Can we trust Arroyo to negotiate with the Marcoses?
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-05-29
We’ve been seeing a lot of fireworks lately surrounding the urgency with which the Presidential Commission on Good Government is pursuing a conclusion to the 20-year-old Marcos ill-gotten wealth cases. All this is being done by the new PCGG board which includes Chairman Camilo Sabio and Commissioner Ricardo Abcede.
My friend from college days, Rick Abcede (Rick was 3 years my senior), argues that after 20 years of treasure hunting and with the country now badly in need of money—we need to try a more pragmatic and realistic approach that would culminate in a final settlement with the Marcos family.

Rick Abcede’s tack is undoubtedly a chapter in the book the Arroyo regime is writing, titled “Let’s move on.” It operates under the general principle of transactional relationships that includes compromise and horse trading, the unmistakable trademark and mindset of the Palace occupant.

Poor Rick Abcede has branched out from defender of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime to point man for selling the option of reaching a settlement with the Marcoses. I bantered with Rick for having misspelled his launch pad, Filgood. I told him that it should be spelled Feelgood because he does nothing but make Madame Arroyo feel good.

For his recent endeavors as a PCGG Commissioner, Rick found himself in the center of a political storm. He was the subject of two scathing columns by Max Soliven and even some quarters from the administration have clamored for his removal from the PCGG. Rick was even depicted in the May 25, 2006 editorial cartoon of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, in bed and cozy with Imelda Marcos.

Some would say that Rick Abcede has arrived. I am not quite sure though if he likes where it got him. Rick failed to realize that media attention does not always make a person a celebrity. More often than not, it brings about notoriety—more so when one is attached to someone as controversial as Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The money that the government has so far recovered from the Marcoses is a mere pittance compared to the total hoard—estimated to be over US$5 billion right after the 1986 People Power Revolt. The accrued principal plus interest from all that must have raised the total amount to easily US$8 billion by now, assuming that a good part of the money was not placed on higher yielding fund management accounts.

Some quarters tell me that the bulk of the Marcos wealth are in gold. This jibes with claims of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, as reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, that they do possess a lot of gold certificates. Others also say that Marcos acquired most of that gold from the fabled Yamashita treasure, the discovery of which has been the ultimate dream of treasure hunters all over the world.

In the early 1970s, Marcos was accused of stealing a golden Buddha that was in the possession of a Baguio resident. That golden Buddha was said to be part of the Yamashita loot. An intelligence officer who was related to us (he passed away in 1980) told our family that Marcos assigned a select unit from their group to undertake Yamashita treasure hunting expeditions. He never confirmed though what they found.

On the other side of the debate—that side that places more importance on the moral issues over the pragmatic considerations—they feel that the prosecution of the cases must be pursued regardless if the nation retrieves the Marcos ill-gotten wealth or not. Theirs is the belief that the convictions in the Nazi trials at Nuremberg after the Second World War were far more important for humanity than retrieving any of the Nazi loot that was also the subject of an extensive treasure hunt.

Both sides have good arguments that attract adherents.

Rick Abcede’s spiel sits well with people who place top priority on what all that money can do to alleviate our deplorable socio-economic conditions. To them, the number of school houses, health centers and medicines and so forth are far more important than the moral issues.

On the other side, there is also great support for the approach that pursues the moral high ground. According to them, unless justice is made to reign supreme and the offenders punished accordingly, the nation will never know closure to plunder, graft and corruption. Instead, we will be sending the wrong signal to plunderers and would-be plunderers to go forth and multiply.

I subscribe to the approach that calls for justice as the first step. However, I do not wish to debate the issue, no matter what arguments Rick Abcede offers, simply because there is another major point that we must consider over and above those arguments.

To me, the more basic issue we must contend with is the question about whether we trust the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime with the task of entering and concluding a settlement with Imelda Marcos.

An even more basic issue here is the legitimacy of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to enter into such a landmark deal that involves one of the greatest crimes that was committed against the Filipino people, a theft so massive and foul that many generations are suffering from it not just now but for years to come.

With her own track record, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is already likened to Ferdinand Marcos. Even the very Supreme Court where many of her appointees sit today have judged her Calibrated Pre-emptive Response policy and her PP 1017 warrant-less arrests and denial of the people’s right to assemble as typically Marcosian, the term that describes dictatorial policies that Marcos used during the martial law period.

Not only that, but the Macapagal-Arroyo regime has its own share of scandals in various degree of gravity, from plunder and graft and corruption to massive misuse of public funds for personal interests. These include the Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard overprice case which is now with the Ombudsman, the Fertilizer Scam, the questions on the Northrail Project—to name a few.

Would you trust Josef Stalin to judge the human rights abuses of Adolf Hitler? Would you trust Idi Amin to investigate the kleptocracy of Anastacio Somoza?

Would you trust Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—who has manifested Marcosian tendencies—to be transparent and be above board if and when she settles with Imelda Marcos the issues of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth?

You may email William M. Esposo at:

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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