After Olot, Marcos wins back Laguna rest house

FORMER First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos said Tuesday she will have a merry Christmas after the Supreme Court ordered the return of one of her mansions, saying the government failed to prove that the 42-hectare beach front estate on Leyte Island was acquired improperly.

Marcos, 81, said it was one of her most important court victories because her father was born in that mansion.

She said the property—including a 17-room house, a golf course, a swimming pool, cottages and a pavilion—belonged to her family long before her husband, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was born.

“This is indeed a very happy Christmas, and I will try to go to Leyte before this holiday season is over,” she said.

An aide said she broke into tears on learning the Court decision.

Also on Tuesday, the anti-graft court dumped with finality the government’s claim over a 25-hectare property in Cabuyao, Laguna, that the Presidential Commission on Good Government had taken over on suspicion that it was part of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth.

The Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division ordered the PCGG to return possession of the land and the mansion erected on it to the three Marcos children—Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Gov. Imee Marcos, and Irene Marcos-Araneta—who were the registered owners of the disputed property.

Senator Marcos had earlier petitioned the court for the return of the property on the ground it was never included in any of the 35 forfeiture cases filed by the PCGG against his family in 1987.

The rulings came 24 years after a “people power” uprising ousted Marcos and the government sequestered most of their property. Imelda Marcos and her children had been seeking the return of those assets.

Marcos and his associates allegedly amassed up to $10 billion in ill-gotten wealth during his 21 years in power. The Presidential Commission on Good Government has so far identified around $6.5 billion and recovered cash and assets totaling around $1.97 billion.

Marcos, who declared martial law in 1972, ruled with an iron fist, imprisoning dissidents and stifling freedoms. He died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 without being brought to trial.

Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines in 1991, followed later by her children, and re-entered politics.

She was elected in May to the House of Representatives, her second time in Congress. Her son Bongbong was elected a senator and daughter Imee a provincial governor.

Despite some 900 civil and criminal cases she has faced—ranging from tax evasion to embezzlement and corruption—she has emerged relatively unscathed and has never served prison time. All but a handful of the cases have been dismissed for lack of evidence and a few convictions were overturned on appeal.

Presidential commission spokesman Nick Suarez said the government will likely appeal.

The Supreme Court said the ruling would not necessarily be fatal to the government’s main ill-gotten-wealth case and state prosecutors could still argue that the property was acquired illegally. AP, Macon Ramos-Araneta