Anti-graft court orders turnover to PH gov't of P1B Marcos loot

When the Marcoses fled the country after being ousted by a people power revolution, they took with them to Hawaii "numerous crates of boxes, suitcases and bags."

In one of those crates were bank certificates worth a hefty amount that could reach billions of pesos, which the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has just awarded in favor of the Philippine government in a new court win that adds to the judicial recognition of the Marcos corruption.

In a decision on September 24, released on Tuesday, September 28, the Sandiganbayan Second Division ordered the Royal Traders Holding Co. Inc to pay the Philippine government P96.03 million and $5.4 million, plus "interest thereon of 12% per annum reckoned from February 1993, until all the amounts are fully paid."

Using foreign exchange in 1993, $5.4 million is P148.9 million, and P277.5 million using current exchange. If you add the interest which will continue to accrue until fully paid, the award is in the range of P1 billion to P1.65 billion.

It adds to the P125 billion more that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) needs to recover.

"Judgment is hereby rendered ordering Royal Traders Holding Co. Inc. formerly Traders Royal Bank(TRB)/Traders Commercial Bank(TCB) to pay the plaintiff Republic of the Philippines the amounts representing the face value of TRB/TCB issued bank certificates," the Sandiganbayan said in the decision penned by Associate Justice Oscar Herrera, with concurrences from Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi and Bayani Jacinto.

So far, the PCGG has recovered P174 billon, which the government has distributed to coconut farmers scammed by the Marcos dictatorship, as well as human rights victims of during the dark years of Martial Law.

The Sandiganbayan was enforcing a 1992 judgment of the Hawaii district court.

"The judgment of the United States District Court of Hawaii in the consolidated Civil Case Nos. 86-00155 and 86-00213 upheld the settlement executed by Imelda Marcos as well as her right and authority when she assigned her interest as well as that of the estate of Ferdinand Marcos to the Republic of the Philippines, over the properties which include the TRB issued bank certificates," said the court.

The award

According to court records, the properties were on board the aircraft that arrived at the Honolulu airport on February 26, 1986. The boxes, bags and suitcases contained "jewelry, money, documents and other properties," including bank certificates from the now-defunct Traders Royal Bank.

The Philippine government, which had just transitioned to a democracy and created the PCGG, immediately claimed ownership of the properties. Also a claimant was Roger Roxas of the Golden Buddha corporation, which resulted in an interpleader case with the United States as stakeholder.

In 1991, the Philippine government "entered into several agreements between Imelda Marcos." According to court records, Imelda assigned the properties to the government under those agreements.

In December 1992, the United States District Court of Hawaii found that "as a matter of fact and of law, the Republic of the Philippines is entitled to possession, custody and control of the [properties.]."

Since then, the TRB has refused to pay, and sold itself to the Bank of Commerce. PCGG said the sale was "for the purpose of mingling its assets with the latter bank to escape its obligations with the government upon which the complaint is based."

But since the sale contract stipulated that Bank of Commerce would assume TRB's liabilities except for the disputed Marcos ill-gotten bank assets, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the complaint against Bank of Commerce.

Instead, it held the TRB which became the Royal Tradings Holding Co. Inc. "liable for the payment of the face value of the peso as well as dollar denominated bank certificates in question."

"The aforementioned judgment of the United States District Court of Hawaii may be enforced here in the Philippines," said the Sandiganbayan.

When the PCGG sent demand letters in 1993, the TRB said it had already paid and the debt is "no longer outstanding."

"The Court finds the above assertion totally untenable. The bank certificates which were brought by the Marcoses to Hawaii..have not been surrendered to TRB. This negates TRB's claim that payments have been made," said the Sandiganbayan.

The Sandiganbayan also said "not a single surrendered certificate of deposit was presented to support the claim of payment."

The PCGG also alleged that TRB was controlled by Marcos and the late crony Roberto Benedicto, former ambassador to Japan and a close friend of the dictator since their law school days at the University of the Philippines (UP).

According to the PCGG, the Royal Bank of Canada invested in TRB when the latter was under Marcos and Benedicto. In 1976, the Royal Bank of Canada supposedly sold 278,488 shares to Marcos and Benedicto "but ostensibly to Banque de Paris," a French investment bank.

PCGG also tried to recover these shares, alleging that the "purchase in favor of Banque de Paris was a mere sham" and that Marcos and Benedicto were the names on the transfer book.

But the Sandiganbayan dismissed this cause of action saying, “the shares are still under the name of Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) which is not a party to this case. Also, no sufficient evidence was presented in this case to prove that the shares belong to former President Marcos and part of his ill-gotten wealth."

Court decisions vs historical revisionism

In 2003, the Supreme Court declared as ill-gotten $658 million worth of Marcos Swiss deposits, and forfeited it to the national treasury.

Despite these court decisions, the Marcos family would still dismiss as lies the allegation against them, even though the 2003 SC decision said that Ferdinand Jr aka Bongbong had made a judicial admission to "negotiate with the Philippine government in the hope of finally putting an end to the problems besetting the Marcos family regarding the Swiss accounts."

"This was doubtlessly an acknowledgment of ownership on their part," said the Supreme Court in 2003.

Yet, Marcos loyalists would still deny the corruption during what they claim to be a golden era.

On Tuesday, progressive lawmaker Carlos Zarate – a lawyer – sought to put on record the judicial recognitions of corruption as he interpellated the budget sponsor for the judiciary.

Davao de Oro 2nd District Representative Ruwel Peter Gonzaga, the judiciary's budget sponsor, said in Filipino: "If we look at jurisprudence, it's complete, but what I'm saying is the opinion of the supporters of the former president that Marcos had no sins, or there was no corruption, that's their own right, so we have to put in line on that matter what we know to be true, what we know to be jurisprudence and evidence."

"We cannot stop them from having their opinions, but we know what has happened," said Gonzaga.

Imelda has been convicted of seven counts of graft for opening and maintaining illegal Swiss foundations, where Bongbong and his siblings were named beneficiaries, according to court records.

Bongbong has confirmed a run for a national position in 2022, with the presidency under serious consideration. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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