OPINION: Recovering from Plunder — Why the PCGG is Still Relevant Today

02.24.2016
Politics Society

The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) was established 30 years ago this month, with the mandate to recover “all ill-gotten wealth accumulated by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, his immediate family, relatives, subordinates and close associates”. Today, the agency suffers from questions of relevancy, like a relic of the past, clinging to matters no longer important or helpful to the Filipino nation.

By Andrew de Castro

Andrew  de Castro is a Commissioner of the PCGG. Prior to this he acted as consultant to various international development anti-corruption initiatives with the Philippine Government and served as an Assistant Special Prosecutor in the Office of the Ombudsman where he prosecuted senior level government officials for graft and corruption. He has a Master of Laws degree from Kyushu University in Japan, and has a Juris Doctor and Bachelor of Science degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.

 

The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) was established 30 years ago this month, with the mandate to recover “all ill-gotten wealth accumulated by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, his immediate family, relatives, subordinates and close associates”. Today, the agency suffers from questions of relevancy, like a relic of the past, clinging to matters no longer important or helpful to the Filipino nation.

The future is seductive, unknown, and endless; but without understanding our past, and taking responsibility for it, we will never reach the future we collectively desire. Injustice breeds. Impunity breeds. Without dealing with these, our future will look very much like our past.

There is no collective understanding of what transpired during the Marcos regime. It did not seem that we needed one. The euphoria was so high after the EDSA Revolution that it appeared that everyone knew what happened and how it happened. We agreed on the generalities (that Marcos plundered the government coffers, had his political enemies arrested or killed, and stifled democratic rights), but naturally differed in our recollections of the specifics. As the euphoria faded and a new generation was born, the collective understanding became subjective. We assumed that the younger generation would understand it in the same way that we did, simply by telling them about the generalities and our anecdotal specifics. But as you can see in your Facebook feed, anecdotes can easily be countered by anecdotes. The stories of 1965 to 1986 must not be apocrypha.

There is no collective understanding of what transpired during the Marcos regime.

The role of the PCGG should be to provide the specifics on the stolen wealth, to present the undisputable truth that survives the scrutiny of the judicial process, and to present a version of history beyond anecdotes. Thirty years have gone by, and many cases remain in their early stages. Of the concluded cases, the PCGG has won about half. Through its efforts locally and internationally, it has recovered more than 170 billion pesos, less than half of what was stolen. This only means that we should work harder and faster. 

There should be no confusion about our history or else we will always repeat it. The longer time passes, the more divergent our understanding of history will be. The PCGG should prevent this by working on a legacy that will place in undeniable terms what was stolen and how it was stolen — but it does not stop there. The PCGG’s role in the public discourse on the ill-gotten wealth is not simply to recover ill-gotten wealth, but also to gather and provide substantial information so that the public may understand why it happened. 

There must be an analysis of the institutions and systemic arrangements that facilitated such plunder. How much discretion was given the President? What checks and balances were lacking? How did we fail to provide whistleblowers with enough protection? How did the judiciary become acquiescent to the President? Do these loopholes still exist?

 

We must be clear that what we object to is not heredity but impunity. What we seek is not revenge, but justice.

 

Further, we must look beyond a person’s family name. We must be clear that what we object to is not lineage but impunity. What we seek is not revenge, but justice. The sooner we take our quest for justice outside the realm of personalities, the better prepared we are from preventing it from happening again.

Senator Marcos is right — let us focus on the future — but we cannot walk blindly. We must be armed with the lessons of the past. A great future is earned. The past is a burden that a nation must come to terms with in order to become stronger. By making sure that all assets stolen from the Filipino people are accounted for, by making sure that all responsible for the plunder of our nation are brought to justice, we earn our right to that future.

 

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