Acting Philippine justice secretary Agnes Devanadera sees a legal obstacle to returning to the dictator’s widow, Imelda Marcos, pieces of diamond jewelry that the Aquino administration seized shortly after the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship.
Chief presidential legal counsel Raul Gonzalez, who formally turned over the reins of the department of justice to Devanadera Monday (June 15), ordered on June 4 the Presidential Commission on Good Government to return the diamond jewelry “(if the PCGG finds) no legal impediment".
Formed in 1986 right after Corazon Aquino was sworn in as President, the PCGG is tasked with recovering ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses estimated then to be in billions of dollars.
“There is that Supreme Court ruling saying that all properties, the values of which are beyond the legitimate income, are considered ill-gotten…. Anything beyond that, they are considered ill-gotten wealth,” Devanadera said.
Beyond legitimate income
The acting justice secretary said the purchase of the jewelry, estimated to be worth 15 billion pesos (US$310 millon), was not within the legitimate income of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos as a government official.
The PCGG referred the matter to the OSG for its legal opinion after receiving Imelda’s letter last month demanding the return of the jewelry collection, which has been kept in a vault at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (central bank) since 1990.
Devanadera said the OSG had already started looking into the matter but the final determination would be done with inputs from the PCGG.
In one of his last communications as justice secretary, Gonzalez said the PCGG should consider the legal basis of returning the jewelry since there was neither a sequestration nor a freeze order on the jewelry.
The PCGG divided the entire jewelry collection into three: The Malacañang collection, which includes pieces confiscated in the Palace after the Marcos family fled from the people power revolt; the Hawaii collection seized by US customs officials; and the Roumeliotes collection seized by the Philippine Bureau of Customs from a Greek national.
Gonzalez said Imelda, through her counsel, wrote a letter dated May 25, 2009 demanding the return of the pieces of jewelry taken by the PCGG from Malacañang during the EDSA Revolution in 1986 and those turned over by the US government to the commission.
“Per arguments and legal basis of Mrs. Marcos, it must be emphasized that your office has not initiated any civil or criminal proceeding in any court, tribunal or agency for the forfeiture of the subject jewelry,” he told Sabio.