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Will Imelda’s conviction bring down the Marcoses?

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By Perry Diaz

For 32 years after her late husband, dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was toppled from power, Imelda Marcos was never convicted of the crimes she allegedly committed during the reign of Marcos. Of the approximately 100 cases of graft and corruption filed against Imelda, the Philippine government lamely prosecuted her only to let her go.  Indeed, from the time the government allowed her to come home from exile to bury her deceased husband in 1989, she was untouchable.  She even ran for president in 1992.  She lost but proved that her husband’s following – the “Marcos Pa Rin” crowd – has remained loyal to her.  

Yes, she defiantly stood up against the establishment, the same people who ousted the Marcoses from power.  But that didn’t discourage her to give up Philippine politics; after all, she and her husband were the conjugal rulers for more than two decades.  They had it so good that they didn’t see it coming from, of all places, right under their noses in Malacanang Palace.  It was no other than Marcos’ Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and his Chief of Staff and cousin Lt. General Fidel V. Ramos who led the People’s Power Revolution in 1986.

Exiled to Hawaii at the urging of their best friend in Washington DC no less than the late President Ronald Reagan himself, who ordered then-Sen. Paul Laxalt to telephone Marcos.  After trying to persuade Marcos to step down, Marcos finally asked him, “Should I step down?  Senator, what do you think?”  It was what Laxalt was waiting for.  Laxalt then replied with his famous line: “Mr. President, I am not bound by diplomatic restraints. I am talking only for myself. I think you should cut and cut cleanly. I think the time has come.” There was a long pause.  Then Laxalt asked, “Mr. President, are you still there?”  “I am still here, senator,” Marcos replied. “I am so very, very disappointed.”  Thus, the longest presidency in Philippine history came to an end.  The Marcoses were flown to Hawaii in exile.  Marcos died in September 1989 leaving the fabled Marcos loot behind for his heirs.   Marcos also left behind billions of dollars in real estate and business assets.  But the Philippine government sequestered them all.  Although some have been sold, a large number remained unsettled. 

National politics

And this is where Imelda and her two children, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Imee Marcos, have inched their way to national politics, while retaining complete control of politics in their home province of Ilocos Norte.  Currently, Imelda is in her last term as congresswoman of the Marcoses’ bailiwick, the second congressional district, while Imee is serving her last term as governor.  Both will be termed out in 2019.  Then what

Meanwhile, Bongbong, who lost to Vice President Leni Robredo in the 2016 elections, has protested the results of the election to the Supreme Court working as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).  At one time it was rumored that the PET will declare Bongbong winner without the benefit of a recount.  But how can the PET make a ruling without a recount?  There were talks that the Marcoses bribed some justices to do just that.  But it must have fizzled out since the PET started recounting a pilot area comprising of three provinces.  The recount is still ongoing.  However, depending on the outcome, a full recount is very much likely to happen, which means it won’t be completed until after the 2020 elections rendering it moot and academic. 

If that would be the case, Bongbong — hedging his political future on the recount –would be out of the presidential race.  And this is where his sister Imee would come in – she would run for president.  And that’s probably the reason why she is running for senator in 2019, a stepping stone to the presidency.  Recent polls showed her in 7th or 8th place among the senatorial wannabes vying for 12 seats.

 Battle royale

The question is: whom would she be facing in the 2022 presidential elections?  Who comes to mind are Vice President Leni Robledo, Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Sen. Grace Poe, and the President’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio.  There could be more; but these aspirants, in my opinion, are now weighing their chances.

But because of Imee’s support among the formidable Marcos loyalists and her mother’s vaunted mega-wealth, she’d be put on the top tier of presidentiables, a battle royale between Robredo, Duterte-Carpio, and Imee Marcos. 

 But Duterte-Carpio, too, has a very strong backing from her father’s loyalists, the more than 16 million who voted for him in 2016.  She can add her growing base of loyal followers. She can be very formidable indeed. 

 Robredo, being the incumbent vice president, is presumed to have the support of those who voted for her in 2016.  She narrowly defeated Bongbong, which is now the basis of Bongbong’s electoral protest. 

 With the conviction of Imelda, the millennials could be turned off and put their support behind Duterte-Carpio who had proven that she could be as forceful – if not more forceful – than her father.  And this is also where “blood is thicker than politics” plays an important aspect in the presidential election.   Indeed, Duterte — whose alliance with the Marcoses is strong — has no other option but to get behind his daughter’s candidacy.  As they say, nothing is permanent in politics.  Strange as it may seem, your friends today could be your enemies tomorrow; and your enemies yesterday could be your friends today.   It’s a strange world indeed.

Wrecking ball

And this where this writer believes that the conviction of Imelda would affect the upcoming battle royale.  Could it be that there are powerful people who are trying to discredit Imee by way of Imelda?  Could the conviction be used as a wrecking ball to demolish Imee’s presidential aspirations?  As opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement, “I hope this ruling would serve as a crucial electoral guide to our voters this coming election.”

It’s interesting to note that Imelda still has all the political connections and topnotch legal representation to influence the corruption cases against her. The fact that none have succeeded in the past 32 years is a testament to her inherent power to avoid convictions until now, which begs the question:  Where did the judge who convicted her get the courage to convict a high-profile and seemingly untouchable defendant?  Just imagine the tremendous amount of pressure the judge was subjected to rule for acquittal. 

Indeed, looking at past court decisions, no judge had the cojones to declare Imelda guilty and issue a warrant of arrest.  This time the court found her guilty of seven counts of graft — after a trial that took 28 years to prosecute — each punishable by a minimum of six years in prison.  She was sentenced from a minimum of 42 years to a maximum of 77 years in prison for making seven bank transfers totaling $200 million to Swiss foundations — which the Marcoses opened in 1968 in violation of the Philippine Constitution — during her term as Metro Manila governor between 1972 and 1984. 

She’s also automatically disqualified from holding any public office.  That means that she cannot run for her daughter Imee’s governorship of Ilocos Norte, which she filed her candidacy last October.

It is expected that Imelda would file a motion for reconsideration.  And if the judge   sustains Imelda’s conviction, she could then appeal t the Court of Appeal and if that fails, then it goes to the Supreme Court. 

 It is interesting to note that the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court) had once convicted Imelda of graft in 1993, but the Supreme Court overturned the anti-graft court’s decision in 2003; thus, saving her from a 12-year prison sentence, which begs the question: Would the current Supreme Court do the same thing for her?  Indeed, the Supreme Court also did the same thing for Gloria in 2016, after she was detained for several plunder cases against her in 2011.

 Presidential reaction

In reaction to Imelda’s conviction, Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said: “While we note that there are still legal remedies available to Congresswoman Marcos, this latest development underscores that our country currently has a working and impartial justice system that favors no one.”  Panelo also said, “The ruling against Imelda Marcos was proof that Duterte ‘is not in the business of exerting undue interference or influence’ on courts, and he respects the decision.”  The hidden message is crystal clear – Duterte isn’t prone to support Imee.

At the end of the day, one wonders: Will Imelda’s conviction bring down the Marcoses?

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