There’s the Rub

Historical justice


The government has been at pains to defend Andres Bautista’s proposal to scrap the Presidential Commission on Good Government, and for good reason. Bautista, head of the PCGG, made his proposal known on New Year’s Day. The hunt for the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth, he said, would now go to the justice department.

Leila de Lima promptly announced that Malacañang had approved it and that her department was perfectly capable of taking over. But after a furor arose over it, Edwin Lacierda said his boss was still studying the matter.

Malacañang subsequently said that even if the PCGG were to go, the effort to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies will continue. Bautista himself remonstrated with the violent reaction to his proposal, saying, “In no way have I said we’re ending the hunt for the Marcos ill-gotten wealth. I believe that that should continue because a substantial portion of that wealth remains unrecovered.”

In fact the furor is perfectly justified. The only reason to end the PCGG is if its work has been done. The only reason for it to “wind down” is if it has covered the ground it was supposed to, the “mopping up” to be left to others. It has not. Bautista himself attests to it: A “substantial portion of [the ill-gotten] wealth remains unrecovered.”

Indeed, you don’t have to take Bautista’s word for it, you need only look at how the Marcoses have lived over the couple and a half decades after being booted out of power. Only three months ago, a US court of appeals cited them for contempt for trying to repatriate precious artworks, in defiance of a US court ruling forbidding them from dissipating their assets. The contempt fine was $353.6 million, a pale reflection of the worth of the very hot property Imelda and Bongbong wanted to sneak out of America.

“Marcos estate,” as a reference to the fortune the Marcoses sit on, is an odious term. It not only gives it the air of gentility, or old-world money, it gives it the whiff of something inherited or built with one’s hands. In fact the “Marcos estate” is plain and simple loot or blood money obtained from theft, pillage, pandarambong. However it is the legal term, “Marcos estate” that adds insult to humongous injury.

To say that a substantial portion of it has not been recovered is to say that the bishops have yet some ways to go to learn humility. But of course it hasn’t. So what is Bautista really saying by his proposal? Nothing more or less than that the PCGG failed to do its work in the past, that it is failing to do its work in the present, that it will continue to fail to do its work in the future. So let’s end the travesty, let’s be done with it, tama na, sobra na, itigil na.

Well, right premise, wrong conclusion. If the PCGG is hopeless, if you can’t replace its officials with ones that can do the job—and you have to ask yourself why, the kin of the tortured, “salvaged,” and disappeared who have won a class suit against the Marcoses show it’s just a question of motivation and determination—then create a commission that can. A Truth Commission, if that’s what it takes to do it. While heaping criticism, if not scorn, on those who presided over an institution built at much expense and that built up much expectation, for their monumental ineptness, if not greed of their own.

The task isn’t just “another one of those things,” a routine, token, anticorruption undertaking that can be passed on to the justice department. The task is not just legal, it’s political. It’s not just practical, it’s moral. It’s not just a matter of recovering our wealth, it’s a matter of recovering our sense of right and wrong. The blitheness with which the scrapping of the PCGG has been proposed and accepted by many officials shows the extent to which the point about the PCGG has been missed.

Like Hacienda Luisita, it’s not just an agenda, it’s a symbol. It’s not just a promise, it’s a premise. It’s a premise for the end of tyranny, for the possibility of a new life. It’s a symbol for righting wrongs, for punishing wrongdoers and restituting those they have wronged. The point is not just to recover ill-gotten wealth, it is to recover long-lost justice.

The violent reaction to Bautista’s proposal shows that the public at least, if not its officials, have grasped that point. The larger-than-life spirit of the PCGG has been lost. The history-making possibility of the PCGG—which made it the next best thing to a Truth Commission—has been lost. In its place comes an office that sees itself only as mandated to plod along and do what it can, for as long as it can, if at all it can, to retrieve a few stolen goods.

And what a time for it to happen: At a time when the Marcoses are poised to use that very loot and blood money to attempt a resurrection of their political fortunes, who knows, maybe to get a crack at being top dog all over again in 2016. At a time when people like Juan Ponce Enrile feel free to reshape the past, reinvent the past, mangle the past and inflict their offspring on us as prospective senators or whatever it is they are running for to boot.

Bautista and company can’t do the job, put the kin of the torture victims, the “salvaged,” and the disappeared in their place and see if they can’t  recover what needs recovering mabilis pa sa alas kwatro.

The name says it all. It’s not the Presidential Commission on Wealth Recovery, it’s the Presidential Commission on Good Government. Good government doesn’t just mean dispossessing the Marcoses, unable as the PCGG already is to do just that. It means prosecuting the Marcoses, punishing the Marcoses, stopping the Marcoses. And their fellow oppressors during martial law. It means finding historical justice.

A thing beyond the power of the justice department to do.

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Tags: column , Conrado de Quiros , Ferdinand Marcos , historical justice , ill-gotten wealth , PCGG

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