Philippines Long Overdue Judgment
The former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, was sentenced to a long prison term, but she will not spend her retirement years behind bars.
What a memorable day for the victims and survivors of the regime of Ferdinand E. Marcos (1965-86)! On November 9, 2018, the fifth chamber of the anti-corruption court Sandiganbayan (literally: advocate of the people) in Manila found his widow Imelda guilty of money laundering and corruption. Ms. Marcos, who is currently a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, was sentenced to six to eleven years in prison on seven counts. At the same time, the judges ordered the arrest of the 89-year-old defendant, who was not present at the trial.
According to historyaah, the judges considered it proven that Ms. Marcos and her husband, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, had illegally deposited at least 200 million US dollars (currently the equivalent of 176 million euros) in Swiss accounts decades ago. The couple used false names at the time and accumulated a fortune during the reign of the Marcos clan that the London business magazine The Economist estimates at the equivalent of at least six billion US dollars. So far the Philippine authorities have only been able to secure a fraction.
So November 9th is a day to celebrate? Not at all. It had taken 27 long years for the Filipino judiciary to reach this verdict. With all the refinements and legal tricks, a well-paid team of lawyers from the Marcoses knew how to delay the proceedings pending against Imelda since 1991. A time that the clan made full use of to reposition itself politically and to make people forget the misdeeds of the past. If the patriarch had not been overthrown in 1986, so one of the main arguments of the Marcoses, the country would have had the potential to become a prosperous welfare state – comparable to neighboring Singapore. The narrative, presented with verve by the family, was particularly popular that the years of martial law (1972-81) were a “heyday”.
The Marcos widow, Imelda Romuáldez-Marcos, born in 1929, was able to return to Manila from exile in Hawaii in 1991. Here she began her second career in politics and show business. In 1995 she was elected to Congress as a member of the first district of her home province of Leyte and ran unsuccessfully in the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections. Since the end of June 2010, Ms. Marcos has been re-elected as Congresswoman. Since then she has represented the second district in Ilocos Norte, her husband’s home province, in the House of Commons. In the meantime, Imelda has also announced her candidacy for the post of governor in Ilocos Norte in the mid-term elections on May 13, 2019. The post is currently still occupied by her eldest daughter, Imee.
Two of the three Marcos children courageously followed in their parents’ footsteps. The eldest Marcos daughter Imee, born in 1955, who was once a congressman and governor of Ilocos Norte until June 30, 2019, has also announced her candidacy for the Senate. Her brother, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Junior, who was two years her junior, was a member of the Senate until the summer of 2016 and narrowly missed the post of Vice President in the election campaign of the same year. After all, he was able to get the Supreme Court to have some of the votes counted manually! Finally, President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-proclaimed Marcos fan, personally campaigned for a subsequent state funeral for Marcos senior at Manila’s Heroes Cemetery, which literally happened in November 2016 in a night and fog action.
There was rapid and wild speculation on the country’s social media about how a judgment obtained against Imelda would ultimately not be final. Presidential amnesty was right at the top of the tips list. But first of all, a deposit in the ridiculous amount of 150,000 pesos (around 2,500 euros) was enough to keep you free.
More peace for more autonomy?
At least a silver lining appeared on the political horizon at the end of February 2019 when President Rodrigo Duterte solemnly appointed 70-year-old Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim as interim chief minister of the newly founded Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Bangsamoro, which means nation or country of the Moros, includes the area that is to be led by an 80-member transitional government (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) until 2022 and then led by a regularly elected parliament with extended autonomy status.
For Murad Ebrahim, the award means the culmination of an amazing career for the time being. As long-time chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest and most important resistance organization of the Muslim population struggling for self-determination in the southern Philippines, he mutated from one of the once best-hated and most wanted rebels to the chief politician of the BARMM for which the MILF counts extremely Negotiations with the central government in Manila had argued for over two decades.
For BARMM to come into being at all, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) had to be ratified by both chambers of the Philippine Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. There this Bangsamoro Basic Law should actually already during the presidency of Benigno S. Aquino III. (2010-16) have been signed. But a failed “anti-terrorist” campaign by elite National Police units (they alone had 44 deaths) in central Mindanao at the end of January 2015 left a heap in ruins. Islamophobia boiled up again and the agreements negotiated jointly between the MILF and the central government with the BBL as the key issue were postponed indefinitely.
Only after “amendments” to these agreements and renewed negotiations in Congress did President Duterte sign the Basic Law, which had meanwhile been renamed Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), on July 26, 2018. Finally, in a plebiscite held on January 21st and February 6th of this year, a majority of nearly three million registered voters voted for the acceptance of the BOL and thus also for BARMM. Their territory now includes the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi as well as the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato and another 63 villages in the province of North Cotabato.
Both sides expressed their satisfaction with this development, although a euphoric mood, bearing in mind the numerous setbacks in the peace process in the region, was not likely to arise. Meanwhile, President Duterte expressed his wish that “we can finally fulfill our common dream of resolving a decades-long armed conflict and ensuring growth and development in the region.” Murad Ebrahim and Mohagher Iqbal, long-time chief negotiators of the MILF in the peace negotiations with Manila, were both confident and cautious. Both affirmed: “We cannot guarantee success, but we will work for it in the greatest possible way.”
Despite great goodwill on both sides, skepticism remains in view of historical experiences, as there are still “spoilers” who do against the new BARMM front, for example at the end of January 2019 with two bomb attacks against the Catholic cathedral in the middle of Jolo City was brutally underlined with 20 dead.