(This article was originally published in the Philippine Collegian Special Martial Law issue, 21 September 2018)


It is a common refrain among Marcos apologists and historical revisionists that the Marcoses never lost in court. This assertion can be quite convincing at first blush – after all, the Marcoses walk around freely, displaying their affluence and securing seats in government, their patriarch even given a hero’s burial. The truth, however, is quite the opposite. No matter how often it is decried that local decisions against them were due to bias, politics, or bribery, it still stands that the Marcoses have lost cases here and abroad. If, in spite of this fact, apologists will still insist on undue influence, then one would be better off trying to freeze a star than argue.

Hilao and Trajano

After Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in 1986, he fled to Hawaii. Numerous complaints were soon levied against him. The case of Hilao v. Estate of Ferdinand Marcos (103 F.3d 767) thus came about, which was classified as a class action suit representing thousands.
Maximo Hilao, the named party in the action, is the father of Liliosa Hilao, who died in 1973 in Camp Crame. She was the first Martial Law detainee reported to perish in prison. Liliosa was a Communication Arts student and activist from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. She was in the running for a cum laude. She was only 23.

The U.S. Court of Appeals went to affirm the lower court and awarded almost US$ 2 billion in damages. “The district court properly held Marcos liable for human rights abuses which occurred and which he knew about and failed to use his power to prevent.”

Trajano v. Marcos (978 F.2d 493), involved the kidnapping, torture, and death Archimedes Trajano in 1977. He was only 21. His mother filed a case almost a decade later. “xxx Marcos-Manotoc was the National Chairman of the Kabataang Baranggay. xxx Archimedes Trajano was a student at the Mapua Institute of Technology. On the 31st of August, Trajano went to an open forum discussion at which Marcos-Manotoc was speaking. When Trajano asked a question about her appointment as director of an organization, he was kidnapped, interrogated, and tortured to death by military intelligence personnel who were acting under Ver’s direction, pursuant to martial law declared by Marcos, and under the authority of Ver, Marcos, and Marcos-Manotoc.”

In her appeal, Imee did not deny or even disclaim knowledge of the tragedy. She argued that the case was something beyond the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts because what had happened were independent sovereign acts. The appeals court disagreed saying, “xxx she has admitted acting on her own authority xxx. Under these circumstances, her acts cannot have been taken within any official mandate and therefore cannot have been acts of an agent or instrumentality of a foreign state xxx.”

US$ 4 million was awarded to Agapita Trajano for the tortious acts. However, when Agapita tried to enforce the decision here in the Philippines, our Supreme Court barred her from doing so due to a technicality.

The Swiss Decision and the Swiss Banks Accounts

In the 2003 case of Republic v. Sandiganbayan (G.R. No. 152154), the Supreme Court said, “The aforementioned General Agreement xxx specified that [the Philippines] obtained a judgment from the Swiss Federal Tribunal xxx that the US$356 million (worth US$658 million in 2003) belongs in principle to the Republic of the Philippines provided certain conditionalities are met xxx.”

The said Swiss decision, penned in 1990, entitled “Heirs of Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos-Romualdez, and A vs. the Republic of the Philippines” is archived in the Bundesgerichtsentscheid (BGE) and can be found in BGE 116 Ib 452.

The Swiss Court authorized the transmission of the documents and the securities frozen in the Société de Banque Suisse to the Philippines. The transfers were to aid the government in prosecuting the Marcoses. However, the Tribunal cautioned these would only take place if the Philippines renewed its commitment to afford the Marcoses the minimum rights guaranteed to accused individuals under the Swiss Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The US$658 Million Award

Eventually, Switzerland’s legal condition was satisfied. In 1998, the Swiss Supreme Court authorized the actual transfer of funds. It transferred US$570 million of the Marcos deposits in 1999 to the Philippine National Bank, which held it in escrow. After four years, Republic v. Sandiganbayan was promulgated. The Court ruled that the Marcoses could not justify how they legally acquired the deposits. The Court said that the amount of the deposits was “manifestly and patently disproportionate to their aggregate salaries as public officials” and thus created a presumption that they were illegally acquired.

The Court also said, “Since 1991, when the petition for forfeiture was first filed, up to the present, all respondents have offered are foxy responses like lack of sufficient knowledge or lack of privity or they cannot recall because it happened a long time ago or, as to Mrs. Marcos, the funds were lawfully acquired. But, whenever it suits them, they also claim ownership of 90% of the funds and allege that only 10% belongs to the Marcos estate. It has been an incredible charade from beginning to end.”

It awarded the funds in escrow to the Philippine government. In 2013, RA 10368 or the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013,” was signed into law.

The law states that claimants in the Hilao v. Marcos case are given a conclusive presumption of being human rights victims to benefit under the Act. The source of funds for the victims is the amount awarded by the Supreme Court.

The cases above show that courts of law have found Marcos liable for wanton human rights violations and that he had plundered away the nation’s coffers and placed them in Swiss Bank accounts. They speak of the tragedies that befell student-activists like Hilao and Trajano who, despite their youth, tenaciously stood up against Marcos’ writhing institutionalized monster of blood, impunity, and corruption. These cases constitute indelible truths and are forever etched in the annals of law.


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