Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Imelda's Jewels and Raul Gonzales

It came like lighting. And former Justice secretary Raul Gonzales had, indeed, fallen from the good graces of Malacanang.

After declaring that the 15 billion peso worth of seized pieces of jewelry were owned by former First Lady Imelda Marcos, Raul's decision was immediately assailed and reversed, the very same day the former justice secretary penned the favorable "midnight" decision.

Clearly, what Gonzales' replacement, Agnes Devenadera did was a public rebuke of Gonzales.

These pieces of jewelry, which the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) seized and declared as "property of the government", were part of three big suitcases which the Marcoses left behind when they hurriedly left Malacanang in 1986 and those seized from them in Honolulu. In an Inquirer research, it consists of the following:

The jewelry collection of Imelda Marcos consists 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 Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) has classified the collection into three—MalacaƱang, Honolulu and Roumeliotes.
The MalacaƱang collection, composed of some 300 pieces, was left behind by the Marcos family in the Palace when they fled the country on Feb. 25,1986.
The Honolulu collection, around 400 pieces, was confiscated by US customs officials upon the arrival of the Marcos family in Hawaii on Feb. 26, 1986.
As indicated in the US customs inventory completed on March 10, 1986,the most expensive item in the Honolulu collection was a “set of bracelet, earrings and brooch with sapphires, rubies and diamonds” amounting to $1.49 million. (At the time of the US customs inventory, the exchange rate was $1: P25).
In exchange for the dropping of antiracketeering charges filed against her in the United States, Imelda signed a compromise agreement in 1991, and a Honolulu court finally turned over the collection to the Philippine government on Dec. 18, 1992.
The Roumeliotes collection, considered to be the most expensive of the three, was confiscated by airport and Philippine Customs officials on March 9, 1986 from Greek Demetriou Roumeliotes, as he tried to flee the country.
Consisting of 60 pieces, the collection’s most prominent piece is a 37-carat diamond. Cases related to this collection went all the way to the Supreme Court but were decided in favor of the government on May 18, 1994.
The PCGG has possession of the first two collections and they are kept in the vaults of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. The Bureau of Customs has custody of the Roumeliotes collection.
In 2006, the Sotheby’s and Christie’s international auction houses estimated the entire lot (the three collections) to be worth P15 billion.
The government tried several times to sell the jewelry to raise money, but court cases and disputes over the venue prevented the auction.
In 1994, the PCGG tried to sell the jewelry but was unable to work out the terms with international auctioneers, Christie’s of New York and Sotheby’s of London. Another attempt was made in 1996, but it did not materialize.
In 2005, another attempt was made, but Imelda asked a Manila court to issue an injunction against the auction, claiming the jewelry belonged to her, with some pieces being family heirlooms.
In May 2009, the PCGG announced once again its plan to auction off a huge cache of Imelda Marcos jewelry, with PCGG Commissioner Ricardo Abcede noting that there was no legal impediment because Imelda had been unsuccessful in getting the courts to issue a restraining order. Lawrence de Guzman, Inquirer Research.

Veteran street parliamentarian and former political detainee Etta Rosales disclosed that there was already a decision to house all these pieces of jewelry in a museum and some to auction. It was therefore, unusual that after years of litigation, a legal technicality suddenly came out from the justice department, favoring the Marcoses.

Clearly, it was a "midnight deal". And Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. wants a probe to determine why DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzales issued that highly controversial decision favoring Imelda Marcos and assailing the PCGG, a co-equal agency of government.

Raul Gonzales has been accused by another Senator, Ping Lacson, of getting a commission from the legal disputes of Lucio Tan and his brother and committing an omission when he bungled his job in the Dacer-Corbito case.

Some sectors believe Gonzales' action was part of Malacanang's "fund-raising" activities for 2010. With Devenadera's act, however, it was clear that Gonzales was on his own when he made that glaringly injurious decision.

Maybe Gonzales has not forgotten his Marcosian links. Remember that Gonzales started his career in public service as a member of the censors board of the Marcos regime. Or, probably, Gonzales thought of raising funds for himself, like what he did when he played as "counsel" to two warring brothers, some wagging tongues say.