Philippines loses bid to recover millions from estate of former dictator Marcos

A Philippine court sentenced Imelda Marcos to at least six years in prison for each of the seven charges that the family funnelled roughly $200 million of embezzled funds through Swiss foundations decades ago. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 October 2019

Philippines loses bid to recover millions from estate of former dictator Marcos

  • The evidence was mostly poor quality photocopies
  • A bloodless “people power” revolt caused Marcos to seek exile in US in 1986

MANILA: The Philippine government has lost a decades-old legal effort to seize millions of dollars from the estate of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, a court said Friday, accusing state prosecutors of failing to produce admissible evidence.
Lawyers had submitted “defective” evidence consisting mostly of poor-quality photocopies, some of which were no longer readable, Justice Alex Quiroz of a special anti-graft court said in a release of the October 14 decision.
The ruling was another blow to efforts to recover the late dictator’s alleged ill-gotten wealth after the court also ruled in favor of Marcos’s estate on another multi-million-dollar case in September.
After a bloodless “people power” revolt chased Marcos into US exile in 1986, the Philippines launched a global bid to recover at least $10 billion in assets that the Marcoses and their cronies acquired using funds allegedly stolen from state coffers over his 20-year rule.
It has recovered 172.6 billion pesos ($3.4 billion at current market rates) so far, according to the government agency tasked with tracking down the assets.
A lawyer for the Marcos family declined to comment, while President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said his government does not interfere with the courts.
The office of the Ombudsman that handles hidden wealth cases did not respond to an AFP request for comment.
About a dozen forfeiture cases against the Marcoses have yet to be resolved.
The heirs returned to the Philippines after the patriarch died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, later getting themselves elected to congressional seats and local posts.
Rodrigo Duterte’s election in 2016 cemented their comeback as the government gave the ex-president’s remains a hero’s burial and publicly floated the idea of winding down the hunt for his hidden wealth.
“We all know that the Duterte government is very hospitable, to say the least, to the Marcoses,” said Bonifacio Ilagan, one of thousands imprisoned during the dictator’s rule and now spokesman of a citizens coalition seeking to prevent the Marcoses from regaining the Philippine presidency.
In a rare legal setback last year, a court sentenced Imelda Marcos to at least six years in prison for each of the seven charges that the family funnelled roughly $200 million of embezzled funds through Swiss foundations decades ago.
However, she remains free on bail after filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.


Vaccine development speeds up to counter COVID-19 threat

Updated 10 min 46 sec ago

Vaccine development speeds up to counter COVID-19 threat

LONDON: The coronavirus pandemic has crashed stock markets, ground economies to a halt, and led to unprecedented numbers of people and businesses seeking government assistance, especially in the West.

But in one area, perhaps understandably, it has led to something of an explosion in terms of progress. 

That area is vaccine development, where the discovery, testing and mass production of a solution to the pandemic have become both an essential solution to the crisis and something of a medical gold rush.

Under normal circumstances, vaccines can take 10 years to produce. It is a difficult, lengthy process, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, which is usually dependent on demand for the vaccine in question. 

There are all manner of factors to be taken into account — everything from relative effectiveness to side effects and production costs. 

An ailment that affects more people, or that has a greater chance of having a vaccine found, is more likely to receive the funding it needs because it is more profitable. 

Meanwhile, a vaccine that protects against a certain ailment but carries the risk of significant negative side effects is not exactly a cure.  But COVID-19 is a different beast — the sheer scale of the economic damage it has wrought makes finding a vaccine of the utmost importance.

Elissa Prichep, the precision medicine lead at the World Economic Forum, said given the pressing need, a vaccine for COVID-19 could be developed in 12-18 months — a vast tract of time for those living under lockdown, but lightening quick in the medical world.

The international community has, according to her, been working together “like never before” on producing a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Around Jan. 10, Chinese scientists developed and shared a full genetic sequence of SARS-Cov2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Prichep. 

“Several companies are using this information to develop vaccines that will contain a small amount of genetic code. Certain cells in the body will take up this genetic information and produce elements of the virus, not infecting the person but triggering the immune system to respond,” she added.

“DNA- or RNA-based vaccines are not made with a weakened or deactivated virus, nor elements of the virus, so they can be produced in the lab. This approach is faster and more reliable than traditional vaccine processing, which uses virus grown in eggs or cell cultures. 

“For example, Moderna, in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in the US, developed the first COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials using a genetic platform called messenger RNA (mRNA). It took only 42 days to move from vaccine design to human testing — an industry record.”

However, we remain some way off developing a safe human vaccine. That said, the precedent set by the international community in tackling COVID-19 could be the blueprint for expediting vaccine development in future. 

“A rush to market without appropriate testing could put healthy people at risk. One area of risk is vaccine enhancement, meaning the disease is more harmful to a vaccinated person,” said Prichep.

“The clinical trial process typically involves several phases, including randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled studies, and takes approximately 10 years, but governments and industry are making efforts to expedite the process. If manufacturing begins during trials, then a vaccine will be available to the public upon approval,” she added.

“To mitigate this risk and encourage manufacturing, governments, industry and international organizations are working together. The innovative and cooperative approach taken for this vaccine could change how scientists develop future ones. This could make discovery faster, production more reliable, and vaccines potentially more cost effective.”