The United States and the Philippines today exchanged formal diplomatic notes agreeing that the United States will turn over copies of documents seized from former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos by the U.S. Customs Service that might reveal the sources and extent of the deposed leader's wealth.
Justice Department lawyers, however, told U.S. Court of International Trade Judge Dominick L. DiCarlo that the United States would not release the 1,500 documents before the judge rules Monday on whether Marcos' attorneys may obtain a temporary restraining order delaying the release.
In Washington, Jovito Salonga, the head of a Philippine commission investigating Marcos' finances, met with Undersecretary of State Michael H. Armacost for about two hours today. Salonga said he had been "assured of full cooperation by the U.S. government" and said he expected the documents to be turned over early in the week.
In the exchange of diplomatic notes today, the State Department referred to a March 6 agreement to provide copies of the documents "as part of the ongoing tradition of law enforcement cooperation between the two governments." The March 6 agreement, however, was not in the form of a diplomatic note, which carries weight before the Court of International Trade.
The transfer of the documents, today's agreement said, "does not in any way constitute any determination as to the ownership of the documents or any assets therein contained or mentioned."
Richard Hibey, an attorney for two Marcos representatives, told the court that the diplomatic note had been handed to him only minutes before the court session and was an attempt to justify the government's action "ex post facto."
Hibey, arguing on behalf of Ramon Azurin and Gregorio Araneta, said Marcos has a right to privacy under the Constitution not to have documents that he owns publicly distributed.
Salonga and Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), whose House Foreign Affairs subcommittee is probing Marcos' alleged ownership of $350 million in real estate here, vowed at a news conference this week to cooperate "in the effort to uncover the hidden wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies in the United States."
The investigators and the government, however, have been faced with a federal court action in Hawaii that prevents the U.S. government from releasing the documents.
But David M. Cohen, the Justice Department lawyer arguing the case here today, said in an interview that the temporary restraining order issued in Hawaii "does not prohibit disclosure pursuant to an international agreement."
In his remarks today, Hibey told the trade court that Marcos left the presidential palace with the "explicit understanding that he would be taken to the northern provinces of the Philippines and nowhere else . . . .
"One hour after they were bedded down at Clark Air Force Base , the party was awakened, summoned and advised by the commandant of the Air Force base that their security at Clark . . . could not be assured and there was a need to remove them promptly and they would be taken out of the country entirely."
Hibey told reporters later that there was no "informed consent" on Marcos' part to leave the Philippines and said "there is a serious question as to whether under the law there has been a primary illegality" that could affect the debate over the release of the documents.
The Corazon Aquino government that succeeded Marcos claims that the property and papers Marcos and his entourage brought with them Feb. 26 on two U.S. Air Force transport planes rightfully belongs to the government and was taken out of the country in violation of Philippine currency and export control laws.
In papers filed in Honolulu Friday night, the U.S. government asked Fong's court to take charge of the currency and merchandise, "including jewelry and negotiable instruments, but excluding all other documents."
U.S. Attorney Daniel A. Bent said the "interpleader" would let the courts decide the rightful owner of the property and relieve the U.S. government of any liability for surrendering custody to the wrong party.