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Imelda loses chance to testify in forfeiture case

SCREENSHOT FROM THE KINGMAKER

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

FORMER First Lady Imelda R. Marcos and her two daughters have lost their chance to present evidence for failing to show up at a hearing on an ill-gotten wealth lawsuit on Thursday, the Philippines’ anti-graft court said.

A former business associate of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos had also forfeited his right to present evidence, Sandiganbayan Second Division Associate Justice Oscar C. Herrera, Jr. said in open court.

At the pre-trial hearing, the court also gave President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., one of the defendants, and government prosecutors 30 days to submit their memoranda. The court will rule on the case after this, the magistrate said.

After the dictator died in 1989 in Hawaii, the court ordered his heirs — Imelda, Marcos Jr. and his sisters Imee and Irene — to substitute for him in the case.

Marcos Jr. earlier asked the anti-graft court to consider the dismissal of several ill-gotten wealth lawsuits against his family in its appreciation of the case it is hearing now.

At the previous hearing on Aug. 10, his lawyers presented rulings in other cases that favored the family, including a December 2019 decision that rejected the state’s forfeiture case.

The anti-graft court’s Fourth Division on July 22 affirmed the December ruling by dismissing the state’s lawsuit seeking to recover at least four Marcos properties in the absence of sufficient evidence that these had been illegally obtained.

The case covered the properties still within the Marcos family’s control, including a beach house, guest house and museum in Ilocos Norte province and a house in Manila, the capital.

The dismissal covers “properties that allegedly have not yet been recovered by the government,” according to a copy of the decision written by Justice Alex L. Quiroz uploaded on the court’s website.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) filed the current case in 1987, accusing business associates of the former president and his wife Imelda of acting as their dummies to acquire ill-gotten assets.

The Sandiganbayan last month allowed the Marcos family to present evidence, rejecting the government’s motion to waive the family’s right to present evidence.

The president’s family was originally set to present initial evidence at a hearing on July 7, but the court reset the proceedings for Aug. 5, during which the defense said they were no longer presenting additional witnesses.

A popular street uprising toppled the dictator’s regime in February 1986, forcing him and his family to flee into exile in the United States.

That same year, his successor, the late Corazon C. Aquino established the PCGG to go after the ill-gotten assets of the elder Marcos, his family and cronies that were amassed during his two-decade rule. The current Philippine president is the son and namesake of the late dictator.

At a House of Representatives hearing last week, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez and Cavite Rep. Elpidio F. Barza, Jr. said the PCGG had “outlived its usefulness,” adding that agencies such as the Department of Justice and Office of the Ombudsman could take over pending ill-gotten wealth cases.

PCGG Chairman John A. Agbayani argued the agency should be strengthened to relieve other agencies of handling graft and corruption cases. He pointed out that for this year alone, the agency has remitted P850 million to the Treasury bureau.

Political analysts have said an unfavorable judgment against the Marcoses could lead to a constitutional crisis since law enforcers are under the president.

A favorable outcome could also result in more accusations of using executive power to shield his family’s interests, Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said on July 9.

In 2003, the Philippine Supreme Court awarded the Philippine government $658 million (P37 billion) of the dictator’s frozen Swiss bank deposits.

Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio had said the former president’s unpaid estate tax, worth P23 million in 1997, had ballooned to more than P200 billion due to interests and other fees.

Tax bureau chief Lillia C. Guillermo said she would enforce the collection of the unpaid estate tax of the elder Marcos as ordered by the courts.

Among the ill-gotten assets recovered by the government were shares in Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. worth P25.2 billion, shares in Philippine Telecoms Investment Corp. worth P25.2 billion, several houses in Baguio City and 526 art pieces now under the custody of the Philippine central bank.

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