Imelda Romualdez Marcos is now eighty years old. She has lost little of her charm; the political rubbishing she has received since her husband Ferdinand fell from power and died has failed to dent her self-confidence. She still thinks of doing things for the poor as though she had never left her job in human settlements. She has learned to look beyond her critics and believes she has found peace. Watch her move inside a shopping mall or wet market, and you’ll see people reaching out to touch her. Watch those who have set themselves above her: no one at all seems to mind them. Not even the New York Times minds talking about her in lieu of her country or its government.
While court cases have piled up against the Marcos estate (of which Imelda is the executor), none of them has moved, purportedly for lack of evidence. In the only celebrated case that ever went to trial in New York City in 1990, the now legendary Rudolph Giuliani did his best to convict the accused, and she literally spat blood in open court, but after a seemingly interminable trial, Imelda won an acquittal that stunned her critics and supporters alike. Her biggest and toughest battle, however, has always been in the media where the cruelest caricature and cliches about her persist. Negative press opinion terrifies state prosecutors, judges and justices from confessing openly that sufficient evidence does not exist against her in any of her cases, and that, however terrible or unacceptable it may appear, the law seems to favor her side.
Nothing illustrates this better than the case of her jewelry which the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) had carted away when Marcos fell in 1986 and those seized by the US government when the Marcoses arrived in Hawaii and subsequently turned over to the PCGG by the US government. Who owns these jewelry is a question of law rather than of political opinion, but the PCGG seems inclined to act on the basis of what the editorials and columnists would say rather than on the basis of what the law actually says.
When Cory Aquino proclaimed a revolutionary government in 1986, she could have confiscated all the Marcos properties and declared them forfeit to the state. This is what successful revolutions usually do. But she never did. Instead, she decreed that all questionable Marcos assets be simply sequestered or frozen until they were declared by a competent court to have been ill-gotten. Thus any question about the ultimate ownership of any sequestered asset must be resolved according to a specific constitutional process.
Under the Constitution, the PCGG had 18 months from February 7, 1987, or until August 7, 1989, to sequester and freeze assets believed to have been ill-gotten, upon a showing of a prima facie case. If the assets had been sequestered or frozen before February 7, 1987, judicial action to declare them ill-gotten and forfeit to the state should have taken place within six months from that date. If the assets had been sequestered or frozen after that date, such action should have been commenced within six months from the sequestration or freezing of the same. If no such action had been commenced during the said period, the sequestration or freeze order was deemed automatically lifted.
No court has pronounced the Imelda jewelry ill-gotten. Neither has any forfeiture proceeding been initiated anywhere during the prescribed period. Thus Imelda’s ownership of the jewels stands uncontested, no matter how we may feel about it. No less than the irrepressible Secretary Raul Gonzales has said as much, before he was shifted from the Department of Justice to the Malacanang legal office. If the PCGG could show no legal basis for holding on to the jewels, it should return them to their rightful owner, he said. Why then does the PCGG tenaciously cling on to them despite such authoritative prodding, and the owner’s own repeated demands for their immediate return? One can only speculate.
The PCGG is apparently scared to do what is legally right but which the old enemies of Marcos may not be prepared to accept. After all, it took many of them a long time to accept the fact that the communists, as Marcos had said from the very start, rather than Marcos himself, as the victims had claimed, had thrown the grenade at Plaza Miranda that nearly wiped out the entire opposition in 1971. They were not prepared to see that Marcos was innocent of the heinous crime which they had led themselves and the rest of the nation to believe had been his handiwork. Something similar could be happening here, again.
Having made the world believe that everything the Marcoses had was ill-gotten, the PCGG does not have what it takes to admit it has no right to the jewels. They have apparently calculated that regardless of what the law says, the people are not likely to march for Imelda if her rights were violated, whereas the PCGG commissioners could be in real trouble if they fail to consider the sentiments of the old enemies of Marcos. So it would be safer to be constitutionally wrong but politically correct. But no society endures which sacrifices the law to personal vendetta or political correctness.