By Evangeline De Vera – President Aquino is considering the closure of the Presidential Commission on Good Government and the transfer of its functions to the justice department due to its dismal performance in recovering the so-called ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday.
The PCGG was created in 1986 by Aquino’s mother, the late Corazon Aquino, who took over the presidency from Ferdinand Marcos following a bloodless People Power revolution that ended the late strongman’s rule.
PCGG chair Andres Bautista earlier said he will recommend to the President the closure of the Commission, citing the fact that the heirs of Marcos have regained political power and that the diminishing returns in recovering alleged hidden wealth abroad and from the possession of their cronies all made the endeavor no longer feasible.
De Lima said the President already expressed his plan to close down the PCGG but has not given her any explicit instructions on the matter.
“Ang mindset ni PNoy (Aquino) ay hindi na dapat tumagal ang PCGG kung may residual pa na gagawin ang PCGG at i-turn over ito sa isang competent agency. He thinks that the PCGG should not last any longer because the nature of its mandate is limited and therefore it cannot exist forever,” she said.
De Lima said her department is ready to pursue the remaining cases of PCGG but she will first have to review its performance to determine where it fell short.
She said the closure of the commission is overdue because of its failure to fulfill its mandate and its losses in several litigation cases, while those involved in the amassing of wealth have not been made to pay.
“If there are cases needed to be redeemed, perhaps we should pursue them,” she said.
De Lima said she would study the need to create a special unit to handle PCGG cases if and when the President decides to issue an order transferring PCGG’s operations to the DOJ.
Since its creation, the agency has recovered about $4 billion, equivalent to P164 billion representing stocks invested in some prime New York real estate, jewelry, and about $600 million more stashed in secret numbered Swiss bank accounts.
The abolition of the PCGG would require a law.
House Bill 4049 of Reps. Sergio Apostol of Leyte and Pedro Romualdo of Camiguin, which seeks to abolish the PCGG and to transfer its functions to the justice department, has been pending before the committee on government reorganization since early 2011.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said there is no formal discussion yet in Malacañang about the abolition of the PCGG but said it is not a new idea.
“It’s so sweeping naman to say it’s a failure. Marami rin silang na-recover na ill-gotten wealth… In fact, we have seen also the recent case in New York where the former secretary of the former First Lady was prevented from selling some very expensive paintings and which now, I think, PCGG was made a witness to that particular case,” he said, referring to the case of Vilma Bautista, a former secretary of former First Lady Imelda Marcos who was stopped from selling in New York a Claude Monet painting allegedly owned by the Marcoses.
Lacierda gave the assurance that legal cases filed by the Commission would be pursued if it is abolished.
Bautista said the PCGG has sent demand letters to former officials asking them to immediately settle their unliquidated cash advances and return the “excessive” compensation they received during their terms, or face charges.
“We do not want a shotgun approach on this. We want that whatever we file will stick,” he said.
He refused to name names and to disclose the amount involved, but admitted it runs into the millions of pesos.
“These accusations against the commission officials are not without basis. They were the ones in charge of guarding the chicken coop and some of them helped themselves to the eggs,” he said earlier.
PCGG Commissioner for Finance and Administration Nelson Acebo said the excessive compensation came mostly from bonuses.
The unliquidated cash advances consist mostly of expenses the officials made in their overseas trips.
Last year, the Office of the Ombudsman filed graft charges against former PCGG chairman Camilo Sabio and former commissioners Tereso Javier, Narciso Nario, Nicasio Conti and Ricardo Abcede for alleged anomalous vehicle lease deals worth millions of pesos that they entered into in 2007 and 2009 without competitive public bidding.
Abcede died April last year due to cardiac arrest.
The former officials denied the Ombudsman’s charges, saying they employed an alternative procurement method under the law.
Sabio has been accused of having unliquidated cash advances amounting to P10 million, along with alleged excessive travels and hiring of consultants. He has denied the accusations.
The former PCGG officials were also alleged to have excessively used government-issued cellular phones beyond the allowable limit of P10,000 per month.
Sen. Francis Escudero, while expressing disappointment over the PCGG’s decision, called for a full audit and accounting of the sequestered assets during its 30-year operation.
“Present to the public the current value of its forfeited assets to address long-standing allegations against the PCGG that its officials helped squander the little assets the agency had recovered,” he said.
Escudero said the PCGG should also make public all the compromise deals it has made in the past and how much the state gained or lost.
“Everybody agrees that the hunt and recovery was not going to be a walk in the park. But it’s disappointing that they are throwing in the towel now and saying that they can’t prove the case against the Marcoses anymore,” he said.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the move is wise, but there should be an accounting similar to the coconut levy funds.
Enrile lamented that the assets sequestered from the Marcoses were wasted and pocketed by some unscrupulous administrators of PCGG.
Sen. Joker Arroyo said it is time to transfer the PCGG’s work to the Department of Justice, noting that Congress has extended its life several times.
“It’s problematic whether the government can gather additional evidence after 26 years. The main task of the PCGG — to gather and build up cases — has been winnowed by time,” Arroyo said.
Leftist lawmakers opposed the plan and called on Bautista to resign.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said Bautista does not have the desire and will to pursue the Marcos ill-gotten wealth cases.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said the President should finish what his mother started by not giving up the fight. “Ang leksyon na matutunan kung ihihinto ang paghanap ng Marcos wealth is that crime pays and if you steal big, you can get away with it,” he said.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said Bautista’s line of reasoning is “misplaced” because its mandate also involves justice to the Filipino people. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Ashzel Hachero, JP Lopez and Wendell Vigilia — via malaya.com.ph
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