Ruben Varias Reyes, diplomat who questioned Marcos spending, dies at 79

Richard C. Paddock, The New York Times

Posted at Jun 02 2020 09:58 PM | Updated as of Jun 02 2020 11:49 PM

Ruben Varias Reyes, diplomat who questioned Marcos spending, dies at 79 1
Ruben Varias Reyes challenged the excesses of the Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos and his family, including their expenditures in London on items such as Persian rugs, perfume and real estate. Photo courtesy of the Reyes family

Ruben Varias Reyes, a Philippine diplomat who left the foreign service after questioning extravagant purchases by the family of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, died March 25 at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. He was 79.

The cause was the coronavirus, said his daughter, Rachel A.G. Reyes.

In 1974, at age 33, Reyes was sent from Manila to London to serve as the finance attaché at the Philippine Embassy. He had a degree in law and administration from the University of the Philippines and was an army reservist trained in intelligence work.

At the time, Marcos ruled the Philippines by martial law, and his wife, Imelda, was known for her international shopping sprees. They were later accused of looting the Philippine treasury and shipping billions of dollars overseas. Most of the money was never recovered.

Reyes challenged the excesses of the Marcos era, including family members’ expenditures in London on items such as Persian rugs, perfume and real estate, his daughter said. At one point, he blocked the purchase of luxury cars imported from Germany.

“He scrutinized spending on banquets and receptions, and the expense accounts of staff, which sometimes included hundreds of dollars’ worth of drinks at nightclubs and escort services for visiting VIPs,” Rachel Reyes said.

Reyes also questioned expenditures on dog food by Jose Manuel Stilianopoulos, the Philippine ambassador to Britain at the time, who was said to devote a floor of the embassy to his dogs, an Afghan hound and a Great Dane.

Reyes was eventually recalled to Manila and was offered a significant promotion to a post at the embassy in Moscow. He declined the assignment because he saw it is an effort to co-opt him, and he resigned from the foreign service in 1982.

“It was a difficult moment for the family,” Rachel Reyes recalled. “My father ultimately felt that his decision not to accept the posting was for the good of the family and, I think, possibly also for his soul.”

After Reyes left his embassy post, the family remained in London, where he started a travel and tour agency. Later, he and his wife, Neria Gesmundo Reyes, had a successful real estate business. She died in 2015.

Reyes is survived by two children and three grandchildren.