Only the dispositive portion of the Sandiganbayan’s decision on three graft cases involving Imelda Marcos was released by the court on Friday, the full text of the ruling presumably to come later. But the brief paragraph containing the verdict arrived with the force of a thunderclap. “Wherefore, premises considered,” the Fifth Division Clerk of Court read out, “this Court finds the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt...” Let that sink in. Imelda Marcos is guilty. Convicted. For the crime of seven counts of graft involving the salting away of some $200 million in Swiss foundations when she was a government official from 1968 to 1986, she now faces six to 11 years in prison for each of the seven cases, or a total of 77 years in detention.
Imelda Marcos is 89 years old. She’s running for governor of Ilocos Norte, so if she’s fit enough for that, she should be fit for jail time, too.
The cases were filed in 1991, which means it took all of 27 years and over five administrations for this moment of justice to catch up in some way with the Marcos conjugal dictatorship, or at least one-half of it. Over that supremely frustrating, hope-crushing period, hundreds of cases were filed against the Marcoses and their cronies for billions of dollars of unexplained wealth and illegal transactions, but Imelda managed to spend not a day in jail—their family’s immense fortune ensuring that she had more than enough for bail and an army of top-flight lawyers.
The Marcoses’ ability to wriggle out of criminal cases and escape any form of accountability would, in time, form the urtext of the Marcos propaganda project, Commandment 1 of the long-term enterprise meant to rehabilitate them in the people’s eyes, and now a central talking point of their troll militia: The Marcoses have never been convicted in court, therefore they must be innocent. Never mind that judgments were, in fact, rendered against them in courts in Hawaii and Singapore, or that Philippine law has appropriated money from their seized estate to compensate human rights victims of martial law. The Supreme Court, in 2003, also declared that, with the Marcoses’ total legal income from 1966 to 1986 amounting to only around $304,000, their assets worth $683 million discovered in various Swiss banks were ill-gotten. In plain language, stolen money.
There was a successful case, too, against Imelda, in 1993. The Sandiganbayan convicted her in two criminal cases arising from an anomalous lease contract with the Light Rail Transit Authority and two other entities. But, on appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the guilty verdict in 1998. The woman did seem untouchable, invincible.
What hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing this new conviction must now be occasioning in the Marcos war room, as it robs them of their core bullet point. And what cosmic sense of full-circle irony that these cases, whose successful prosecution now officially stamps Imelda as a criminal, had to do with the “William Saunders” and “Jane Ryan” accounts. These were among the foundational deposits of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth—two of the earliest Swiss accounts used to stash their hoard abroad. As a 2016 Inquirer editorial noted, “William Saunders” and “Jane Ryan” were “the pseudonyms Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos used when they opened their first Swiss account in 1968, or merely three years into Marcos’ first term of office. The initial deposit: $950,000, a princely sum by any standard for the president of a poor country.”
Imelda could, of course, still post bail and skip detention. She may also appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, as her camp said she would—and, given the Marcos track record there, she might prevail yet again. But for now, not only is the flamboyant, once all-powerful first lady forced to walk around as a convict of a court of law; the Sandiganbayan has also ordered her arrest, an explanation within 30 days for her absence during her sentencing, and her perpetual disqualification from office (though she’s still allowed to run pending her appeal).
When the warrant comes out, it would be interesting to see how fast the police and the powers that be would implement the order—the way they did for, say, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. And if mischievous gnomes in the Palace might be tempted to whisper the word “pardon” in the President’s ear this early, they ought to be forewarned: Having themselves set the precedent, any pardon of Imelda Marcos could then, down the line, also be declared “void ab initio.” What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the Iron Butterfly.