UniversityTwenty seven years in the making: On the graft case of Imelda Marcos
Twenty seven years in the making: On the graft case of Imelda Marcos

Last November 9, Former First Lady Imelda Marcos was convicted of seven counts of graft and corruption by the Sandiganbayan for funneling roughly $200-million—meant to be used as public funds—to offshore Swiss bank accounts during her tenure as the Governor of Metro Manila in the 1970s. Marcos was first indicted by the anti-graft court in 1991, 27 years before the conviction ruling late last year.

In addition to being barred from holding public office, which also prevents her from pursuing her gubernatorial bid, her sentence for each count of graft and corruption ranges from six to 11 years, totaling to around 42 to 77 years of prison time should she be arrested.

 

 

Not so fast

Despite the gravity of her conviction and her failure to appear for her sentencing, no warrant of arrest for Marcos has been issued to this date. The Marcos camp had filed for a leave of court to allow her to avail of remedies and to defer the issuance of a warrant of arrest. According to them, Marcos’ doctors advised her to avoid stressful situations due to her “ill health.” Further, they argued that she was uninformed of the promulgation date, hence her absence.

Meanwhile, photos of her attending her daughter Imee Marcos’ birthday party on the very night of her conviction, along with other prominent politicians, were widely spread throughout social media.

Despite being questioned on the apparent contradictions of her excuses, the court allowed Marcos to post bail of P150,000 while the court decides on the motion for post-conviction remedies. Last December 1, the court approved the motion and ordered Marcos to again post bail, this time amounting to P300,000 to enjoy temporary freedom while her case is being appealed.

 

Accounts in question

Traces of the Marcos family’s alleged ill-gotten wealth was supported by the family’s numerous private foundations in Switzerland. As stated in the 70-page decision of the Fifth Division, “The purpose of setting up these entities is definitely not charitable, educational, religious or otherwise in service of public interests.” Other sources from documents left behind in Malacañang after their exile in 1986 have also shown that these foundations were put up for the private benefits of the family.

Some of the foundations are the Azio-Verso-Vibur Foundation, the Xandy-Wintrop Foundation, the Charis-Scolari-Valamo-Spinus-Avertina Foundation, the Rosalys-Aguamina Foundation, and the Maler Foundation. The foundations were labeled as charitable institutions but were actually used to open bank accounts and deposits where the funds were transferred, earning interest, and profit from the investments. This grand scheme fed the family’s private beneficiaries, earning an estimated P10.6-billion as highlighted by lead prosecutor Rey Quilala.

One of the evidences presented in the case was regarding the Maler Foundation, where she and her late husband Former President Ferdinand Marcos appointed Andre Barbey and Jean Louis Suiner as attorneys, administrators, and managers. However, the late dictator’s wife was the one who handled business investments which amounted to an estimated US$75-million. It was then concluded and proved by her treasury notes that she was the one directly monitoring the account, not the people appointed.

The Marcos couple were also caught using fake names, posing as ‘William Saunders’ and ‘Jane Ryan’ under the Xandy Foundation. However, the name changes did not just end in misguiding personas; foundation names were also switched up. The Charis Foundation was later renamed as the Scolari Foundation, while still retaining the same appointed Board members.

The former first lady was charged for the crime of graft due to her participation and management of these foundations that resulted into prohibited pecuniary interest. The decision ruled, “Ms. Marcos participated in the management thereof, by exercising control over their assets and the disposal thereof, appointing the persons to represent these foundations, transmitting instructions and ratifying the decisions and circumstances of these persons, all heard towards a particular objective.”

 

Justice denied

While the conviction is significant for serving justice on the crimes committed by the family and restoring what was lost to the Filipino people, several prominent figures, such as human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares, The National Union of People’s Lawyers, and former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay have criticized how the government has handled the conviction, citing that allowing Marcos to post bail implies that anyone can get away with stealing billions from the Filipino people.

Critics have also pointed to the bail allowance as an illustration of double standards in the justice system. As Hilbay laments, “This is clearly anti-poor and there is really [a] double standard in the justice system in our country. If you are rich, you can avoid jail, but if you are poor, you will rot in prison.”

Former Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also criticized the length it took to arrive at the conviction in the first place, stating, “It’s unfair both to the complainant, the people of the Philippines, and the accused to stand trial for 27 years given the constitutional precept that people have the right to speedy trial. It shows that we have a very serious problem with our legal system.”

 

From the onlookers

Considering that such case had dragged on for the said period, repercussions and still observable aftereffects are experienced even by the youth today. Even within the Lasallian community, students like Stephen Argente (IV, AB-CAM) shares his insights regarding the case of the former first lady, “Again, I think it boils down to the institutionalized power structures she’s built up for herself, hiding behind powerful individuals, and bolstering her own ego to evade arrest.”

Further, Lizel Manalansan (III, AB-ISE) remarks that the amount for Marcos’ bail was not just. “A bail of P150,000 is too small a price to pay considering the millions she [and her family] stole from the country and also the fact she was charged for graft before,” she explains.

In 2018, Rappler released data from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology which highlighted that at least 3,043 individuals aged 60 and above are currently detained while waiting for the verdict on their cases as of November of last year. In connection to this, one of the counters for the arrest of the 89-year old was due to her old age, to which Argente disagrees. “Regardless of age, crimes are committed and criminals are convicted. The law is heartless, [but] it should be followed, especially for the Marcoses,” he states.

Manalansan supports this argument, while adding that the handling of Imelda’s case shows how “poor” the judicial system in the country is. “Some innocent people are wrongly convicted and those who are actually guilty are set free. She was charged years ago, yet she was acquitted for it,” she asserts.