#EDSA30: Looking back, looking forward

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Feb 19 2016 07:45 PM | Updated as of Feb 22 2016 05:04 PM

3 decades after tyrant's ouster, Marcos heirs plot grand comeback

First of a Series 

Thirty years after fleeing the People Power revolution, the heirs and allies of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos are gunning for a grand comeback using the regime's myth-making tricks.

The son of the ousted leader is contesting the vice-presidency in this year's May elections. Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. pins his hopes on poor collective memory and a well-oiled machinery in presenting his father's two decades of strongman rule as the Philippines' "golden age".

As a teenager, Marcos, Jr., romped through a dolce vita landscape dominated by his profligate mother, Imelda, now 87 years old seeking a third term in the House of Representatives.

A specialist from Sotheby's examines a piece of jewelry of former first lady Imelda Marcos inside the Central Bank of the Philippines on Friday. The Presidential Commission on Good Government commissioned the appraisal of the Marcos family jewelry collection, seized in 1986, to evaluate its current value. Erik De Castro, Reuters

The government has just appraised some P1-billion worth of the former First Lady’s jewels. That is but a fraction of the estimated US10 billion stolen by the dictator and his kin, according to the World Bank-UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative.

Marcos Jr. now campaigns on a platform of innocence. 

There is nothing about Martial Law and his father’s legacy to apologize for, according to the son. There were no human rights violations, no corruption, no social, economic and political engineering aimed at consolidating Marcos’ powers and rewarding his friends and lieutenants.

WATCH: Bongbong on Marcos era: What am I to say sorry for?

Recovered ill-gotten wealth

Myth #1 is, there was no hidden, ill-gotten wealth.

Court documents and studies by multilateral agencies, however, extensively document how the Marcos family siphoned off monies and stashed these abroad before his ouster by People Power in 1986.

The Philippine government, now headed by the son of the widow who galvanized the country to revolt, recovered in 2014 US$29 million from hidden Swiss bank accounts of the dictator. That brought to US$717 million (around P30 billion) the amount recovered from that country.

Switzerland also ordered the release of US$683 million in 2004, a year after the Philippine Supreme Court directed forfeiture of the deposits, according to the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative. Close to half of the amount represents frozen and accumulated interest.

Marcos Jr.'s claims had been dashed as early as 2003 by the Swiss Federal Court. Saying the Marcos funds were "of criminal origin," it ordered the return of US$1 billion.

Former Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCCG) chair, Andres Bautista, now head of the national elections body, has placed the total in recovered ill-gotten wealth at US$4 billion of the estimated US$10 billion believed stolen by the dictator, his family, and friends. 

PCGG laments slow recovery of Marcos' ill-gotten wealth

The PCGG hopes to recover another US1 billion by the end of President Benigno Aquino III’s term.

The Philippine Supreme Court states that only $320,000 worth of Marcos assets are exempt from ill-gotten status, as it covers legal income from 1965 to 1986.

It has been a slow, hard slog for justice, with the Philippines filing more than 200 recovery and forfeiture cases.

With ultra-secretive Swiss banks -- experts at hiding dictators' wealth, on the other side of the courtroom battles -- the Philippines would never have recovered some of the wealth if not for the submission of voluminous evidence.

Most of this evidence was left behind by the Marcos family as they fled People Power on February 25, 1986. 

Charlie Avila, an opposition coalition member who spent years tracking Marcos abuses, said in his journals that a United States Embassy security official stumbled on 25 suitcases of secret documents in a walk in vault hidden behind a false wall in Imelda's bedroom.

READ: Show me the Monet: Return of Marcos paintings sought

The hunt for 150 paintings of “prominent masters and artists” has been going on since the Marcos family fled Malacanang. In 2012, former Imelda aide Vilma Bautista was charged with illegally selling a Monet painting in New York City. Authorities found three more artworks in her possession and the PCGG says all four were part of their list. 

WATCH: Mamahaling paintings ng mga Marcos, kumpiskado

Systematic looting

Even before declaring Martial Law in 1971, Marcos was already stashing wealth abroad: US$215,000 in Chase Manhattan Bank in New York.

He and Imelda opened their first Swiss account with US$950,000 the following year. An executive of Credit Suisse Bank flew to Manila to facilitate the transaction, according to documents left behind after his ouster.

By 1970, as unrest was growing in the national capital, and as Marcos faced the last years of a two-year term, he shuffled some funds to new foundations in Liechtenstein. Swiss bankers acted as fronts for the couple.

The pattern of opening new accounts continued in Switzerland, in Luxembourg, London, Hong Kong, Cayman Islands, and New Hebrides throughout the remaining years of the dictatorship.

A dozen accounts were also opened in Manila with the Security Bank and Trust Company. 

The practice peaked just before the EDSA People Power Revolt with $94 million scattered through 20 wire transfers made with 10 European banks.

The Marcoses have long claimed that the late president’s wealth came from trading in gold. There has been almost no legal paper trail of this source of riches, although Imelda insists he showed her a small mountain of gold bars – disguised with lead covers – during their courtship. 

Read: Imelda's Truth: Reclaiming gold and Paradise

What have been documented are regular incidents of huge kickbacks and bribes, raids on the dollar and gold reserves of the central bank, and the placement of cronies as fronts from enterprises spanning virtually all areas of commerce.

Experts say some 30 percent of the foreign debts incurred by Marcos for infrastructure programs and patching growing cracks in basic industries eventually ended up in the dictator’s secret accounts.

A 1985 probe by the US General Accounting Office on economic and military aid to the Philippines discovered $92.5 million missing and more misuse in projects worth $227 million. 

Even victims of disasters were not speared by the regime. The investigation, requested by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, found overpriced and padded power line rehabilitation projects in areas devastated by typhoons.

Central Bank management struggled to hide its Special Accounts shortfall of $6 billion or the $1.2 billion missing reserves.

The Los Angeles Times reported the Central Bank could not account for 6.325 metric tons of gold between 1978 and 1984, a period when gold producers could only sell their products to the government.

Government and private banks were also forced to write off billions of pesos in loans to cronies.

WATCH: Life under Marcos: A fact-check

Spare the children?

Critics of the Marcoses believe the son is running in a bid to permanently place the family wealth beyond government recovery efforts.

The social media machine of Marcos Jr. harps that a father’s sins should not be visited on his children.

Senator and vice-presidential aspirant Bongbong Marcos (right) shows off his cooking skills at Victorino’s restaurant. Right beside him is his sister, Imee. Jonathan Cellona for ABS-CBNnews.com

But the son and Imee, the oldest Marcos child and now governor of Ilocos Norte, were growing into maturity during the waning days of the dictatorship when efforts to hide their wealth grew more frenzied. 

The Campaign against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang (CARMMA) points out that Bongbong was 26 years old in 1985, when appointed chairman of the Board of Philcomsat.

READ: Movement launched to oppose Bongbong's VP bid

Though he rarely reported to the agency, he received “a monthly salary of anywhere between $9,700 to $97,000,” the group said.

Marcos Jr. is also executor of his father’s estate and among the beneficiaries of the Swiss deposits, according to investigative journalist Raissa Robles.

Robles openly calls on Filipinos “to stop the Marcoses from erasing their crimes from history.”

In a 2012 report on her blog, Robles also detailed Marcos Jr’s admission about facilitating two special powers of attorney (SPA) to withdraw $200 million from Credite Suisse funds a month after his father’s downfall.

That effort triggered an alarm and the freezing of Marcos assets. The fund covered by Marcos Jr.’s SPA was the amount the Swiss ceded back to the Philippines in 2003.

The dictator’s son portrayed himself as naïve, saying the incident was the first time people approached with offers to help recover newly “identified” funds. The son gave an impression of only having a vague idea of what those assets were.

But the man involved was an old acquaintance of Marcos Jr. and part of a murky "sting operation" engineered by Jose Almonte, a military general who was part of the 1986 attempted coup that morphed into People Power. 

Marcos Jr.'s acquaintance, Michael De Guzman, later testified before a congressional panel that the son had given him the name of the official to contact.

Marcos’ oldest child, Imee (full name Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc) cropped up in 2013 on a list of Filipinos with covert bank accounts in the British Virgin Islands.

READ: Imee Marcos, sons tied to offshore trust in Caribbean

A collaboration between the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) found that the Ilocos Norte governor’s accounts were not disclosed in the required Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).

One of the instruments, called the Sintra Trust, was active from 2004 to 2010 and included four of the governor’s sons as beneficiaries, the report said. The consortium, however, could not access other details of the trust.

The report added, “Former and current government officials shown some of the documents gathered by ICIJ said they were reminiscent of the methods Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos used in the 1970s when they created secret offshore accounts and foundations.”

READ: Imee mum on 'secret' offshore trust

Whitewashing memory

Marcos, the vice presidential candidate, emerged last week on top of voters' preference for the first time since presenting himself as a champion of national unity.

READ: Binay lead slips; Chiz, Marcos tied in VP race: SWS

He touts strong support among Filipino youth for his campaign inroads.

"They have a good sense of history. Alam nila kung ano ang propaganda," Marcos Jr. told ABS-CBN News. "Matalino, ang mga Pilipino, alam nila ang katotohanan, alam nila ang mga nangyari." 

READ: Bongbong admits bias on martial law: Let historians speak

Myth #3 is, that only communists believe tales of abuses by the Marcos dictatorship.

The senator tried to fend off questions about his father’s legacy by pointing to the failures of successors.

He has tried to paint human rights victims seeking compensation for the dictatorship’s abuses as just out to make money.

That claim goes against a mountain of documents, news reports, trials and probes here and abroad on atrocities committed during Marcos’ 21 years of strongman rule.

The regime killed 3,257 Filipinos, including some of the country’s brightest students, clergy, and young professionals.

It turned 70,000 citizens into political prisoners. One half of them reported being tortured by state security forces.

Closure has yet to come to the families of close to a thousand missing. 

A report by an American Committee for Human Rights mission said the overall impression was, “one-third to one-half of all individuals arrested by the military are subject to torture, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on Torture."

CARMMA noted that the young Marcos was a reserve officer in the Philippine Army.

“He wore the military combat uniform when his father was sworn into office at the balcony of Malacañang after the dictator rigged the 1986 snap presidential elections., CARMMA spokesperson Bonifacio Ilagan stressed. “Bongbong upheld electoral fraud and was ready to defend the dictatorship by arms." 

When Marcos Jr. is pushed against the wall, he resurrects his father’s old bogey tune.

It would not have happened, the family insisted, had the communists not threatened the republic.

The communists had been around since World War II. In fact, many of the demonstrators were not communists. No traditional political opposition figure was a communist.

When Marcos declared martial law, ragtag was a kind term to describe the New People’s Army (NPA). By the time he fell off the mountain of power, the NPA had 25,000 armed guerrillas and a mass base that could halt commerce and trade with coordinated citizens’ strikes.

(To be continued)