Rep. Marcos, gov’t win 1st round

Lucio Tan lawyer fails to block his testimony

By Daxim Lucas, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Last updated 00:20am (Mla time) 08/02/2007

THE LAWYER of Lucio C. Tan on Wednesday failed to convince the Sandiganbayan to prevent Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. from testifying on the government’s behalf in its forfeiture case against the controversial Chinese-Filipino businessman.


Handing a small victory to the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), Sandiganbayan Justice Ma. Cristina Cortez-Estrada ruled that the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos could help move the case forward with his testimony.


“We would like to hear his testimony,” she said at the end of the lengthy debates between lawyers for the PCGG and Tan. “We want to get the whole picture.”


Earlier in the afternoon, Representative Marcos was sworn in, took the witness stand, but was unable to testify as the arguments among lawyers consumed the court’s time.


Cortez-Estrada rescheduled his testimony to Aug. 21 and 22.


From the outset, Tan’s counsel, Estelito Mendoza, tried to prevent the antigraft court from hearing the testimony by stressing that the Sandiganbayan was an inappropriate venue for the younger Marcos’ claim.


Bongbong has vowed to present proof–through his testimony and via documents–that 60 percent of Tan’s corporate holdings belonged to his late father.


The companies covered by the PCGG claim are Fortune Tobacco Corp., Asia Brewery Inc., Allied Banking Corp., Foremost Farms, Himmel Industries Inc., Grandspan Development Corp., Silangan Holdings Inc., Dominium Realty and Construction Corp. and Shareholdings Inc.


The PCGG believes that these assets were part of former president Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth. The government’s stand is based mainly on an earlier declaration of former first lady Imelda Marcos (published as an Inquirer special report) that her husband was the actual owner of 60 percent of companies held in trust by Tan, his family and business associates.


Forbes Magazine estimates Tan’s personal net worth at $1.5 billion, making him the richest man in the country.


Unthinkable alliance
In the Senate, Sen. Joker Arroyo, who served as the first executive secretary of President Corazon Aquino after Marcos was toppled in February 1986, sees something sinister in the alliance between the PCGG and the Marcos family in the court battle to recover the alleged ill-gotten assets of Tan.


“This is unthinkable. Why is the claim being filed only now when the PCGG started 21 years ago? The idea is that any claims should be filed with the PCGG so it can claim it. If it succeeds in proving that [the companies are] theirs (Marcoses), the PCGG will have to go after them too,” Arroyo said.


It was Arroyo who helped craft Executive Order No. 1 that created the PCGG in 1986 to go after the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses estimated at $10 billion.


The PCGG has so far recovered some $1.2 billion of the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and his cronies, including part of his Swiss bank deposits.


Mendoza noted that EO1 specifically mandated the agency to go after the assets of the Marcos family and their cronies that were acquired using public funds.


It has not been determined that Tan’s companies were acquired using public funds, Mendoza said.


Bongbong unable to give side
He added that the testimony would only be relevant if the congressman would attest that the late strongman acquired the tycoon’s assets using government funds.


PCGG lawyer Catalino Generillo Jr. countered that the government had already won a similar case, successfully acquiring control of shares of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., which were also said to have been held in trust by business partners of the late dictator.


Deed of assignment
Generillo revealed that Bongbong had in his possession a deed of assignment that detailed how the assets of the former president and Tan were put under Shareholdings Inc. which, in turn, had two holding firms, Supreme Holdings and Falcon Holdings.


“He is in possession of this deed of assignment where [the ownership] of Falcon and Supreme Holdings was transferred to unnamed persons,” the PCGG lawyer said. “[Bongbong] will testify that Shareholdings Inc. was used as a corporate vehicle to consolidate all assets of Marcos and Tan,” Generillo said.


Like admitting to bribery
Mendoza was unfazed by the Tan camp’s failure to block the testimony, saying he doubted whether the younger Marcos would attest in court that the assets of his father were acquired illegally.


“I don’t think he will testify to the PCGG’s claim that these assets were given by Marcos to Tan in exchange for favors,” the veteran lawyer said. “That will be [admitting to] bribery.”


The Constitution also prevents the President from engaging in business, according to Mendoza.


“[Bongbong] would have to admit that his father violated the Constitution,” Mendoza said. “I’m certain he won’t say that.”


Fond of making deals
Senator Arroyo would have nothing to do with the present incarnation of the PCGG.


“That is a hopeless PCGG. It has no brains or nothing. It has outlived its usefulness,” he said.


Arroyo questioned the PCGG’s preference to strike deals with the Marcoses rather than pursue the cases against them.


“Prudence dictates it should be transparent. This present PCGG is fond of making deals as if it has been empowered to make deals. It was created to go after ill-gotten wealth not to create deals,” he said.


Arroyo said what the PCGG was doing was never conceived when EO1 was issued.


“Twenty-one years after, it is all compromises which is sickening,” he said.


Unholy alliance
The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) also reacted strongly against the alliance between the PCGG and the son of the late dictator.


Willy Marbella, internal deputy secretary general of KMP, said “this is truly an unholy alliance between relatives of a former dictator and the lackeys of the present one.”


“Essentially this is a dictator-to-dictator relationship designed to exculpate the old dictator and his relatives from their crimes and further enrich the new one,” he said.


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