FORT WORTH, Texas — A federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas approved an unusual $10 million settlement on Tuesday in a case involving deceased Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos and roughly 4,000 acres in northern Tarrant County and 520 acres in Colorado.

U.S. District Judge Terry Means approved the settlement of a class-action lawsuit involving 9,539 Filipinos who were victims of Marcos’ regime and seven companies that owned land believed to have been bought with money from his estate.

The plaintiffs were either victims of torture, summary executions and other harsh treatments, or their heirs.

After legal fees, the settlement amounts to about $1,000 a person, according to Robert Swift, a Philadelphia lawyer who has been representing the group for over two decades.

“I think it’s a start,” Swift said. “After 25 years, I hope it’s a start.”

The companies involved — Ellesmere Investment Corp., B.N. Development Co., Jason Development Co., Langley Investment Corp., Pender Investment Corp., Revelstoke Investment Corp. and Vernon Investment Corp. — will retain ownership of the properties but are expected to put them up for sale soon, Swift said.

A call by the Forth Worth Star-Telegram to the Houston law firm of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, which represented the defendants, had not been returned late Wednesday.

Corruption and abuse

Marcos’ regime lasted from 1965 to 1986 and was marked by corruption and abuse.

His wife Imelda Marcos gained a reputation for spending lavishly worldwide, most notably on thousands of pairs of shoes, while the country remained mired in poverty.

Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in 1986 and fled to Hawaii.

He died there in 1989.

Imelda Marcos still lives in the Philippines and was elected to the national Congress this year.

In 1995, the U.S. district court in Hawaii awarded the plaintiffs $1.9 billion in damages.

Fifteen years later, the plaintiffs have yet to receive any money, Swift said.

The difficulty has been tracking down Marcos’ estate through a maze of shell companies, he said.

At one point, the plaintiffs collected money from the sale of a Hawaiian home, a bulletproof Mercedes-Benz and a Picasso painting, all connected to Marcos’ estate, according to a September report in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The amounts were too small to distribute to the plaintiffs, the paper reported.

Marcos allegedly began making land deals in the 1950s through a confidant, Jose Campos, who used offshore companies.

Parcels across Tarrant County allegedly were bought in the 1970s and 1980s using money that Marcos pilfered from citizens of the Philippines, Swift said.

Sharing directors

The companies share many directors and officers, including people who live in Hong Kong and Vancouver, according to Texas comptroller records.

They list Jeffery Campos and Joselito Campos as directors.

All the companies were formed in the Caribbean as Netherlands Antilles corporations.

The mineral rights of some of the properties also became an issue.

Some already were producing natural gas, and the others had drawn interest from natural gas producers, Swift said.

“The Barnett Shale was blowing up in the middle of this. Lands were being leased,” said Patrick Woodson, a Fort Worth lawyer who worked with Swift on the case.

The combined value of the surface and mineral rights of the land in Texas and Colorado is described as “less than $78 million” based on appraisals in the last two years, according to the settlement.

Much of the local land is off U.S. Highway 287.

Tuesday’s settlement means that Marcos’ victims should get money, Swift said.

After years of wrangling, the settlement was the right decision as a means to quickly deliver compensation to the victims, many of whom live in poverty, he said.

“In some respects, the settlement is a no-brainer,” Swift said. “The class receives $10 million, which can be distributed very shortly, and we’re still able to pursue other Marcos properties, which we are doing.”

(Aman Batheja)

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