Some 7,000 victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos regime may get another $1,000 in compensation from the $10-million settlement agreed on between lawyers of the class suit against the Marcoses and the buyer of a valuable Monet painting believed to be part of the ill-gotten Marcos art collection.
Robert Swift, the lead counsel in the class suit, entered into the $10-million settlement with the unidentified buyer of the painting who asked that he not be dragged into the highly publicized New York trial of Vilma Bautista, the former social secretary and confidante of former first lady Imelda Marcos.
Bautista was arrested last year for trying to sell several artworks by Impressionist masters considered stolen by the Philippine government.
In 2010, Bautista and her two nephews sold for $32 million a Claude Monet painting whose buyer, according to class suit co-counsel Rod Domingo Jr., purchased the artwork “in good faith.” The buyer agreed to pay the $10-million settlement two or three weeks ago as long as he was not dragged into the case, the lawyer added.
“This is an agreement between the buyer and the class (suit) counsel (Swift). But it is under seal so that (the buyer) won’t be involved anymore. We are still suing the other responsible persons,” Domingo said.
If the rights victims approve of the settlement and upon approval by Judge Manuel Real of the US District Court of Hawaii, the class suit members can each expect to get the peso equivalent of $1,000 by December or by early next year, Domingo added.
Bautista, now 74, was arrested on Nov. 20 last year while trying to sell three artworks by the Impressionist masters, namely Claude Monet’s “L’Église et La Seine à Vétheuil” (1881); Alfred Sisley’s “Langland Bay” (1887); and Albert Marquet’s “Le Cyprès de Djenan Sidi Said” (1946) also known as “Algerian View.”
Authorities had been on to Bautista and her two nephews since they sold Monet’s well-known “Le Bassin aux Nymphéas” (1899) in 2010 for $32 million. This was the painting involved in the $10-million settlement, Domingo said.
He added that the $10 million had been deposited in a special settlement fund account under Judge Real who, in 1995, handed out a $2-billion award in favor of the 9,539 victims of human rights abuses during the martial law years.
Domingo said the 7,500 remaining class suit members in their list will be notified of the negotiated settlement in the next couple of weeks.
They are still going after the paintings and other sizable assets confiscated from Bautista, he added.
Art theft trial begins Oct. 7
In 2011, the class suit members received P43,200 each (the equivalent of $1,000) under a $10-million initial settlement of the $2-billion judgment.
Bautista’s trial for art theft and tax fraud is set to start on Oct. 7 in New York. Her two nephews were also charged but they remain at large.
Bautista and her nephews Chaiyot Jansen Navalaksana, 37, and Pongsak Navalaksana, 40, are charged with illegally conspiring to possess and sell valuable paintings that they did not own, keeping the proceeds for themselves and hiding them from tax authorities.
The class suit lawyers immediately filed a suit in New York to recover the paintings and the proceeds in the Vilma Bautista case.The Philippine government through the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), has reported the Impressionist paintings as lost and stolen.
The PCGG, which was tasked to recover ill-gotten Marcos wealth anywhere in the world, had been asked to testify.
Part of Marcos loot
But PCGG chair Andres Bautista said the paintings should be returned to the Filipino people since they are part of the Marcos loot.
He said the New York District Attorney’s Office supported the Philippine government’s assertion that the other assets seized from Mrs. Marcos’ former aide, namely some $15 million in a bank account in New York, an apartment in New York worth $3 million to $4 million and a life-insurance policy worth $1 million to $2 million, are also part of the Marcos loot.
The PCGG has insisted that all recovered ill-gotten wealth of martial law President Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies should be returned to the national coffers.
The PCGG chair has said that the $2-billion award allowed by Judge Real should be enforced against the Marcos family and not against recovered ill-gotten Marcos assets.
Last February during the anniversary of the 1986 People Power revolt, President Aquino signed the P8-billion compensation act for victims of summary execution, torture and other rights abuses during martial law.
Malacañang has yet to appoint the members of the compensation board.
“It is poetic justice that the victims are benefiting from a valuable painting that Imelda Marcos purchased and revered,” Swift said in a statement.
“This New York litigation may be the vehicle to discover the totality of the Marcos artwork trove and to recover still more money for the victims,” he added.