Supreme Court denies Marcoses' plea on $658-M Swiss account

MANILA, November 19, 2003  (STAR) By Aurea Calica - The Supreme Court (SC) upheld with finality yesterday its earlier decision to award to the government more than $658 million (roughly P36 billion) in Swiss bank deposits of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, throwing out petitions by his widow and children.

The tribunal also criticized a ruling by a US District Court imposing a global freeze on the funds now being held in escrow at Philippine National Bank, saying it has no jurisdiction over the Philippines.

President Arroyo hailed the decision and said it was a victory for the Filipino farmers who are the designated beneficiaries of the recovered Marcos wealth.

"The P30-billion Marcos ill-gotten wealth will go to our land reform program," the President vowed. "This is a very important SC ruling. Ang nakaw na yaman ay yaman na ng ating mga magsasaka ngayon (The ill-gotten wealth now belongs to our farmers)," she added.

The President herself broke the news to farmers in Lipa City in Batangas where she distributed certificates of land ownership to the latest batch of farmer beneficiaries of the land reform program by the government.

In a unanimous decision, the high tribunal also junked the "global freeze order" on the Marcos assets issued on Sept. 2 by Judge Manuel Real of the Hawaii District Court, saying it was a "transgression not only of the principle of territoriality in public international law but also of the jurisdiction of this Court recognized by the parties-in-interest and the Swiss government itself."

In its 21-page resolution penned by Justice Renato Corona, the court denied the motions for reconsideration filed by the Marcoses to its July 15 decision.

Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., Justices Jose Vitug, Reynato Puno, Artemio Panganiban, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Adolfo Azcuna, Romeo Callejo Sr., Dante Tinga, Leonardo Quisumbing and Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez concurred with the decision.

Justice Antonio Carpio did not take part in the deliberations because as former presidential counsel, he acted as chairman of a committee that oversaw the transfer of the funds to the Philippines while Justice Josue Bellosillo had retired on Nov. 12.

In their separate appeals, former first lady Imelda Marcos and her children, Maria Imelda or Imee, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Jr. and Irene accused the tribunal of denying them their constitutional right to due process by issuing a summary judgment on the case.

The Marcos heirs said the high court did not give credence to the respondents’ arguments that they should be given the chance to defend themselves and that the case should be remanded to the Sandiganbayan.

The US court issued the freeze order to stop banks holding the funds from transferring them to the Philippine government so that Filipinos who won a class-action lawsuit against the Marcos estate for human rights violations could be compensated.

The Swiss deposits would be the single largest amount recovered from the billions of dollars the Marcoses allegedly amassed. Prejudice?

Mrs. Marcos also said the July 15 decision would prejudice the other criminal cases filed against her by the government. But the SC said this forfeiture proceeding was entirely different as it required no more than a preponderance of evidence and not a trial to establish sufficient proof to convict.

"For 12 long years, the Marcoses tried to stave off this case with nothing but empty claims of ‘lack of knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief,’ or statements like ‘they were not privy to the transactions,’ or ‘they could not remember (because the transactions) happened a long time ago‚’ or that the assets ‘were lawfully acquired‚’" the SC said.

The SC earlier said in its July 15 decision that the Marcoses could not deny the fact they would try to delay the case forever if allowed.

"It will be a mockery of justice to allow them to benefit from it. By their own deliberate acts — not those of the republic or anybody else — they are deemed to have altogether waived or abandoned their right to proceed to trial," it said.

Noting the Marcoses’ failure to raise any new matters, the court said it had painstakingly discussed in its July 15 decision why a summary judgment was in order to finally put an end to the case.

But according to the respondents, Republic Act 1379 or the law on forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth was penal in substance and thus they should be accorded the safeguards enjoyed by the accused.

The SC disagreed saying the forfeiture proceedings did not violate the substantive rights of the Marcoses as the case was civil in nature.

The tribunal said the government was able to establish prima facie presumption that the Swiss accounts were ill-gotten and thus the burden of proof shifted, by law, to the respondents to show by clear and convincing evidence that the Swiss deposits were lawfully acquired and that they had other legitimate sources of income.

Due process does not always and in all situations require a trial-type proceeding, the court said. It pointed out the Marcoses were given all the opportunity to be heard as they participated in all stages of litigation.

In its July 15 decision, the SC said the Marcoses failed to justify that they lawfully acquired the Swiss deposits that reached the estimated aggregate amount of $658,175,373.60 as of Jan. 31, 2002.

Section 2 of RA 1379 explicitly states that "whenever any public officer or employee has acquired during his incumbency an amount of property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary, the said property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired."

The SC ruled that since the total amount of the Swiss deposits was considerably out of proportion to the known lawful income of the Marcoses, the presumption that the dollar deposits were unlawfully acquired was duly established.

Records showed the late President Ferdinand Marcos only received a salary of P1.5 million from 1966 to 1985 while his wife, who served as Metro Manila governor and minister of human settlements, got only P718,750 from 1976 to 1985.

Based on the legitimate salaries of the Marcos couple, the Sandiganbayan also ruled that they could not have afforded the schooling of Bongbong Marcos in London, not to mention the personal, family and household expenses and their lifestyle.

The court pointed out Mrs. Marcos failed to give specific details as to how the funds were supposedly acquired legally. The Marcoses also did not present and attach any single document to prove their claims.

The Supreme Court contended Mrs. Marcos’ privity to the transactions was in fact evident from her signatures on some of the vital documents attached to the petition for forfeiture, which she failed to deny as required by the rules.

"How could respondents therefore claim lack of sufficient knowledge or information regarding the existence of the Swiss bank deposits and the creation of five groups of accounts when Mrs. Marcos and her late husband personally masterminded and participated in the formation and control of the said foundations? This is a fact respondent Marcoses were never able to explain," the Court argued.

As for the Marcos children, the court said their denial could not rightfully be accepted as a defense because they are legal heirs and successors-in-interest of their father and are therefore bound by the acts of the late dictator vis-a-vis the Swiss funds.

The Marcoses initially denied ownership of the Swiss deposits but they agreed to negotiate in the hope of finally putting an end to the problems besetting the family.

Mrs. Marcos also admitted in her manifestation before the Sandiganbayan on May 26, 1998 that she was the sole beneficiary of 90 percent of the money and 10 percent belongs to the state of Mr. Marcos.

"The admission of respondent Imelda Marcos confirmed what was generally known: that the foundations were established precisely to hide the money stolen by the Marcos spouses from petitioner Republic. It negated whatever illusion there was, if any, that the foreign foundations owned even a nominal part of the assets in question," the court said.

The court said almost two decades have passed since the government initiated its search for and reversion of such ill-gotten wealth and that the definitive resolution of the case was long overdue.

"If there is proof of illegal acquisition, accumulation, misappropriation, fraud or illicit conduct, let it be brought out now," it said.

Marcos fled to Honolulu after he was toppled in a people power revolt in 1986. He denied any wrongdoing until his death in exile three years later. — With Marichu Villanueva, AP


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