Guilty

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION -

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.

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