‘Government to keep Imelda jewels’

By Marvin Sy – Malacañang said yesterday the jewelry collection worth P15 billion supposedly belonging to the Marcoses would be placed under government control.

Secretary to the Cabinet Silvestre Bello III echoed the statements made by Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera on the issue of custody of the jewelry collection.

“If you will read the position of Secretary Devanadera, who is Secretary of Justice and has oversight over the PCGG (Presidential Commission on Good Government), obviously (her) position… is the position of government,” he said.

Devanadera declared the collection was considered part of the Marcos family’s stolen wealth and remained the subject of a civil forfeiture case pending in an anti-graft court.

“The Supreme Court has said that any property that is well and beyond the legitimate income of President Marcos are considered ill-gotten wealth,” Devanadera said.

“The issue on the jewelry pieces is still pending before the Sandiganbayan and therefore there is no way for the PCGG and the OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) to have these jewelry released,” she added.

Concerns about the jewelry reverting back to Mrs. Marcos came about after Devanadera’s predecessor Raul Gonzalez issued a legal opinion saying the former first lady “remains to be the legitimate owner” of the prized jewel collection.

If there are no legal impediments surrounding the ownership of the jewelry then it should be returned to the owners, Gonzalez said.

It was not clear why Gonzalez, who was earlier removed from the justice department after a five-year stint, issued the legal opinion and he was not available for comment yesterday.

PCGG chairman Camilo Sabio said there is nothing irregular in the opinion made by Gonzalez.

Sabio said that Gonzalez had acted within his duties as head of the Justice Department, which has jurisdiction over the PCGG, in referring the matter to them.

“What he basically told us to do was to act immediately on the letter of the lawyers of Mrs. Marcos,” Sabio said. “He did what’s right.”

Sabio said the letter did not carry an outright order for the PCGG to hand over the jewelry collection to Mrs. Marcos.

“He (Gonzalez) said that the request (of the Marcos lawyers) should be granted if there is no legal impediment,” he said.

Former Marcos lawyer Oliver Lozano, for his part, claimed the freeze order on the Marcos jewelry collection has already expired.

“The PCGG has no longer legal authority to freeze Marcos’ wealth as provided by the Constitution,” Lozano said.

No deal

Bello, however, said there is no conflict between the positions issued by Gonzalez and Devanadera.

“If you look at his (Gonzalez’s) recommendation, again it is very clear that his recommendation is subject to a condition and that the condition is that there is no legal impediment,” Bello pointed out.

“So the position of Secretary Gonzalez was very clear and it was made clearer by the position of the new Secretary of Justice. So they complement each other,” he added.

Bello stressed the importance of the custody over the jewelry collection.

With Devanadera saying that there is a legal impediment, Bello said that it would be safe to conclude that “these jewelry will remain with the government or at least with the state.”

“So don’t worry, it is still with us,” Bello said.

Bello also belied allegations of a deal struck with Malacañang that led to the opinion issued by Gonzalez.

He said there is no logic to the allegations since Devanadera had already negated the previous opinion issued by Gonzalez.

“I really don’t see any logic of connecting Malacañang with that offer because Secretary Agnes Devanadera came out with a very clear position that it cannot be returned to the Marcoses because there is legal impediment. So this negates any shady deals between anybody,” he said.

On the other hand, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the courts should be allowed to decide on the issue.

“That is to be disposed by the courts to determine whether they are owned by the family before they came into power. And if they did, then it’s proper for the owner to hold it. If not, then they have to explain how they got those precious belongings,” Enrile said.

Enrile, who served as defense minister under the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, denied having any personal knowledge about the sets of jewelry owned by the Marcos widow.

He said former senator Jovito Salonga, the former chairman of the PCGG, has intimate knowledge of the events that transpired involving the Marcos jewelry collection.

Over the weekend, PCGG commissioner for legal affairs Ricardo Abcede said the bulk of the jewelry, such as Mrs. Marcos’ “Hawaii collection,” is in the possession of the government after being surrendered by the former first lady.

But the PCGG itself does not have all the Marcos jewels, he said.

Mrs. Marcos, known worldwide for her vast collection of shoes and flamboyant lifestyle, said Monday that the collection included personal pieces and religious images.

She said she was hopeful of having the collection returned after 23 years.

Treasure hoard

Devanadera, on the other hand, expressed confidence that the government would win the case against the Marcoses over the jewelry collection.

“Pursuant to our complaint, I am very confident that we will win this case and the government and the people will have the jewelry or proceeds from them,” she said.

Devanadera, also concurrently the solicitor general, said she met with PCGG officials and learned from them that the jewelry pieces are a subject of pending sequestration case against the Marcoses at the Sandiganbayan.

She said the jewelry collection is covered by paragraph six, page 11 of government’s complaint against the Marcoses lodged as Case No. 141 before the anti-graft court.

Devanadera stressed the Sandiganbayan has yet to rule with finality on the issue of whether the jewelry pieces seized from Malacañang during the ouster of the late strongman in 1986 were part of his ill-gotten wealth.

This is a clear legal impediment, Devanadera pointed out, contradicting the legal opinion made by her predecessor in the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The issue on the ownership of jewelry seized from the Palace during the 1986 revolt was revived after Gonzalez wrote PCGG last June 4 inquiring about the legal status of the Marcos assets.

Devanadera, however, defended Gonzalez, saying Gonzalez did not categorically state that the jewelry should be released to Mrs. Marcos.

Devanadera said Gonzalez only wanted PCGG and OSG to come up with a position on the retention of the property of Mrs. Marcos.

She stressed the OSG would determine which of the pending cases on the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses could the pieces of jewelry be relevant.

Citing a Supreme Court ruling, Devanadera said the government would consider the legitimate income of the Marcoses in determining whether jewelry collection was ill gotten.

“Anything beyond legitimate income is considered ill-gotten wealth. The assessment is not in our hands but definitely these (jewelry pieces) are not within the legitimate income (of the Marcoses),” she explained.

Devanadera added that the value of jewelry collection, currently under lock and key at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), is now worth “billions.”

The jewelry pieces include collections of tiaras, necklaces, watches, earrings, bracelets of rubies, emeralds, jade, gold pieces, diamonds and pearls made by Gucci, Van Cleef and Arpels, Bulgari and Philippe Patek, among other jewelers.

The government has classified the jewelry into three collections – Malacañang, Hawaii and Roumeliotes.

The Malacañang collection, composed of some 300 pieces, was left behind in the Palace by the Marcos family when they fled the country on Feb. 25, 1986. This is the remaining set of jewelry the government has yet to officially own.

The Hawaii collection, on the other hand, consists of around 400 pieces, which were confiscated by US customs officials after the Marcos family arrived in Hawaii on Feb. 26, 1986.

The most expensive item in this collection was a “set of bracelet, earrings and brooch with sapphires, rubies and diamonds” amounting to $1.49 million.

The Roumeliotes collection, on the other hand, was confiscated by airport and Philippine Customs officials in March 1986 from Greek Demetriou Roumeliotes, as he tried to flee the country.

It is considered to be the most expensive of the three collections. Consisting of 60 pieces, it includes a 37-carat diamond.

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