The title of this piece comes from an article by the British investigative journalist, writer and documentary maker Nicholas Davies, titled “The $10-bn question: what happened to the Marcos millions?” It was published in the Guardian on May 7, 2016, two days before the national elections in which Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. emerged a close runner-up to Vice President Leni G. Robredo.
With people still raging and protesting nationwide against the recent stealthy burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani of the “remains” of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the facts carefully laid out by Davies deserve to be reviewed. He mainly gathered the data from the archives of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which since 1986 has been mandated to track down and recover the wealth stolen by Marcos and his cronies.
The $10-billion estimate of the loot accumulated by Marcos while in public office, Davies points out, came from the Philippine Supreme Court. (Despite this, the ponente of the court’s majority ruling that approved the Libingan burial, Justice Diosdado Peralta, deceptively characterized Marcos as “just a human who erred like us.”)
Just before the election, last April, the PCGG gave Davies unrestricted access to the trove of information in its archives that lawyers and researchers had collected over 30 years “through jurisdictions all over the world… (fighting) their way through hundreds of court cases.” Anguish pervaded the PCGG at the time, he notes, because the agency had recovered “only a fraction [$3.7 billion] of what was stolen by the Marcos network.. and no one has served a prison sentence for their part in the crime.”
What Davies found in the archive include the following:
Marcos’ handwritten diary “frequently puffed with self regard.” Notepaper with heading, From the Office of the President, “with scribbled sums endlessly toting up his cash.” Minutes of company meetings with his comments scrawled in the margins. Contracts, “side agreements,” records of multiple transactions. Hundreds of share certificates. Private investigators’ reports. Tens of thousands of pages of court judgments.
“The PCGG archive tells the inside story of the biggest theft in history, and of the master criminal who organized it: skillful, arrogant, cruel,” Davis writes. “It also opens a door into the offshore world recreated by the Panama Papers [made public in April, in which Imee Marcos is named among the personalities with secret offshore bank accounts].” He observes:
Marcos was one of the first to exploit the rats’ nest of secret jurisdictions and hidden ownerships, then in the early stages of being built beneath the floorboards of public life. But what is most important about Marcos is that he committed the crimes as a politician. His career started with a cynicism that now seems familiar – manipulating electorates, using money to buy power and power to make money. But he went one big step further in merging politics and finance, converting the instruments of government into a vast cash machine.”
Although a handful of other autocrats in that era – in Haiti, Nicaragua, and Iran – were also busy stealing from their people, Davies emphasizes: “Marcos stole more and he stole better. Ultimately he emerged as a laboratory specimen from the early stages of a contemporary epidemic: the global contagion of corruption that has since spread through Africa, South America, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. Marcos was a model of the politician as thief.”
Records of banks in Switzerland and Canada and many incriminating letters of Marcos retrieved in 1986 from a filing cabinet in his Malacanang bedroom, plus thousands more taken from the “50 or so other properties of the Marcoses and their allies” in the Philippines and from homes and offices in the United States are in the PCGG archives. They weave the story of how Marcos set up bank accounts (69 of them in Switzerland) that acted “like a network of dikes receiving his ocean of income.” Davies adds:
“Then all he and Imelda had to do was to turn on the taps anywhere in the world and cash would come pouring out; cash that had been washed clean of its connection to crime.”
Marcos started just as another “Mr. Ten Per Cent” selling his political influence as congressman then senator, Davies narrates. As president he first stashed $215,000 in a New York bank in his own name. PCGG records show he and Imelda began using fake names in secret bank accounts on March 20, 1968. They deposited $950,000 in four accounts with Credit Suisse (in Switzerland) as William Saunders and Jane Ryan (retrieved presidential notepads show that Marcos practiced signing as Saunders). In 1970, the couple added an “extra layer of concealment,” transferring ownership of their accounts to foundations registered in Liechtenstein.
After assuming absolute power by declaring martial law in 1972 and issuing decrees that “form part of the law of the land,” Marcos became more voracious. He forced the Lopezes to “sell” Meralco to him for only $220 million (it was worth $400 million). He took control of the sugar, coconut, tobacco, and banana agribusinesses, then the following industries: logging, paper, meat, oil, insurance, shipping, airline, beer, cigarette, textile, hotels, casinos, newspapers, radio and tv stations. (All the while he was also stealing chunks of Japanese reparations, international aid money, gold from the Central Bank, loans from international banks, US military aid, and the coconut levy fund.)
“His was an early and rapacious version of privatization,” Davies remarks.
And what of the PCGG’s work? Its chairman, Richard Amurao, tries to put up a brave front, declaring: “The work is not finished. There is no statute of limitation on seeking justice. But the passing of time makes it more and more difficult to find new leads.” Dozens of cases against the Marcoses and their allies are bogged down in the courts – 22 of them began in 1987. And the US government hasn’t turned over all the papers seized from Marcos.
Amurao avers that Bongbong has been involved in legal moves that have blocked the PCGG’s work. For instance, he says, there are cases in which Bongbong and his mother are still laying claim to confiscated assets – such as the large collection of jewelry held in the Central Bank vault – that the PCGG has tagged as “ill-gotten wealth.”
One wonders what President Duterte has to say about this.
Published in The Philippine Star
Nov. 26, 2016