By Dona Z. Pazzibugan, April 22 2019; Philippine Daily Inquirer

Image Credit to ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the government deserved to get a “better deal” from the $20-million sale of some of former first lady Imelda Marcos’ seized paintings in the United States.

United stand

He joined Solicitor General Jose Calida in opposing the settlement agreement that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) entered into last January with Marcos martial law victims’ lawyer Robert Swift and a third party.

Contentious deal

Under the deal which was recently approved by a US Federal Court in New York, the government would receive $4 million, or 20 percent of the proceeds, while the estimated 6,500 remaining members of the human rights class suit would get $13.75 million, or a 70-percent share.

A third party, the Golden Buddha Corp. and the estate of Roger Roxas that allegedly discovered the Yamashita treasure, would get the remainder of the $20-million proceeds from the sale of the paintings.

“We are opposing the settlement agreement simply because it does not favor the interests of the government, which we are duty-bound to protect,” Guevarra said on Sunday, speaking for the first time on the settlement deal.

“The government is not blocking the settlement agreement that will give martial law human rights victims $13.75 million. The government simply wants that the republic as a whole, gets a better deal,” he continued.

“The government’s position is not antagonistic to the interests of martial law victims who are also citizens of our country, but to protect the interests of the republic as a whole,” he stressed.

After learning of the deal presented in the interpleader case before the New York court, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) rallied the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the PCGG to block the settlement agreement for being “grossly disadvantageous” to the Philippine government.

The OSG protested that Swift would get $4.125 million in fees, which was higher than the government’s $4-million share, while the 6,500 class suit members would only receive $1,500 each.

The OSG also protested that the deal required the Philippine government to grant immunity to the former first lady’s aide, Vilma Bautista, who is jailed in New York for trying to sell three of the paintings in the art black market in 2012.

Principal defendant

The government cannot grant immunity to Bautista, now in her late 70s, because she is one of the principal defendants in an ill-gotten wealth case still pending before the Sandiganbayan, the OSG explained.

Guevarra said the settlement could be immediately executed, unless the government takes remedial action.