Returning Marcos's spoils

IT is only fair that the Philippine and American governments -- and their respective legal systems -- follow through on a proper judicial determination of the rightful ownership of the extensive holdings in the United States of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and their top aides. Washington should expedite the process by promptly sharing details of goods and papers taken by Marcos from Manila, and other data, with Philippine authorities.

The crates of jewelry, currency, gold, and other valuables found on the aircraft flying the Marcos entourage out of Manila is only the tip of the iceberg.

Surely, President Reagan's offer of a safe haven for Marcos and his cohorts should not be extended to protecting ill-gotten gain -- assets, in fact, that may well have been financed by the American taxpayer and thus that could well rightfully belong to the Filipino people.

President Reagan acknowledges the propriety of judicial proceedings into the Marcos holdings, saying it is up to the ``legal'' process to ``resolve this'' issue.

There are, of course, precedents for such actions by overseas governments. And as legal scholar Alfred P. Rubin of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy notes, there is also a significant precedent for national arbitration of the ownership of the Marcos holdings by the Philippine and American goverments. In 1919 American jurist William Howard Taft served as arbitrator of a dispute between Costa Rica and Canada involving the contested assets of a former Costa Rican president. The assets were returned to Costa Rica by way of the arbitration process.

Two advantages of arbitration are the relative speed of the process, compared with the slower litigation process, and the avoidance of unfavorable public opinion from the peoples of the nations involved in litigation if court decisions happen to go against them.

But whatever the legal process now invoked -- individual court suits or, at some point, national arbitration -- it is important and just that any ill-gotten gains be returned.

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