Saved for now
The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) can heave a sigh of relief for now. It has just secured a new lease on life, after lawmakers thwarted moves to abolish the agency tasked with recovering the estimated $10-billion loot amassed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his family and cronies.
In a sign of the sea change that has swept over the country’s politics, the push to dissolve the PCGG emanated from the Duterte administration itself, mounted by representatives led by former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and staunchly supported by Solicitor General Jose Calida, who, not incidentally, was one of the leaders of the Alyansang Duterte-Bongbong that campaigned for the Duterte-Ferdinand Marcos Jr. tandem during the 2016 elections.
The blatant conflict of interest never bothered Calida or the House of Representatives, which approved a measure effectively abolishing the PCGG and transferring its powers and mandate to Calida’s office — the fox made to guard the hen house, so to speak.
But on Monday, Senate justice committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon announced that the Senate version of the bill meant to strengthen the Office of the Solicitor General was what prevailed in the bicameral committee; that bill spares the PCGG from the chopping block, along with the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel.
Despite its uneven, controversial record over the past 32 years, the agency created under Executive Order No. 1 of former president Corazon Aquino “has been able to attain its mandate,” explained Gordon.
The PCGG has had enormous difficulty prosecuting the thicket of suits it has lodged against the Marcoses; the cases filed in 1991 over the “William Saunders” and “Jane Ryan” Swiss accounts, for instance, were only resolved in November 2018, with Imelda Marcos found guilty by the Sandiganbayan after a grueling 27 years.
So far, the agency estimates it has been able to recover about P171 billion in public funds and assets from the late dictator’s family and their associates. Critical wins since 1986 include the recovery of some $658 million in Swiss deposits, of which P35 billion was remitted to the Bureau of Treasury in 2004.
Of that, P10 billion was eventually set aside as compensation for hundreds of victims of human rights abuses during martial law.
In 2014, the PCGG recovered the remaining $29 million that formed part of the Marcos Swiss bank deposits lodged in two accounts in Singapore.
Since 1986, the PCGG has also privatized some P47 billion worth of prime local real estate, plus other choice properties abroad, accumulated by Marcos and his cohorts.
Part of the fabled art and jewelry hoard of Imelda has also been retrieved: the Hawaii collection — jewelry found in the Marcoses’ luggage when they arrived at Honolulu International Airport on Feb. 25, 1986, after fleeing the People Power Revolution; the 60-piece Roumeliotes collection seized from a Greek national at Manila International Airport as he was about to leave the country in March 1986; the Malacañang collection, left behind when its former overstaying tenants were driven out of the Palace; and 105 pieces of recovered artworks, including El Greco’s “The Coronation of the Virgin,” that have generated $17.344 million in sales for the Philippine government. However, 196 pieces of art are still said to be missing.
The PCGG remains locked in over 200 legal battles on various fronts, while also battling charges of corruption and inefficiency — for taking too long in building cases (that are often less than airtight), and itself becoming a breeding ground for the wrongdoing it seeks to eradicate. Indeed, former PCGG chair Camilo Sabio was sentenced in 2017 to up to 20 years’ imprisonment after the Sandiganbayan found him guilty of two counts of graft.
Now that it lives to fight another day, the PCGG would do well to work much harder and, just as important, to clean house. Under a markedly friendlier dispensation, the late dictator’s heirs are taking every opportunity to urge the Filipino people to “move on,” without so much as a whisper of acknowledgment of the abuse, misconduct and plunder attached to their name.
They and their acolytes are determined to twist or bury that record altogether, reinvent history and discredit official reminders of that indefensible time, such as the state-backed work of making the Marcoses accountable for their thievery.
The Senate’s vote of confidence in the PCGG’s continuing usefulness should prod the agency to redouble its efforts toward fulfilling that important mandate.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.