POSTSCRIPT / July 29, 1999 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Garchitorena’s right in freezing screw fund

WHATEVER the law says, logic alone will tell us that Sandiganbayan Presiding Judge Francis Garchitorena was right when he ruled against using part of the $600-million PNB escrow (pronounced “screw”) account to pay victims of the Marcos dictatorship.

The money, originally $550 million, is suspected to be part of the Marcos loot. With its shady background, the money was ordered by a Swiss court transferred to the Philippine National Bank under an escrow account.

President Estrada and the Marcoses want to get $150 million from the account to pay 9,539 human rights abuses victims. Their lawyers will bite off $40 million, leaving the victims an average of $11,530 (or P438,200) each.

The damages awarded to the victims by the US District Court of Hawaii actually ran to some $2 billion, but to expedite payment this was reduced to $150 million by consent of the Marcoses and their victims. In return, the Marcoses will be cleared of all charges.

* * *

THE question is: Is it right to get the $150-million compromise payment from the $600-million PNB account? As Postscript has been saying again and again, the answer is No.

A basic point is that the $150 million is a private obligation of the Marcoses. It should be paid by them, not by the government.

The Sandiganbayan still has to rule on the true ownership of the $600-million. Whether it is Marcos money or government fund or something else has not been decided with finality.

If the money is eventually declared as government fund, it cannot and should not be used to pay a private obligation of the Marcoses. Besides, the law specifically intends recovered wealth for something else.

* * *

ON the other hand, if it is declared as a Marcos asset, it is subject to litigation and confiscation as illegally acquired, because it is, as the law says, manifestly out of proportion to the legitimate and declared income of the Marcoses.

When seized by the government as illegal wealth, the law says that the money can be used only for agrarian reform. Paying victims of Marcosian brutality is not agrarian reform.

Besides, the PNB account, over which the Sandiganbayan has taken exclusive jurisdiction, is beyond the legal authority of the Hawaii court to cut up, transfer to an American bank and presume to distribute.

With the foregoing, how can the $150 million be legally paid out of the screw account to the Marcos victims? You don’t have to be a lawyer to see the logic of Garchitorena’s ruling.

* * *

A COLLATERAL point, which should be made known to every Filipino for a fuller understanding of what is going on, is that the payment of the $150 million is in exchange for, among other things, the absolute clearance of the Marcoses of all civil, legal and tax charges.

The Marcoses will not settle for anything less than a global clearance. With that clean slate, parang walang nangyari – as if martial law abuses never happened, as if EDSA were just a dream, as if the country were not robbed blind.

The total and absolute absolution will be handed to them without even a whispered sorry, or much less an admission of wrongdoing and a profound apology.

For $150 million, the Marcoses would be made whole again, clean as clean can be, before the courts and the community. What a bargain!

Not only that. With their getting that wholesale clearance, the Marcoses would then be able to move freely and unlock their mind-boggling hoard stashed away in secret accounts and hiding places.

That would complete the rehabilitation of the Marcoses, a process that has actually started and is being stepped up with the ascension of the Estrada crowd.

* * *

OF course, we can’t forever be quarreling over the past. Even our Christian doctrine teaches us forgiveness.

But, like the Church’s old indulgences that were “for sale,” the clearance that the Marcoses want – and which their bosom friend President Estrada appears bent on granting – is actually being bought by them for $150 million.

They are actually buying back innocence and respectability with the same dirty money that was presumably stolen from us.

If the people (not just a Marcos ally lording it over the masa) want to forgive them their trespasses, let it be, out of a Christian act of forgiveness – not because of a dazzling price tag on the deed.

* * *

ONE clarification we have made, and which bears repeating, is that we are not against the Marcos victims being paid. In fact, we feel the $110-million crumbs being tossed to them is an insult heaped upon the injury.

What happened to the $2 billion that Judge Manuel Real of the Hawaii court awarded to them originally?

You can imagine what happened. Most of the victims have not recovered from the mortal blow that Marcos dealt them. Among other misfortunes, they are financially ruined.

Taking advantage of their economic plight, and abetted by lawyers who want to collect their fat fees now instead of waiting indefinitely, the Marcoses were able to pressure the victims into agreeing to a watered-down payment.

Many of the still-suffering victims figured out that it is better to receive chicken feed rather than wait for the delivery of a full-packed poultry house in the distant future, possibly when many of them would have gone to the grave.

While the Marcoses have more than enough money to last them nine lifetimes, their victims have been reduced to settling for petty cash. The Marcoses can wait, but their victims cannot. Such is the inequity of life.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT has offered some alternatives, which we repeat here.

Since President Estrada said he wants the victims paid as soon as possible, let him raise a bridging fund that would be advanced, interest-free, to the victims. They or their estate will pay back when the victims are finally able to collect from the Marcoses.

The President has demonstrated his ability to raise huge amounts when he sees the need. It should be easy for him to raise the money to advance to the Marcos victims, if he wants it.

Then there are the congressmen who joined with suspicious alacrity the Marcos campaign to force the payment of the $150 million from the PNB screw fund.

If it is true, as they want us to believe, that their hearts bleed for the Marcos victims, let them channel their bulging port barrel to some form of rehabilitation fund for the victims. If the victims agree to give them their usual 40-percent commission, it’s all up to them.

* * *

ANOTHER suggestion is for Judge Real to get real and look for Marcos money that is within legal reach. He cannot touch the PNB screw account, as our Sandiganbayan has said in effect.

Why doesn’t somebody, including the lawyers who are itching to collect, tell Real that the Marcoses still have more than enough assets in the United States to cover the piddling $150 million?

The good judge presiding over the pineapple plantations of Alohaland should know how to bind these stateside Marcos assets and use them either to pay or guarantee payment to the victims, and the salivating lawyers.

In fact, if I were in the gilded shoes of Imelda Marcos, I would produce the $150 million (that should be easy) and run off with the piece of paper saying we’re clean and have always been clean and will henceforth be free from litigation.

The $150-million tag is literally a “clearance sale” price. Although the Imeldific is used to splurging (why not, if it’s not your money anyway?), this time, she should be willing to walk to the basement for this bargain.

* * *

WE wonder if President Estrada is at all disturbed by the double whammy that hit him right after he delivered his one-year report card to the nation.

First deadly shot was the resolution penned by Garchitorena and concurred in by Associate Justices Catalino Castañeda and Gregory Ong stopping the insidious move to slice off $150 million from the PNB screw fund.

At least for the moment, that ruling prevents the start of a chain of events that would inexorably lead to the wholesale clearing of the Marcoses and the withdrawal and laundering of other hidden Marcos assets.

The second big blow was the ruling of the Supreme Court nullifying Malacañang’s suspension of Caloocan Mayor Rey Malonzo and nine other city officials, saying that was a “grave abuse of discretion.”

* * *

EVEN the man in the streets of Caloocan knew this without the high court saying it. Everybody knew that Malonzo was being removed by Malacañang to install “kaibigan ni Erap” Macario Asistio III without benefit of an election.

The President has this solemn oath to defend the Constitution and to execute the law. So why is he tampering with the wishes of the people of Caloocan by forcing another Asistio on them?

Earlier, they already tried to remove Malonzo through that crazy provision in the Local Government Code for the recall of elected officials who cannot buy the support of a majority of barangay captains in the city or town (in the case of mayors) or the majority of the mayors in the province (in the case of governors).

* * *

THIS recall mechanism is being abused to nullify the declared wishes of the electorate. Fortunately for the people of Caloocan, when Malonzo was recalled in an earlier Malacañang maneuver and a special election called to fill the void, he won again over Asistio with a wiiiide margin.

The Estrada administration wasted millions for an unnecessary return bout between Malonzo and Asistio. Then they tell us the government is broke.

No wonder the number of visa applicants at the American and other embassies has been swelling. If the Philippines were not surrounded by the sea, if we had land borders with other countries, easily a third of the population would have slipped out faster than Asiong Salonga could say “walang kaibigan, walang kamaganak….”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 29, 1999)

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