Gold is now unquestionably indelibly embedded as the perennial currency of the avarice, profligacy and rapacity of the Marcoses.
Just about the moment that the Ombudsman*, after 26 years, was to submit its recommendations to the Sandiganbayan to finally prosecute Imelda Marcos for the crime of graft and corruption, evidently in anticipation, President Duterte announces that the Marcoses have offered to return part of their hidden wealth, in gold bars, in exchange for immunity.
From all legal indications, Imelda’s conviction is a slam dunk! I think this is what lawyers would call “an open and shut case,” unless a Dutertarian miracle is conjured. With untrammeled malice, our President possesses the gumption and capability to pull it off.
Vigilance! Vigilance! Vigilance!
Thus, we are back talking about gold bars again!
As a consequence of this latest event, ABS-CBN News interviewed ex-Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. recently. The relevance being that Pimentel was the chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee when he flew to Honolulu in October of 1999 to take the deposition of Filipino tycoon Enrique Zobel (EZ or later on, ENZO), at the Philippine Consulate General. It was a follow-up pursuit of Zobel’s publicly quoted declaration of his ‘knowledgeability’ and familiarity with the gold hoard of his late friend, Ferdinand E. Marcos. Understandably, prudence necessitated that the highly positioned Zobel be given official attention. We will get in to this, momentarily.
To be truly realistic, the exact monetary amount of the Marcos greed will never be known. Let us just keep in mind that there is always a limit to the self-serving exaggeration of their hidden wealth. I am still at sea as to why.
A prudent and reasonable calculation of the extent of the criminal pelf of the Marcoses must rely upon perspectives endowed with incontestability. Proper context, as it were. For instance, the much bandied about, and varied weights of, the Marcos gold. Thousands of bars? Hundreds of tons? To conclude that there is an absence of credibility in all the tales with accompanying measures of gold in tonnage, is not hyperbole. But is there rhyme in Marcosian exaggerations?
Here is one instance. My fellow Bayanihan dancer of our long gone past, former Manila Mayor and now party-list Congressman, Lito Atienza, is quoted recalling that Imelda Marcos once told him (or bragged?) of her desire “to return part of the family’s 7,000-ton gold cache.” Now, here is what I mean by perspective.
Speaking of Gold Reserves: Fort Knox in Kentucky is the USA’s official gold bullion depositary. Its vaults contain 4,582 tons. The International Monetary Fund keeps 2,814 tons. China is reported to have 1,842. In fact, the Philippines as of 2017 Q2 had 196.35 tons. Additional perspective: a gold bar’s standard weight is 12.4 kilos.
In the meantime, the Transparency International of Global Corruption Report (2004) reflected Marcos as Number 2 most corrupt in the world with loot estimated at between US$5 to 10 billion. Indonesia’s Suharto as Number 1 with US$15 to $35 billion.
Until Marcos started claiming that he had found ‘the Yamashita treasure” in the later 1960s, as the basis for his noticeably burgeoning unexplainable wealth that was beginning to unravel, there was no attribution to the “Tiger of Malaya” (Yamashita) having amassed and transported great wealth, as war booty. Such myth may have been jump-started or in the least, enhanced by Marcos skulduggery.
Subsequent myriad Yamashita stories that claimed authenticity and authority were in fact mired in imaginative conspiracy theories, unable to summarily eject such ‘treasure’ from the realm of fiction.
The earliest citation of an apparent Marcos fixation over gold is to be found his in his book “For Every Tear a Victory” (1964, McGraw-Hill, p.12) The book, an out and out campaign literature, is truly an autobiography masqueraded as ‘authored’ by a contracted American author, Hartzell Spence. In reference to his clan, blood and extended kin, Marcos claimed: ”They had much gold, which they had amassed and handed down by inheritance…..” An exaggeration because factually, there is no evidence whatsoever of the Marcos clan nor the frugal and hard laboring Ilocanos to have enjoyed such “golden” anthropological heritage.
Carried forward, already close to his deathbed in the hospital room of his final confinement, St. Francis Hospital in Honolulu, sometime in the summer of 1989, Marcos once more raised the matter of gold. His gold! This time with his friend and visitor, Enrique Zobel.
Sufficiently intriguing, it is the news of this hospital visit which prompted Sen. Pimentel to arrange for an official meeting with Zobel in Honolulu. That meeting yielded a 14-page sworn statement in which Zobel deposed having been informed by Marcos that he had US$100 billion in his name, US$35 billion of which in gold bars evidenced by gold certificates that Zobel was shown.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that what my former boss, Enrique Zobel swore to his testimony of what he honestly and sincerely believes. The event he swore to and its ingredients did, in fact, happen. But that’s what Enrique Zobel was precisely, adroitly being led to believe by the ever cleverly wily and deceitful Marcos. Marcos was laying his financial credit rating, his capacity to repay. He had just propositioned Zobel for a loan of US$250 million! Happily, Zobel did not succumb.
Smart and sagacious as Enrique Zobel was, having served as the master of the mighty and venerable House of Ayala, there was still a native naivete that never quite abandoned him. He believed Marcos and said the “certificates looked real.” He did not realize that he was being conned by Marcos. Besides Enrique Zobel did not have US$250 million.
Let me interrupt myself with an essential disclosure. For three years and eight months, from mid-1986 till the end of 1989, 24/7, the Marcoses were the object of my surveillance. I was then in the service of our government as the Consul General in Honolulu.
Did I just say surveillance? How else would I have known that the fallen dictator force-fed himself with 2 Big Macs and 2 large fries, intentionally gorging, choking himself with such uncharacteristic fare in order to evade his New York City indictment seventy-two hours away. Calculatedly, a classic Faustian gamble! He ended up in the hospital, for the last time! A fatal miscalculation, he never recovered. And while in the hospital, that he was already also suffering from “testicular atrophy!” I was never to find out, however, if Dovie Beams, wherever she was, was jumping up and down with joy, yelling “Karma!” “Karma!”
Additionally. Until the cruel and untimely demise of Ninoy Aquino, after which I left my quarter century employment with the Ayala Group, I had been the longest tenured and closest Executive Assistant of Enrique Zobel (EZ). The office joke was: “The only thing Buddy did not do to or did not do for EZ was tuck him to bed, nightly.” An unmindful thought, both ways, I might say. But honestly, it came quite close enough. Really! My dear boss, my “caudillo” is long gone. Sooner or later, I will be following. The confidentialities we shared will remain interred with our mortal residues.
There is a little episode albeit without confirmatory conclusion, I do declare, as to its eventual fulfillment if indeed it ever materialized. But it involves my person, my boss and allegedly, Marcos gold. Let me quote from Sterling Seagrave’s “The Marcos Dynasty.” (Harper & Row, 1988, p.345) “Buddy Gomez, then billionaire Enrique Zobel’s right-hand man……was asked by Zobel in 1979 to set up a meeting in Hong Kong to arrange the transfer of gold out of the Philippines on behalf of Elizabeth Marcos Rocka, the sister of the President.” I was never privy to the outcome of that meeting I arranged. There has never been any mention of gold concerning any of Ferdinand’s siblings. Was Elizabeth a “blind?”
Showing off certificates, of foreign currency deposits as well as of gold bars, is a scenario not exclusively laid out for Mr. Zobel. In fact, Imelda also showed off some supposedly similarly valued certificates to a complete stranger, a visiting British journalist! This, captured on ‘YouTube,’ even! Other visitors to St. Francis Hospital have reportedly been likewise regaled.
But why on earth would such supposedly highly valued documents not be kept in bank vaults, where they undoubtedly belong, for simple security’s sake? When Enrique Zobel visited, Marcos simply asked the nurse on duty to hand over an envelope containing certificates worth US $100 Billion! These were just willy-nilly lying around his hospital suite! Doctors, nurses and orderlies go in and out in the course of their duty hours. Would a normal human being be so careless with a handbag that contained next week’s grocery money?
Why? Is there rhyme to this nonchalance of showing off, of vainly attempting to awe? Why bloat the loot? Why flaunt and exaggerate the already vast hidden wealth? Your guess can be as good as mine.
I am of the mind that while Marcos was still breathing and Imelda, now in her faerie, joyful widowhood, were emitting a subliminal message.
“We are smart and rich. By such riches, we shall rise again. And yes, rich enough to buy off history, to buy off presidents and High Court magistrates!
* (For our non-Filipino Cyberfriends: The Ombudsman is the Philippine government’s special prosecutor while the Sandiganbayan is the ‘people’s advocate/special court tasked with trying crimes of officials, especially graft and corruption.)
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.