It may be harder than finding a needle in a haystack, but the search goes on.
Malacanang last week reiterated that the government’s efforts to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family will continue despite the proposal to abolish the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG).
In a press conference, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that no decision has been taken yet on the recommendation, saying the Office of the President (OP) is closely studying the proposal.
Earlier, PCGG Chairman Andres Bautista announced the commission’s plan to wind up its operations and transfer the prosecution of Marcos cases to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
But the Palace official assured the public that the cases which are now pending before the various courts are going to continue.
Lacierda stressed that the chase for the still unrecovered ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies will continue.
”What PCGG would like to stress is that the Republic has not stopped the recovery work,” he said. “Their mandate is to recover ill-gotten wealth.”
”The media attention towards PCGG goes up and down; it’s like there’s a crest and there’s a trough so, sometimes PCGG gains attention because, for instance, Chairman Bautista testified in New York trial,” Lacierda said.
”But, what they would like to emphasize is that the recovery work has not stopped; it continues,” the Palace official added.
The creation of PCGG was among the first laws enacted during the early months of the administration of the late President Cory Aquino. The main task of the commission was to recover alleged billions of dollars worth of ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies, both locally and abroad.
Among the latest discovery of alleged ill-gotten wealth was three paintings in the United States which are believed to be part of the missing art collections of the Marcoses.
The PCGG still has 146 missing paintings in its list of supposed ill-gotten wealth.
Whether the PCGG’s mandate is renewed or is passed on to the DOJ, every administration that came after Marcos has had a tough task of recovering the hidden wealth.
Down to a trickle
Bautista recommended the abolition of the 27-year old agency to President Benigno Aquino 3rd after the recovery of wealth had slowed to a trickle. The PCGG had been spending more for operations that what was being recovered.
Divided opinions among the country’s leaders emerged—some opposed it, some favored it—but the reality is the Marcoses are back in power, despite the thousands of human rights victims and billions of pesos worth of wealth allegedly plundered during the dictatorship.
“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 really difficult. In order now to be able to get these monies back, you need to spend a lot,” Bautista said in an interview with the Agence France-Presse.
Abolishing the commission and transferring its duties to a permanent agency like the DOJ would be practical to the government as it would save an annual budget of around P90 million, which can be used for funding other projects. It can also eliminate the chances of corruption by eradicating a bureau very much prone to graft.
But, the question is, how would the abolishment affect, if not change, the Philippines’ political landscape?
“It’s not a question of money, but a question of justice.”
So says activist and former Bayan Muna Party-list representative Satur Ocampo, who said the abolition of the PCGG would only strengthen the culture of impunity and uphold the country’s political character of “easy accommodation” among political clans.
“Giving up on PCGG practically upholds the weakness of our political institutions and enhances our political character of ‘easy accommodation’ among political clans,” the former journalist said. “It would be rewarding the Marcoses that it would seem nothing wrong with what they have done.”
Ocampo, a martial law victim, believed that the government did not exert its full effort to hold the Marcoses accountable for the corruption and human rights violation under its regime.
There were 3,257 extrajudicial killings, 35,000 torture victims, and 70,000 cases of illegal detention during the martial law, according to military historian Alfred McCoy.
“PCGG has not enough powers, personnel, and resources. It also has no thorough and consistent policies that should have discouraged any efforts under every administration to try to enter into compromise agreements with the Marcoses,” Ocampo told The Manila Times.
Political analyst and Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) Director Romulo “Bobby” Tuazon shared the same sentiment. Yet on a wider perspective, he said that the impending abolition of PCGG reflects the overall failure of the government to address the ideals of EDSA People Power I that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship.
“I think that should be a monumental lesson for all of us. They have forgotten EDSA I, they have forgotten EDSA II. And with that kind of environment, certainly the culture of impunity, the culture of corruption will stay,” Tuazon said.
There were legal, historical, and organizational problems that haunted the commission for the past 27 years, making it very tough for PCGG to perform its mandate.
For example, PCGG has weak claws in terms of prosecution and there were many loop holes in the legal system that was exploited by brilliant lawyers that until now, cases are still pending in court. According to a study by the American Bar Association, there are still 84 cases against the Marcoses stagnant in various courts.
Add to that the mishandling of the agency and the alleged corruption of its previous leaders.
“A special court should have been created to handle these cases, during the time when [Pres.] Corazon Aquino still has an authority… even before the creation of the 1987 Constitution,” Ocampo said.
Moreover, another weakness of PCGG is it did not work within the context of correcting the human rights violations, considering the fact that the downfall of the dictatorship was
triggered by the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.
“It’s not the fault of the commissioners, it was the fault of the law that was created,” Tuazon said. “The search for that plundered wealth should be used to give justice to the people, to the farmers, etc. But the biggest group of victims of the injustices of the Marcos dictatorship was the political dissenters.
“Unfortunately, the PCGG does not have that mandate.”
However, Tuazon sees the biggest problem that resulted to the failure of the PCGG is the lack of political will from all the administrations that assumed after Marcos because if there is, then the plundered wealth could have been fully recovered way back.
“There has been no political will coming from all the presidents to pursue the cases and to recover the loot. If there’s no political will, then, it’s really hard to pursue the cases. There would be no reminders or authoritative motivation to the commissioners to do their job well competently,” Tuazon said.
The PCGG, being an agency handled directly by the President, could have been maximized from the first day it was created. But because of leniency, compromise, and reconciliation with the Marcoses, recovering the wealth made it an almost impossible task.
‘A failure of governance’
With the impending abolition of PCGG while martial law victims are still seeking for justice and the accused are back in power indicates a failure not only by the agency, but the whole government. It was a failure to uphold the ideals of EDSA I and the failure to serve justice to the Filipino people.
“Even if you abolish, even if you do something about the PCGG, you are always bothered by the fact that not one of the demands and aspirations that were called for by EDSA I has been addressed,” Tuazon told The Manila Times.
Tuazon referred to the existing culture of impunity, unabated human rights violations and graft and corruption that penetrated the whole bureaucracy during the martial law.
“So I think this entire issue of the abolition of PCGG is just one reality check… I think that should be a monumental lesson for all of us.”
At the end of the day, it is Pres. Aquino’s decision to bring PCGG to an end—but would it be done in accordance to his ‘tuwid na daan’?
“I hope it will not impair, I hope it will not be a major impediment to his commitment to his election promise to get rid of corruption… Maybe at best, he should allow the government to draw some lessons. Why did the PCGG failed? They should ask themselves,” the political analyst said.
With reports from Matthew James Balicudiong