mrs. Marcos,” Swift said.
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