'Justice must be served': Lawmakers oppose immunity for Marcoses

MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers from the House opposition bloc on Wednesday, September 6, slammed President Rodrigo Duterte's latest pronouncements on the Marcos family's ill-gotten wealth and the option of "immunity."

"The cat is out of the bag: President Duterte wants the Congress to grant the Marcoses immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for the return of part of the Marcos loot," said Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman.

On Tuesday, September 5, Duterte said that if he were the Marcoses, he would return the ill-gotten wealth only in exchange for immunity. Duterte had earlier claimed that a "spokesman" of the Marcos family expressed their willingness to return some of their wealth, including gold bars.

The Marcos heirs themselves, however, have denied that negotiations are ongoing.

Duterte added that Congress would need to "craft a law" with a provision on immunity should the Marcos family return their wealth to the Philippine government.

Lagman earlier noted that Duterte has the full authority to negotiate with the Marcos family, by virtue of an executive order signed by the late president Corazon Aquino. That authority, however, does not extend to the granting of immunity or pardon in exchange for the return of stolen wealth.

"It is well settled in Philippine jurisprudence that criminal liability is not subject to compromise," said Lagman, whose brother was among the thousands who disappeared during the Martial Law years under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Lagman cited the Supreme Court's decision in Chavez vs Presidential Commission on Good Governnment (PCCG), where the SC nullified a compromise agreement that would have granted the Marcoses immunity from criminal prosecution.

Another House minority bloc member, Kabayan Representative Harry Roque, cited the same jurisprudence and emphasized that immunity may only be granted with congressional consent. 

Roque also said legislation that would grant immunity only and specifically to the Marcoses could go against the equal protection clause.

"It's like we crafted class legislation to benefit only the Marcoses. The way to do it is anyone who wants to admit to an instance of graft and corruption and willing to return can do so in this period and they will in turn be entitled to immunity if they do so. But we cannot legislate especially for the Marcoses, because that is contrary to the equal protection clause [of the Constitution]," he explained. 

Forgotten sins?

Ferdinand Marcos placed the entire country under martial law from 1972 to 1981, because of the supposed communist threat. He went on to stay as president until 1986, when he was ousted because of the People Power Revolution.

The Marcos years were marred by human rights abuses and the pocketing of government funds by Marcos and his cronies.

"Enacting a law giving immunity to the Marcoses would give a wrong signal that committing a crime will pay off in the end as justice is negotiable by the powers that be," said Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, also a member of the opposition bloc.

He added: "Returning all the ill-gotten wealth without acknowledging their crimes against the Filipino people [or without getting] punished for it will not put closure to the dark days of dictatorship and martial rule." (READ: Immunity for Marcoses? Admit your sins first – Robredo)

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, a member of the majority, also opposes any possible moves to grant immunity to the Marcoses.

"Justice must be served and the Marcoses should be punished for what they did to our country and people during Martial Law. This is not just an issue of returning their ill-gotten wealth back to the Filipino people but the primary issue here is that of obtaining justice," he said.

Cases over human rights abuses and the Marcoses' ill-gotten wealth are pending before various courts both here and abroad.

"This is more than just the money. It's about justice and accountability for the crimes against the people during Martial Law – the killings, the torture, the suppression of freedoms, and the degradation of our democratic institutions," said Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat.

"A culprit who returns what he has stolen is not liberated from criminal prosecution," added Lagman. "A criminal must pay for his crime despite his having belatedly returned the object of his transgression." – Rappler.com