Politics

Marcos ill-gotten wealth case could lead to crisis

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By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

AN UNFAVORABLE judgment against the heirs of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos including his son and namesake could lead to a constitutional crisis, political analysts said at the weekend.

“A decision that is unfavorable to President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. could lead to a constitutional crisis because the agent that is supposed to execute the lawful order of the court, which is the Philippine National Police is actually under the direct control of the president being its commander in chief,” Marlon M. Villarin, who teaches political science at the University of Santo Tomas, said in a Viber message.

“This is a test of how credible our judicial branch is in maintaining its constitutional mandate of being independent and free from the influence of politics and public accountability to the Executive department,” he added.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) filed the case in 1987, accusing business associates of the elder Mr. Marcos and his wife Imelda of acting as their dummies to acquire ill-gotten wealth using state funds.

His family was originally set to present initial evidence at a hearing set for July 7, but the Sandiganbayan, the country’s anti-graft court, reset the proceedings for a pre-trial hearing on Aug. 5.

Mr. Marcos’ lawyer also sought more time to review the records of the case.

Last month, the Sandiganbayan’s Second Division in a 13-page order allowed the Marcos family to present evidence after rejecting the government’s motion to waive the family’s right to present evidence.

After the dictator passed away in 1989, the court ordered his heirs — Imelda, President Marcos and his sisters Imee and Irene — to substitute for him in the case.

“It will always be a sour point in his presidency, and will likely cause more accusations of using the powers of the Office of the resident to influence other institutions to protect himself and his family’s interests in case the ruling or outcome will be in his favor,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines said in a Viber message.

Mr. Villarin noted that the outcome of the case could “test the resiliency” of the presidency as an institution.

Victor D. Rodriguez, Mr. Marcos’ executive secretary, did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

The dictator and his family were forced into exile in Hawaii after a popular street uprising toppled his regime in 1986.

That same year, his successor, the late President Corazon C. Aquino created the PCGG to recover ill-gotten assets allegedly amassed by the Marcoses and his cronies during his two-decade reign, almost half of which was under martial rule.

In 2003, the Supreme Court (SC) awarded the Philippine government $658 million from the frozen Swiss bank deposits of the former president.

The High Court ruled that only about $304,000 of the Marcos family’s income was lawful since they did not file any statement of assets and liabilities required by law.

“While he said countless times that it is time to move on and start with current cases of corruption, he has no moral ascendancy to expect other officials to be clean,” Ms. Atienza said.

“There are already many legal and ethical issues against him and his family, which leads us not to expect genuine efforts to have an accountable and responsible government with him as president.”

Mr. Marcos started in office on June 30 after winning the May 9 presidential election by a landslide, completing a remarkable comeback for his family.

In a speech that echoed his unity campaign slogan, Mr. Marcos, 64, vowed to fulfill his promises to Filipinos without any excuses, including giving them better lives. He urged the people to work with his government, adding that “we will go very far under my watch.“

Tax bureau chief Lilia C. Guillermo earlier said she would enforce the collection of the unpaid estate tax of the late dictator as ordered by the courts.

The unpaid estate tax was worth P23 billion in 1997 and had ballooned to more than P200 billion due to interests and other fees, according to former Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio.

In December, the tax agency sent a written demand to the Marcos family to settle the tax.

Ms. Guillermo said she had not discussed the matter with Mr. Marcos, who tapped her to head of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). The Marcoses have remained mum on the issue.

“I don’t know if that’s really P200 billion, and maybe if that’s really the amount, imagine it will really help collections of BIR,” Ms. Guillermo said.