Sandiganbayan orders return of hundreds of millions in Marcos ill-gotten wealth to govt

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 29) — The Sandiganbayan has ruled that bank deposits amounting to hundreds of millions in pesos made by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Traders Royal Bank (TRB) should be returned to the government as these are ill-gotten wealth.

In a 52-page decision dated Sept. 24, the anti-graft court's Second Division said the TRB, now called the Royal Traders Holdings Co., Inc. (RTHCI), should pay the face value of several bank certificates it issued from 1974 to 1979.

Some of these were in Philippine pesos and others in United States dollars.

The peso-denominated certificates totaled over ₱96 million while the dollar-denominated ones added up to more than $5.43 million, or ₱277 million in the current exchange rate.

These bank documents were brought by the Marcos family when they fled to Hawaii in 1986 at the height of the People Power Revolution.

They also took with them jewelry, money, and other properties which the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) said constitute ill-gotten gains, and belong to the Philippine government.

Interest included

The ₱96 million and $5.43 million are only the principal amounts.

The Sandiganbayan also ordered the RTHCI to pay a 12% interest per year beginning February 1993, until the debt is fully paid.

It explained that in 1993, the PCGG sent demand letters to the TRB for the return of the ill-gotten wealth, but the bank refused to comply. A year before that, the US District Court of Hawaii upheld that the Philippine government is legally entitled to the properties which the Marcoses brought to the foreign country.

In defending its refusal, the bank claimed it has already paid all amounts which the PCGG said Marcos owes.

But the Sandiganbayan said this assertion by the TRB is "untenable," considering not a single surrendered certificate of deposit was presented to support the claim of payment.

Denied appeal for return of shares

The court, meanwhile, denied the PCGG's appeal for the reconveyance to it of the 278,488 shares of stock issued in the name of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), and alleged to be owned by Marcos.

The Sandiganbayan said the shares are still under the name of the RBC, which is not a party to the case.

"Also, no sufficient evidence was presented in this case to prove that the shares belong to former President Marcos and part of his ill-gotten wealth," the decision read.

The court also said it cannot hold the Bank of Commerce (BankCom), which acquired assets and liabilities of the RTHCI in 2001, liable.

According to the ruling, this is because the purchase and sale agreement between the BankCom and the RTHCI expressly stated that the acquisition would not cover the obligations arising from TRB's pending litigation, including claims of the Philippine government.

BankCom welcomed this decision in a statement.

"Bank of Commerce expressed satisfaction with the Sandiganbayan's decision today absolving the bank of any liability," it said.

"BankCom wishes to clarify that it remains a separate legal entity from Royal Traders Holdings, Inc. or its predecessor Traders Royal Bank, and has no connection with the TRB issued certificates subject of PCGG's complaint," it added.

The Sandiganbayan decision was penned by Associate Justice Oscar Herrera, Jr., the division's chairperson, with concurrence from Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi and Bayani Jacinto.

It was released Tuesday, Sept. 28, the same day Marcos died 32 years ago. On Sept. 21, the Philippines marked the 49th anniversary of the declaration of martial law.

The late president's daughter Imee currently holds a Senate seat while his son Bongbong is considering running for a national post in next year's elections.

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