“…lawmakers should see to it that the PCGG is funded, the chair and commissioners are completely independent of the Marcos family and are competent in doing what the agency is supposed to do”
Is it true that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), created by the Cory Aquino administration in 1986 with the mandate to run after alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family, has failed miserably in doing its job and deserves to be abolished forthwith as part of ‘rightsizing’ the bureaucracy?
Pro-administration allies in the House of Representatives think so, and have started hearings to settle the issue.
Leading the charge are Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., who believe that the PCGG has “outlived its usefulness” after 36 years, and that other agencies like the Office of the Ombudsman could already do the PCGG’s job.
The PCGG was created under Executive Order 1 by then President Corazon Aquino after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution to take over or sequester business enterprises and entities owned and controlled by the Marcoses or their nominees.
Those in favor of abolition cite the PCGG’s spotty record in running after the alleged hidden wealth for the past 36 years.
The agency has been heavily criticized for losing a string of cases due to sloppy prosecution, including a P102-billion civil suit against former ambassador Roberto Benedicto and other dummies.
Another P267.371 million civil case was likewise dismissed for the same reason.
In 2019, a P200-billion civil case against the Marcoses was also dismissed because the prosecution presented mere photocopies of documents.
In 2017, the Sandiganbayan convicted Camilo Sabio of graft for leasing service vehicles without public bidding when he was still the PCGG chairman.
The lawmakers’ call for the abolition of the PCGG, in fact, runs counter to what then presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos Jr. said during the campaign.
He said the PCGG should even be strengthened to run after all cases of corruption.
“Strengthen it…‘Yan ang trabaho nila, patibayin mo. Give them a bigger budget. Give them more staff para habul-habulin talaga nila lahat. Then mag-file sila ng kaso sa Ombudsman,” he told CNN Philippines.
Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla, meanwhile, said last month he would propose to the President that the PCGG be turned into a “central asset forfeiture office” for crimes other than the Marcos ill-gotten wealth, among them “nonpayment of taxes, drug trafficking, or other crimes including graft and corruption.”
Current PCGG Chair John Agbayani defended the agency before the lawmakers.
He told the House justice committee that it was contributing around P600 million to the nation’s coffers every year.
For 2022 alone, the PCGG remitted P850 million to the treasury, he said. The PCGG reported recovering some P265 billion as of December 2021, and it is still running after at least P125 billion more.
Martial law survivors and human rights advocates are understandably upset over the House move to abolish the PCGG.
An activist described the House hearings as the “latest scheme to whitewash the sins” of the Marcos regime.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers, for its part, said the renewed push to abolish the PCGG should be seen as “playing, apparently wittingly, in (the Marcoses’) game plan of rehabilitating and repackaging themselves while insulating themselves from accountability.”
Karapatan, a human rights watchdog, contends that shutting down the agency for good, with around P125 billion more to be recovered, would “send the wrong signal that anyone in government can take public funds for personal ends with impunity.”
It would appear that the PCGG has only 131 personnel taking on the awesome responsibility of recovering hundreds of billions of stolen public funds.
Hence, Agbayani said, the PCGG, instead of being abolished, should be strengthened so it would be able to “complement the Ombudsman or the DOJ in respect to graft and corruption cases,” and to avoid overwhelming other agencies with cases the PCGG was specially created to handle.
Besides, he said, the PCGG has been granted authority by the Supreme Court “concurrently to investigate and prosecute graft and corruption cases.”
Ruben Carranza, a PCGG commissioner from 2001 to 2004, believes the Marcoses had “never respected the PCGG” and only “tried to undermine the commission every step of the way, including all the way to the Supreme Court.”
He said if Congress really cared about solving the cases against the Marcos family, it should ensure the PCGG’s independence instead of abolishing the agency.
Moreover, lawmakers should see to it that the PCGG is funded, the chair and commissioners are completely independent of the Marcos family and are competent in doing what the agency is supposed to do.
But the PCGG now faces a serious obstacle, as Agbayani concedes that he does not foresee any new cases against the Marcoses anytime soon for lack of new evidence. He pointed out the difficulty in obtaining documents, particularly from abroad, proving the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their associates at this point.
Nevertheless, the PCGG chair maintains that the agency has not lost its relevance as it has been a consistent revenue contributor and has in fact managed to preserve P50 billion in recovered and sequestered assets.
We concur with the view that the PCGG should continue its work.
It should unravel the truth about ill-gotten wealth that still needs to be recovered to help in the fight against poverty, and to send a strong message to all that the government is firm in its zero-tolerance for corruption in this country.