Manila, August 12, 2003 By Teddy Molina (STAR) How much really is the Marcos money from Swiss banks held in escrow at the Philippine National Bank?

Ilocos Norte Gov. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. yesterday claimed that the money should be at least $750 million, not over $680 million as earlier reported.

"Our Swiss lawyers say that if properly managed, the money should be closer to $750 million," Marcos said in a statement questioning the discrepancy.

"When the money was kept in Switzerland, the growth was steady and predictable," he said. "Since the money was moved into an escrow account, however, the growth of the funds has become very inconsistent."

Marcos said a PNB report in May stated that the escrow account had $682 million. But a PNB report a month later placed the figure at $679 million.

"The point I want to raise is: how much money is there now?" he said.

There was no immediate comment from PNB or the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the agency tasked with recovering the alleged ill-gotten wealth of Marcos, his widow Imelda and their cronies.

Last week, Swiss authorities approved turning hundreds of millions of dollars stashed in Swiss banks by Ferdinand Marcos back over to the Philippine government.

"The Philippines may now dispose of the Marcos assets that were deposited in a frozen account in 1998 and have since grown to approximately $683 million," Switzerland’s justice ministry said in a statement.

The money transfer followed a July 15 ruling by the Philippine Supreme Court that awarded Marcos’ frozen Swiss bank deposits to the Philippine government after the Marcos family "failed to justify the lawful nature of their acquisition" of the said deposits.

Victims of human rights abuses under the Marcos dictatorship lauded Switzerland’s decision as a historic victory.

"For the 9,539 victims of the Marcos martial rule, it draws them nearer to their long overdue compensation. It is now up to Congress to pass a valid and constitutional law which can withstand legal scrutiny," one of their lawyers, Rod Domingo, said.

In 1995 a US federal court in Hawaii awarded $2 billion to some 10,000 human rights victims who had filed a class action suit against the estate of the dictator, who was chased into exile in Hawaii after the revolt.

Under Philippine law, however, any ill-gotten wealth that is recovered is automatically diverted to the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, meant to help ease poverty in the country.

The human rights victims subsequently entered into a deal with the government of former President Joseph Estrada to split the Swiss bank funds should the courts rule in the government’s favor on their ownership.

A proposed compensation bill, now pending in the House of Representatives, seeks to allocate $200 million to human rights victims.

"We expect many more victims to come out as the compensation package is drawn up by the government," said Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales of party-list group Akbayan.

Rosales said her office has been receiving phone calls from supposed claimants asking about the money. A panel would be set up to determine who would be entitled to compensation.

Rosales chairs the House committee on civil, political and human rights.

Marcos’ widow, Imelda, has appealed the Supreme Court’s ruling, saying she and her three children were deprived of due process.

Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, three years after a popular revolt ended his 20-year-presidency.

Accounts worth about $356 million were discovered and ordered frozen by the Swiss government shortly after Marcos was toppled.

The Swiss funds were the largest amount recovered from the estimated $10 billion Marcos and his wife allegedly acquired in power.

In 1990, Switzerland’s highest court — the Federal Tribunal — approved the handover of bank documents relating to the Marcos family, but ruled that the actual return of assets would be conditional on a "final and absolute" judgment in the Philippines.

In 1997, the Swiss tribunal ruled that the funds were ill-gotten and approved their transfer to an escrow account at the Philippine National Bank.

In 1998, the money — which had grown to $570 million — was transferred, but Swiss authorities held back a portion because it was linked to other government officials, including former ministers.

Switzerland later released $30 million, saying Philippine authorities failed to provide evidence that they were still pursuing the individuals concerned.

The justice ministry said $10 million remains frozen in Switzerland, while $5.5 million was transferred to the Philippines escrow account.

But a Philippine court will have to issue a separate final ruling before the $15.5 million total can be handed over to the Philippine government, the ministry said. — With Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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