Swift slips into town, testifies, locates witnesses vs Marcos wealth 

Lawyer Robert Swift dons a mask for his first appearance before a Makati court. The lawyer with journalist Gerry Lirio in 2016.

THE American human rights lawyer who championed the class suit filed by the 10,000 martial law victims in Hawaii was in town for a week to seek enforcement of the verdict of Judge Manuel Real on the estate of former President Ferdinand Marcos. 

 Lawyer Robert Swift 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. Defense lawyer Manuel Plaza III did not let him go without him facing a series of questions. 

But Swift expressed confidence that the hearing at Moldez’s sala would bear fruit soon, despite another Marcos, the dictator’s son and namesake, assuming the presidency on June 30. 

“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,” Swift told this newsman a few days after the hearing. 

The Makati court took cognizance of the case after Swift’s local partner, lawyer Rod Domingo, filed a 20-page petition on June 29, 2015 seeking to compel Marcos’s widow, former First Lady Imelda, and their children, including Ferdinand Jr, and Senator Imee, to indemnify the victims in their individual capacities. 

Original verdict, contempt cases 

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. The Makati court is hearing the contempt cases. 

Marcos’s 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.” 

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

“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. 

On the witness stand 

At the hearing, Swift sat on the witness stand for almost three hours without recess, interrupted only when Judge Moldez asked the defense and prosecution panels to a private meeting for an off-the-record discussion, mostly on court procedures, at one point mentioning the name of the incoming president, though it wasn’t clear why. Moldez said he didn’t know the Marcoses. 

First time in years 

Plaza, the defense lawyer, ignored questions after the hearing. 

Swift managed to sneak into the country after years of delay (as a result of his failure to secure a Philippine visa due to the Covid pandemic, among others), not just to execute his testimony, 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. 

The identities of the three expert witnesses were not immediately available. 

 Finally, Daniel located 

But in March, Swift took the testimonies of Commissioner Raymond Anthony Dilag of the Philippine Commission on Good Government and former PCGG Director Danilo Daniel. 

It was a feat that Swift, Fruto and Leonardo succeeded in locating Daniel, who had been unheard of for the past many years. 

Swift’s excitement 

A PCGG staff member since President Corazon Aquino created PCGG in February 1986 to locate and sequester the Marcos’s ill-gotten wealth, 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. 

Swift was so excited about his new finds. “Now I am asking the (New York) court to schedule the case for trial,” he said. 

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. 

Roxas the treasure hunter 

Since the discovery, both the New York and Philippine courts have since been hearing cases on Arelma–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. 

Roxas’s story had been largely ridiculed, but the family of former Sen. Serge Osmena confirmed it. Marcos’s men supposedly detained Roxas in a hidden place, but he managed to escape with the help of Osmeña’s father. “That story is true, and Roxas went to the US to sue Marcos,” Senator Osmena said in a September 2017 interview with this newsman.

Who is Daniel? 

Swift began to look for Daniel after he granted a magazine interview many years ago, where he 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. 

When Swiss execs went gaga 

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

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 a Vetheuil,’ 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. 

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. 

The family of Roxas the treasure hunter was to get a share, too. 

Another Marcos 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. No one showed interest to see 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 told one of the victims, noted New York-based journalist Ninotchka Rosca, in an interview. 

Things are expected to look bleak with another Marcos administration. 

Over breakfast at the New World Hotel in September 2016, Swift pondered with this newsman over the prospects of another Marcos presidency. 

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

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