Swift: Can Marcos allow PCGG to embarrass him?

THE American human rights lawyer who championed the cause of the 10,000 martial law victims in Hawaii feared for the time when the Marcos administration would abolish the Presidential Commission on Good Government for good.

Swift pointed out in an interview the tight horizon the government agency tasked to run after the ill-gotten wealth of the family of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, with his son and namesake now sitting as president.

“I cannot imagine that the PCGG will be allowed to recover any more Marcos wealth or embarrass Marcos in court proceedings,” he told this newsman in response to questions emailed August 26.

Defunding PCGG

A creation of the late Marcos’ successor, Corazon Aquino, through Executive Order No. 1 in February 1986, the PCGG had said that it needed seven more years to wrap up its work, eyeing to recover least P125 billion more and to run after 87 ill-gotten wealth cases in various graft courts.

It has recovered back to the national treasury some P265 billion as of December 2021.

Swift, who has distributed checks to martial law victims the past many years–against the wishes of PCGG–from the proceeds in the sale of recovered paintings of the Marcoses, raised concerns about the possibility of how the Marcos administration could abolish the anti-graft body.

“Is Marcos disbanding it or defunding it?” Swift asked. “Have personnel left? Are the Commissioners leaving?”

Malacanang still has no definitive stand on PCGG abolition. But on August 25, some members of the House of Representatives sought its abolition, saying it has outlived its usefulness.

On the witness stand

Swift last came to the Philippines in June to seek enforcement of the verdict of Judge Manuel Real in Hawaii on the estate of President Marcos, among others.

He appeared for the first time on the witness stand on June 17 at the sala of Judge Ricardo Moldez II of the Makati Regional Trial Court and gave a lecture on why the Hawaii verdict awarding $2 billion to the martial law victims should be enforced in the Philippines.

If the court ruled in his favor, Swift would recover known Marcos family’s assets, in part or in full, in fulfillment of the Hawaii verdict for the martial law victims.

There is no word yet from the court for a second Swift appearance.

Unknown to Judge Moldez, Swift was in town in June not just to execute his testimony before him, but also to take the depositions of three Filipino witnesses who supposedly had vital information on Marcos’s Arelma account, one of the remaining untouched dollar accounts of the late dictator. It has an estimated balance of $40 million.

Arelma’s millions

“Discovery, including depositions, is finished,” Swift said.

As of June, Swift now has the depositions of five vital Filipino witnesses, including former PCGG director Danilo Daniel. In July, Swift said he would ask the New York court hearing the Arelma account to accept the depositions and settle the Arelma account in favor of the martial law victims.

“DOJ will be filing a motion for summary judgment on Sept 9. I will oppose that. The briefing and decision on that will take several months. Trial will proceed thereafter assuming I defeat the DOJ’s motion,” he said.

Swift took the testimonies of Director Daniel, PCGG Commissioner Raymond Anthony, and three others between March and June this year. He and his Filipino co-lawyers Ruben Fruto and Theresa Leonardo succeeded in locating Daniel, who had been unheard of for the past many years.

From Maler to Arelma

A PCGG pioneer staff member, Daniel was expected to provide details for the prosecution to establish Marcos’s ownership of the Arelma account and for the New York court to seize it and have it distributed to martial law victims.

Dilag was appointed to PCGG in December 2020 only.

Arelma is one of hidden accounts that the PCGG first learned only in 2000. Arelma was once believed to have been using the name Maler Foundation.

Maler was one of the many foundations Marcos supposedly put up, with an escrow agreements with the Philippine National Bank, according to the PCGG’s founding chair, former Senate President Jovito Salonga, in his book published in 2000 titled “Presidential Plunder: The Quest for the Marcos Ill-gotten Wealth.”

The others bore the names of Aguamina, Avertina, Palmy, and Vibur.

Domingo’s legacy

Like PCGG, Swift and his local partner, lawyer Rod Domingo, wanted to recover all that. But the two camps had since been in a tug-of-war, who between them is the rightful claimant. Swift and Domingo wanted it all for the martial law victims in compliance with the Hawaii verdict by asking the Makati court to implement it.

The Makati court took cognizance of whether or not to implement the Hawaii favorable verdict to martial law victims after Domingo filed a 20-page petition on June 29, 2015 seeking to compel in their individual capacities Marcos’s widow, former First Lady Imelda, and their children, including Ferdinand Jr, and Senator Imee, to indemnify the victims.

Domingo died quietly in December 2020. His assistants, Fruto and Leonardo, have since taken over as lead counsels on the case in the Philippines. 

The Makati court is hearing the contempt cases. 

Hawaii verdict in billions

By December 2005, the total claims of the martial law victims on the Marcos estate, by Swift’s estimates, have ballooned to $4.3 billion based on Real’s two favorable orders—-one is the original verdict issued in January 1995 awarding $2 billion for the victims, and the other issued in January 2011 holding the Marcoses in contempt for their failure to comply with the $2 billion ruling–as a result of penalties and interests. In the January 2011 ruling alone, the court pegged the penalty at $100,000 per month. 

Real’s $2-billion verdict, or the original judgment, is now pending review by the Supreme Court, which is trying to determine whether or not Hawaii laws apply in the Philippines.

Is there hope?

Swift told this newsman he was confident that the hearing at Moldez’s sala would bear fruit soon, despite another Marcos in Malacanang.

“As regards the enforcement of the judgment against Marcos, Jr., I believe the court has all the evidence it needs to make a decision.  (But) it may require (further) briefing,” he said.

Moldez said he didn’t know the Marcoses.

Marcos loot, children’s wealth

“The (Makati) lawsuit seeking the recognition of the US judgment,” said Swift in an earlier interview, “will open up the possibility of the victims recovering the personal property of (Marcos’s heirs), not just the assets of the former president. They will seek the Marcoses’ real estate, bank accounts, securities, jewelry and artwork.”

“This time, the suit is not just about the Marcos’s estate, but about the Marcoses–those who are still alive. We asked the court to compel them to indemnify the victims,” Domingo told this newsman in an interview seven years ago.

Arelma accounts on trial

Both the New York and Philippine courts have since been hearing cases on Arelma since its discovery, though authorities have little details about it owing to claims and counterclaims by the Marcoses, the PCGG, the martial law victims, and Roger Roxas, a Filipino treasure hunter who said the dictator’s military agents forcibly took from him a three-foot high golden Buddha he found in an enclosed chamber on state lands near Baguio, along with bayonets, samurai swords and crates packed with gold bullion, among other items.

Andy’s word, Daniel’s value

Swift began to look for Daniel after Daniel granted a magazine interview many years ago, where Daniel talked about Marcos’s Swiss accounts, including Maler and Arelma.

Daniel granted the interview at the instruction of former PCGG chair Andres Bautista. “Director Daniel of PCGG Research has been with the commission since its creation in 1986. He possesses institutional memory and knows a lot of what happened before,” Bautista told this newsman in an email in May 2020.

As pieced together from various PCGG sources, Arelma began with a $150 initial deposit during the dictatorship, it was said.

Arelma in NY court’s hands

So small, but when the account was opened, bank tellers came forward with a senior Swiss Bank official in tow to supervise it. It turned out that it was just one of the many allegedly held by the Marcoses.

By last year’s estimates, it has a balance of at least $40 million.

Marcos Sr.’s name supposedly did not appear on Arelma’s account, but Imelda’s did so as beneficiary. Merrill Lynch was said to have managed Arelma’s trading account from 1972 to 2000 in New York.

Swift has been trying to get a favorable ruling from a New York on the Arelma accounts for the martial law victims. He had succeeded in getting the proceeds from sale of Marcos’s assets, particularly high-end paintings, and had since been distributing them to the victims since 2011.

He planned to have the Arelma proceeds given to the same victims, too.

Imelda’s art collection 

Swift first distributed proceeds in 2011 from the sale of a property once held by Marcos’ business crony Jose Campos, the first to strike a compromise deal with the Philippine government.

He later did another distribution from the sale of a Claude Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nympheas” painting, part of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ series, that Imelda’s loyal aide Vilma Bautista sold to a collector for $10 million in 2013 at a London Gallery. Monet was the founder of the French impressionist movement.

In 2014, Swift distributed another $1,000 to select victims.

Until the recovery of Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nympheas,” Imelda’s 200-piece art collection was all unaccounted for. The art pieces allegedly “disappeared” or “stolen” from Imelda’s townhouse in New York at the height of four-day peaceful revolution in the Philippines in February 1986.

Imelda’s diplomat aide 

Some of these had been stored in a townhouse located at No 13-15 East 6th Street in Manhattan, which used to house the Philippine Consulate and Mission to the United Nations, but Imelda converted it for her personal use, decorating it with some of the paintings.

A few days before and after the fall of the Marcoses, Bautista was seen to have been loading the paintings into a huge van, said Swift, quoting sworn statements of witnesses. She was said to have subsequently disappeared into the night.

Nobody knew anything about where Bautista, a former diplomat, who served as Imelda’s aide during the Marcos regime, had allegedly kept the paintings until she and her two nephews were arrested in November 2013 in New York for the 2010 sale of Monet’s “Le Bassin” at a London Gallery.

Imelda’s Van Gogh 

Other paintings Bautista has been accused of secretly keeping are Monet’s ‘L’Eglise et La Seine à Vétheuil,’ Alfred Sisley’s ‘Langland Bay,’ and Albert Marquet’s ‘Le Cypres de Djenan Sidi Said.’ 

“Vetheuil” was offered for sale, first for $20 million, then for $55 million, according to the charge sheet Swift lodged against the former diplomat. 

In March 2019, Judge Real signed an order approving a third distribution of funds, this time US$1,500, from the proceeds in the sale of four paintings—one by Monet and three others sold in auction in November 2018 for over $3 million.

Goodbye, Judge Real

Real died quietly three months later, on June 26, while Swift was in Mindanao distributing checks to indemnify some of the victims, the fourth in a series of indemnification made possible because of Real’s rulings.

The Philippine government, which refused to implement the Hawaii court’s verdict awarding the victims with a $2-billion indemnification package charged against the Marcos estate, was to get about $4 million. Though his story was much ridiculed, Roxas the treasure hunter, through his family, was to get a share, too.

BBM in Malacanang 

Swift said he met with every post-Marcos Philippine president, except Aquino III and Duterte, to discuss the cases he was litigating for the martial law victims, but no one really showed interest in seeing him.

“There has been no change from the Arroyo administration to the Aquino administration in the (government’s) willingness to spend millions of dollars in trying to defeat the claims of the (victims),” he said.

In an interview in September 2016 at a Makati hotel, Swift expressed concerns about the return of another Marcos to Malacanang.

“In 1986, Corazon Aquino sequestered Marcos’ properties left and right, the Marcoses would want a favorable resolution of these cases soonest,” he told this newsman.

Related Story: Swift slips into town, testifies, locates witnesses vs Marcos wealth 

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