POSTSCRIPT / September 21, 2003 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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We fight over the chicks even before the eggs hatch

SCRAMBLE ON: The administration seems to be engrossed with counting and dividing the chicks even before the eggs are hatched in the case of the $683 million in recovered Marcos assets being held in escrow before delivery to the Philippine government.

Under existing law, all illegal wealth that is recovered must be used only for agrarian reform. Then a nosey American judge in Hawaii hit upon the idea that the money should be used to pay torture victims of the Marcos dictatorship.

Following suit, other quarters are now asking why only victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime should share the equivalent of P38 billion when there are other concerns crying for funding.

What about education, health care and victims of post-Marcos human rights abuses, etc.? The list of prospective beneficiaries of recovered illegal wealth seems to grow by the day.

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DELAYED BY FEUD: We’re afraid that the net result of the worsening quarrel over the disposition of the Marcos wealth may just delay, or even torpedo, its early recovery and early use.

Already, some foreign entities, such as a German bank whose branch in Singapore happens to be the repository of some investment stocks representing part of the Marcos loot, have gotten into the act.

The German bank said in so many words that it would release the disputed assets only upon order of a proper Singaporean court. We won’t be surprised if more parties, including other banks, join the fray using similar arguments.

We Filipinos are not helping expedite the release of the assets by quarreling among ourselves on who should benefit from the Marcos assets.

At the rate we are going, we may not see a cent of it during the lifetime of the Arroyo administration.

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QUARREL CAN WAIT: Why don’t we concentrate first on recovering the Marcos wealth, and quarrel over it later on how to divide it among ourselves?

Decades ago in California, the San Francisco city government gave the Filipino community in the Bay Area an option to take over and use a large tract in a prime area near Van Ness Avenue.

The offer stirred a debate among FilAm “leaders” on how to use the land, who should manage it, among other issues that only Filipinos could concoct. The intramurals dragged too long that the impatient city government decided to just withdraw the offer.

Amused friends in Chinatown told us that when a similar offer was made to them, they subordinated their competing obsessions to their common interest. Concentrating first on speedily securing the property, they fought over it only after they got it.

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ONLY BENEFICIARY: Since the only law on the disposition of recovered ill-gotten wealth is Rep. Act 6657 (the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law), the Department of Agrarian Reform is right in escalating preparations for funding its projects from the expected bonanza.

We can ignore the American judge who presumed to rule from his sala in the Aloha state that the Philippine Supreme Court erred in declaring the Marcos wealth as illegally acquired and therefore subject to seizure.

But some courts in places (like Singapore) where the Marcos assets are located could give us trouble if they decide to play hardball. That complication added to our own feuding can delay release of the assets.

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OTHER CONCERNS: Recognizing the legitimacy of the claims of torture victims, President Arroyo has earmarked P8 billion for victims’ compensation to be taken from the Marcos wealth.

However, a human rights bloc in Congress led by Akbayan Rep. Etta Rosales wants more, something like P10 billion.

Not to be outdone, the education sector that was earlier content with just a slice of the Marcos wealth pie now wants to gobble all of it.

Before Congress went on recess last week, the House education committee chaired by Marinduque Rep. Edmundo Reyes pushed for the allocation of the entire P38-billion to a “special basic education fund.”

Meanwhile, the use of the assets for agrarian reform, as provided by law, found a new champion in Rep. Benjamin Cruz, a sectoral representative from the farmers’ group “Butil.” Taking issue with the Hawaii judge’s ruling, Cruz said “Our farmers pin much hope on the release of the funds.”

Cruz happens to be the chair of the House committee on the 20 Priority Provinces composed of the country’s poorest provinces, where the bulk of the Marcos funds, he said, could be plowed.

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ANDAR NA!: Secretary Obet Pagdanganan of the Department of Agrarian Reform, meanwhile, has been quietly preparing to shift to high gear the implementation of agrarian reform using recovered ill-gotten wealth.

He had finalized action plans on the assumption that the funds would be released last August. Adopting the “AnDAR Na!” battlecry, he wanted projects in the pipeline delayed by lack of funds completed within the year, or, at the latest, by the first quarter of next year.

Under the initial allocation, P8 billion would be used for land acquisition and distribution, while the rest would fund CARP support systems and infrastructure, including education and health facilities in agrarian reform communities.

He expressed hope that the Supreme Court would rush a ruling making its earlier decision final and executory, so the process could move several steps toward the release of the funds.

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CUT TO THE BONE: When the country’s original land reform edict was signed in 1963 by then President Diosdado Macapagal, funding was choked by the Senate led by then Senate President Ferdinand Marcos.

It has since been the same story. Pagdanganan took over DAR with a budget cut to the bone by Congress. Now comes possible relief with the release of the Marcos wealth, but problems keep cropping up.

The DAR chief has distanced himself from the jockeying for the Marcos funds. While he is not opposed to yielding a portion to human rights claimants, he notes that the law as it stands is clear that recovered illegal wealth belongs exclusively to agrarian reform.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 21, 2003)

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