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In search of closure for an old problem

IT has been 31 years since the People Power Revolution of 1986 that drove President Ferdinand Marcos out of Malacañang to Hawaii where he died three years later. The succeeding Cory Aquino administration set up the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) with the task of recovering ill-gotten wealth that may have been acquired by Marcos and his family and cronies.

The first PCGG chairman, Jovito Salonga, estimated its goal at $5 to $10 billion (which would be P250 to P500 billion today). In the last three decades, the PCGG has been able to recover some P170 billion in cash. It is now winding up its work and after it sells assets already in its possession and other assets in pending court cases, its recovery efforts are expected to reach over P200 billion.

It is against this background that President Duterte early this month said he had been approached by the Marcoses and they were talking, he said, about returning some assets, “including a few gold bars.” He said he listened to Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos but he made no commitment. The Marcoses, he said, were not admitting that the wealth being returned was stolen. But the governor said whatever was under suspicion should be discussed, “and that I accepted,” the President said.

The report triggered a host of reactions from various officials. Some lawmakers and victims of martial law said all of the wealth, not just some, must be returned. Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the government should be careful and the surrender of assets should have no strings attached.

Governor Marcos said the family wants to put an end to decades of court cases. “Tiwala kami sa Presidente, na siya ang makakapagtapos ng deka-dekadang kaso at ‘yung pamilya nag-uusap pa. Pero nasa mga abugado,” she told reporters Thursday at a House Committee on Good Government inquiry on the tobacco excise tax.

The latest word from President Duterte is that he would leave everything to the proper authorities. He said Congress must authorize the government, through a legislative measure, to decide whether to accept the offer to return a portion of the wealth. He added that the Department of Justice also has to decide what to do about the cases pending in many courts, including the Sandiganbayan.

It would appear from the exchange of statements and views from many sides that any agreement is a long way off. Civil cases are ongoing; it may take years for them to be decided. There is nothing sure about the amounts involved. There is dispute over whether the amounts involved are ill-gotten.

There is need for closure on this long-standing issue. After 31 years, which included two Aquino administrations, Governor Imee Marcos thought the time may have come for the national government and the family to end the long drawn-out legal battles – and so she talked to President Duterte. The problem is as big as ever but we now have this one possible new way to resolve it that we can and should explore.

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