By Sandy Araneta, The Philippine Star

Singapore’s High Court has denied the Philippine government’s claim to the $23-million Marcos funds in the city state, the lawyers for human rights victims said Thursday.

In a statement, lawyer Rod Domingo Jr. said at issue in the Singapore case is over $23 million of money originally hidden by former president Ferdinand Marcos in a Swiss bank before being transferred to Singapore.

“Following nine months of briefing and several oral arguments, Justice Kan Ting Chiu of the Singapore High Court entered a judgment denying the (Philippine) Republic’s major defense,” he said.

Martial law victims claim the money to partially satisfy their now $4 billion judgment against Marcos, he added.

The Philippine National Bank claims it is custodian of the money for the Republic, Domingo said.

Lead counsel Robert Swift said it is a significant victory on the way to obtaining a final verdict for the entire $23 million of Marcos funds.

“The Singapore Court upheld Singapore’s sovereignty to decide ownership to property located in Singapore,” he said.

“The tragedy is that the Republic is so heartless that it opposes every effort by Filipino human rights victims to recover on their judgment.

“The Republic even opposes the US Court-ordered distribution of the first payment of US$2,000 to each victim from monies already collected in the US on their behalf.”

Domingo said that “the government’s claims to the money in Singapore are sinking fast.”

“I think the Singapore Court is sending a signal to our government that it wants this matter settled or there could be dire consequences,” he said.

Despite spending over $1 million in legal fees and the engagement of Singapore’s largest and most influential law firm, the Philippines is losing the case, he added.

Domingo said the Presidential Commission on Good Government’s vaunted defense of sovereign immunity, as in the Arelma case, has once again been debunked and shuttered.

“When will it ever stop working against the oppressed victims of human rights abuses?” he asked.

Domingo said in a 27-page decision, Kan ruled that the arguments made by PNB were arguments of the Philippine government, and not those of PNB.

“The Republic has therefore, by its agent PNB, laid its claim before this Court and has submitted to the jurisdiction of the Court,” Domingo quoted the decision of the Singapore High Court. Kan also assessed costs, including legal fees, against the Republic and PNB, he added.

The 9,539 Filipino victims of martial law are part of a class action litigated in the United States against Marcos for torture, killings and forced disappearances, Domingo said.

The Philippine government has asserted that it was awarded the money by the Philippine Supreme Court in July 2003.

The litigation began in 2003 when West LB, a Singapore Bank, was confronted with competing claims for the money and deposited the money to the Singapore High Court.

Early in the litigation, PNB argued the case should be heard in the Philippines, but the Singapore High Court denied that request and assessed costs in favor of human rights victims.

In early 2006 the Philippine government entered the case to try and force its dismissal, arguing it was a claimant to the money but was entitled to sovereign immunity and not subject to the jurisdiction of the Singapore Court.

In 1995, a US jury awarded the human rights victims an amount which, with interest, is now worth $4 billion.

The judgment was affirmed on appeal.

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