MANILA - The Philippine government continues to assert its legal claim to a valuable Claude Monet painting that was the subject of a US$10-million settlement between the lawyers of the Marcos rights abuse victims and the buyer of the painting, which is believed to be part of the ill-gotten assets of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
"If the [buyer] reached a settlement with the lawyers of the Marcos human rights victims to buy peace, then that is the [buyer's] prerogative. But this in no way diminishes the (Philippine state's) legal claims and will not be a factor in our assertion of such claims," the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) said on Saturday.
The PCGG said the claim of the 7,500 rights abuse victims was "separate and distinct" from the Philippine state's.
The agency explained that the state was seeking to recover assets that were obtained through "funds plundered from the public coffers" and which therefore "rightfully belong to the Filipino people as a whole".
The claim of the rights abuse victims, on the other hand, is based on a US court judgement made in their favour against the Marcos estate and which can be enforced against the Marcoses' personal properties, the PCGG said.
Suit or settlement
The PCGG said the agency-created after the Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986 to recover the ill-gotten assets of the dictator and his associates-"continues to be in active discussions" with the unidentified buyer of the Monet work, "whether this be in the form of a legal suit or an independent settlement".
Robert Swift, the United States-based lawyer for the 7,500 rights abuse victims who won a $2-billion award in a class action suit against the Marcos estate in 1995, is reported to have successfully entered into a $10-million settlement with the unnamed buyer of the painting, "Le Bassin aux Nympheas" ("Water Lily Pond," 1899) by the French Impressionist master, Claude Monet.
The painting, which was part of the Marcoses' cache of Impressionist works, was reportedly sold for $32 million to the unnamed buyer in 2010 by Vilma Bautista, the former social secretary of Marcos' widow, Imelda Marcos, who is now an Ilocos Norte congresswoman.
The entire Marcos collection is considered stolen works, and reported as such, by the Philippine government.
Bautista was arrested by the New York police last November while trying to sell three other Impressionist works from the Marcos collection.
Bautista's trial for art theft and tax fraud is set to start on October 7 in New York. Her two nephews who helped her to sell the Monet have been similarly charged but remain at large.
The PCGG pointed out that the matter of compensation for the 9,539 Marcos human rights victims who won a class action suit against the Marcos estate and were ordered compensated with $2 billion by Hawaii Judge Manuel Real had already been addressed by the government.
Congress has passed a compensation bill that President Aquino signed into law last February. It reportedly provided for a 10-billion peso, about $230 million, for the rights abuse victims, now numbering 7,500.
"Hence, ill-gotten wealth and assets should be the subject matter of recovery for the National Treasury," the PCGG said.
However, at least one government official does not seem to be in conformity with the PCGG view on the state's right to the ill-gotten Marcos assets.
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair Etta Rosales told the PCGG to "stop behaving as the past PCGG has been behaving".
The PCGG has always appeared to act "in confrontation with the claimants, which in effect leads to a nonrecognition of the judgement in Hawaii," she said.
The PCGG should stop taking a "parochial view" and to "see the larger context of what human rights is all about," she said.
Rosales said she "fully supports" the $10-million settlement between the Marcos human rights victims and the buyer of the Monet painting. She said she considered it a positive development that the 7,000 victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos regime stood to get another $1,000 in compensation from the $10-million settlement.