End of the line?

THE FIRST official act of the first Aquino administration was to create a special government agency to run after the Marcoses’ vast hidden wealth. Out of the black letter of Executive Order No. 1, dated Feb. 25, 1986, the Presidential Commission on Good Government emerged. Twenty-seven years and a lengthy if checkered track record later, is it time for the PCGG to close shop, under a second Aquino administration?

PCGG chair Andres Bautista succinctly made the case for abolition in an interview with Agence France-Presse. “It has become a law of diminishing returns at this point,” he said. “It’s been 26 years and people you are after are back in power. At some point, you just have to say, ‘We’ve done our best,’ and that’s that.”

It is unfortunate that Bautista then chose to focus on the changed political reality that confronts the PCGG, or (perhaps it was a matter of reportorial emphasis) that the AFP story chose to focus on those statements Bautista made that tended to be about the return of the Marcoses to power. When he is quoted as saying, for example, that the commission’s “problem now is that everyone is back in power. That does not in any way make our job any simpler,” or that Marcos family members “have the resources to go head-to-head with us in respect to litigation. Why do you think forfeiture cases are still languishing 26 years after?” he is undoubtedly speaking the truth—but it isn’t the whole truth. (If  it were, his remarks are indistinguishable from mere whining.)

The PCGG’s official documents present the argument for abolition, a denouement that requires an act of Congress, in a much more wholistic manner.

The agency has been mulling this radical next step for some time now; one might even argue that closing shop landed on the commission’s agenda from the day the current crop of commissioners took over the agency, in October 2010. It’s 100-Day Report, released two years ago this month, is entitled “An Introduction to the Conclusion.” Its December 2010 letter to President Aquino bore the heading: “Winding Down the Commission.” And its Milestone Report dated June 30, 2012, summed up the argument in one neat paragraph:

“Early on, the Commission—based on its assessment of the tasks involved in fulfilling its primary mandate of recovering the ill-gotten wealth of former President Ferdinand Marcos, his family, and cronies—proposed that this mandate be winded down. This recommendation was made, on the bases that (1) nearly all the ill-gotten wealth cases involving the Marcos regime have already been filed, (2) these cases are presently being prosecuted by the Office of the Solicitor General (and, in certain instances, the Office of the Special Prosecutor), and (3) the possible future discoveries of ill-gotten wealth cases is constitutionally imprescriptible.”

That third basis would have been used by less scrupulous commissioners to argue for indefinite continuation; since the right of the State to recover ill-gotten wealth does not expire, it’s possible to argue that the PCGG should become a quasi-permanent part of the national government.

It is to the credit of the current commissioners, then, that they have pursued the task of “winding down.”

But should the agency close shop? Surely part of the answer depends on how it has done in terms of its primary objective, the recovery of ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies. In its Milestone Report, it notes, matter-of-factly, that “The Presidential Commission on Good Government’s work has endured for 26 years—and the verdict still remains unclear on its over-all track record.” Elsewhere in the report, it recognized that “the people’s expectations seem to have been dashed by the long passage of time.”

In terms of the recovery of assets, the agency’s record is mixed. All told, about half of the $10 billion in assets originally estimated to have been stolen by the Marcoses have been recovered. But the bulk of the PCGG’s work now is litigation. That is the real logic behind Bautista’s proposal to transfer the PCGG’s remaining responsibilities to the Department of Justice.

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Tags: editorial , Ferdinand Marcos , ill-gotten wealth cases , PCGG

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