Martial law victims push for faster recovery of Marcos wealth, including missing paintings

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The PCGG says the Marcoses may have amassed up to 300 pieces of artwork

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 3) — It has been nearly a four-decade struggle for Danny dela Fuente, a human rights victim during martial law, under former President Ferdinand Marcos.

With the possible reopening of talks with the Marcos family on the return of their wealth to the government, dela Fuente sees this as another "deceptive  gesture" of the Marcoses.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said a spokesperson for the Marcoses told him the family will "open everything and hopefully return" some of their wealth. The President added he is forming a team that will negotiate with the Marcoses.

As of 2015, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) has recovered a third of the estimated $10 billion ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses, at more than $3 billion or P170 billion.

Dela Fuente is frustrated with the recovery efforts to compensate human rights victims. The process may even take even longer as a government audit shows, some of the paintings recovered by the PCGG are missing.

"Usad-pagong (too slow)," he said.

It was only in May this year when dela Fuente and 4,000 other claimants received the first tranche of  compensation, under a law allocating P10 billion for Martial law human rights victims.

Dela Fuente was also one of the claimants who had received $1,000 in 2013, as part of a settlement with an unnamed foreign art collector, who bought a $32 million painting by Claude Monet from former first lady Imelda Marcos' former aide, Vilma Bautista.  The 1899  impressionist masterpiece, "Le Bassin aux Nympheas (Water Lily Pond)," was sold by Bautista in 2010. 

The U.S. District Court in Hawaii approved the settlement to pay off part of its $2 billion award for human rights victims in 1995.

Based on the PCGG's "conservative estimate," the Marcos paintings are worth between $300 and $500 million, or up to more than P23 billion.

Dela Fuente said claimants like him are entitled to proceeds of the sale, not only of the Marcos paintings, but of the rest of the Marcoses' ill-gotten wealth.

"Dapat makinabang din kami. Dapat makuha 'yun  (paintings) at iba pang properties, kahit mga alahas. 'Yun ay bahagi ng stolen, ill-gotten wealth," Dela Fuente said.

(Translation: We should benefit from it all. They should be able to recover the properties, jewelry, because they're all part of the ill-gotten wealth.)

Related: Government intensifies hunt for Marcos' ill-gotten wealth

'Missing art' movement

The PCGG set up the website, missingart.ph, in 2016 as part of efforts to recover the Marcos art collection.

It said the Marcoses may have amassed up to 300 pieces of artwork.

The agency said from 1965 to 1984, based on the Marcoses' income tax declarations, their disposable income was only more than $957,000.

But at the time, the family reportedly bought up to $25 million worth of artwork.

The PCGG also detailed how old receipts and other gallery documents, and even empty frames hanging on walls in Malacañang and other Marcos residences, reveal how extensive and expensive the collection was.

The website lists 283 paintings the Marcoses had bought.

The paintings include: 105 recovered and sold for $17 million or over P877 million, and 156 missing, including those believed to be still with the Marcoses or their associates.

Among the missing are works by art masters Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Pablo Picasso.

Also missing, according to the PCGG, is what's believed to be the Marcos family's most expensive acquisition — "Madonna and Child" by Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo -- purchased for $3.5 million or P178 million.

The rest are the subject of court cases — stored either at the National Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila (MET), or the Malacañang Palace-Antique House.

The PCGG said the paintings have been with their respective custodians since 1986.

"The Commission has not initiated any move in transferring the paintings to avoid damage," it added.

Other paintings have been located but are not in PCGG custody, including those sold to private collectors.

In 2014, a series of raids were conducted by the PCGG in residences of the Marcoses in San Juan and Ilocos Norte, and the office of the former first lady, now representative Marcos in Batasang Pambansa. The raids failed to yield the missing paintings.

Lost and damaged artwork

But even as the PCGG continues to recover the missing paintings, some in its possession have gone missing, according to a 2016 government audit.

The Commission on Audit (COA) said nine of these are missing — three stored at the MET, and six at the Malacañang Palace-Antique House.

"Measures to preserve and protect sequestered assets are not in place resulting in missing, faster deterioration and damage of artwork, contrary to the powers and authority of the agency," COA said.

The PCGG, however, said: "For the record, the three Russian missing paintings were in the physical possession, custody, and control of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, and never with PCGG."

The PCGG had asked the MET to conduct an investigation if the paintings cited by COA are indeed missing. The  museum has yet to submit its findings.

CNN Philippines reached out to MET President Tina Colayco but she has yet to issue a statement.

The Malacañang Palace-Antique House in a statement said the six paintings are not lost. 

"The PCGG Task Force Artwork Inventory Team issued a certification that all of the paintings are intact and complete," it added.