Compromising with the Marcoses

There are practical reasons why there should be an agreement with the Marcoses on what to do with the Swiss accounts.  First, our people need the money now rather than later.  In the absence of any clear proof that the wealth is ill-gotten, a compromise settlement involving the Marcos heirs is the only document that can compel the Swiss banks to release the deposits.  Second, there is the hope that other Marcos accounts not yet known to the government would surface once a legal comprehensive settlement protecting the rights of the heirs is in place.  No one believes, I think, that the $500 million so far identified is all there is to the Marcos estate.

Yet, all these reasons negate all the things we teach our children about Marcos, about the EDSA revolution, about justice, and about ethics in public service.  To compromise with the Marcoses is to risk questioning the moral certainties that underpinned the people power uprising in February 1986.  It is to admit the possibility that we may have erred in overthrowing Marcos, and that we may never know the truth about him because the man died without being given his day in court in his own country.

There is only one way of preserving the moral tale of EDSA, the foundation of the post-Marcos political order.  And that is, for the government to give a full and convincing account of how and why it failed to prove any of the human rights and corruption charges against the regime.  Two government agencies, in particular, must be made to tell their respective stories: the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG).

While the CHR was given the task of documenting and assisting in the prosecution of human rights violations, the PCGG was given very broad powers to sequester all properties suspected to be ill-gotten and to file cases against their owners.  These two crucial institutions, the hallmarks of EDSA,  must now explain what they have accomplished or failed to do in the past eleven years.  The lessons we draw from their failure could clarify for us where our institutional weaknesses lie, and what ails our society at its core.

For all that it implies about the opportunism of our leaders and the incompetence of government lawyers, a compromise with the Marcoses seems unavoidable today.  Every year of delay in getting these assets out of the hands of the notoriously amoral Swiss bankers adds more claimants to the growing list of those who salivate at the sound of Marcos gold.  I am not referring here to the legitimate human rights claimants, but to lawyers from all over the world claiming to represent the interests of creditors.  Any judgment in their favor becomes one more reason for freezing known assets, and multiplies the horde of fortune hunters in search of the missing Marcos billions.

But what about the criminal liability of the Marcoses?  Naturally, the latter would demand that all cases pending against them be withdrawn in exchange for their signatures.  And since there seems to be little or no hope now in securing a conviction against them in the immediate future, what option do we have left in the face of a stalemate but to settle?   This is the same norm, after all, that governed all the compromise agreements with the Marcos cronies.  Do we know of anyone languishing in our jails today for corruption, dishonesty, and plunder  during the Marcos years?

Of course, there is every reason to believe that as a result of a settlement with the Marcoses, there will be further erosion in the moral authority of our justice system, if it has any left.  This will, however, not bring down our social order.  If at all, it may hopefully induce our judges to be more compassionate in dealing with accused persons who are too poor to hire the same brilliant lawyers the Marcoses hired to protect their interests.

Yet, despite its inevitability, a compromise settlement on the Marcos wealth may not materialize during the remaining term of President Ramos.  He has asked Congress to draw the parameters of a just compromise with the Marcoses because the entire deal is now shrouded in a moral haze.  He refuses to get burned.  Therefore, this question will now be debated endlessly by our legislators, by media, and by our courts.  Meanwhile, the Swiss banks get to keep the money.

It is a sad irony that more than a decade after getting rid of him, our society continues to be haunted by Marcos.  We have not proven anything against him beyond the truths that our hearts have taught us. For the thousands of silent victims of his regime, no further confirmation of his guilt is probably needed.  But to the young who demand to know what happened, and who must find their way into the future,  we must at least explain how and when we lost our moral compass.

“Why do you want to settle if you are convinced that your father did nothing wrong?” I asked Bongbong Marcos in a recent TV interview. His reply was brief and sure:  “Because we want to get on with our lives.”  I think the rest of us should try to get on with our lives too, and, where appropriate, confess to the failure of our institutions without having to drag the ghost of Marcos each time we need to give an account of our present situation.   For, only then can we begin to reinvent our national life.


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