Where is the Marcos Loot hidden?

By Perry Diaz

ON August 29, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte said that members of the Marcos family were “willing to open” and “return” to the government the questionable wealth, including a “few gold bars.” “The Marcoses, I will not name the spokesman, sabi nila (they said), ‘we’ll open everything and hopefully return yung mga nakita na talaga (those that had been discovered),” he added.

Recently, rumor was circulating in the news that the Marcos family and the Philippine government had agreed on a compromise agreement – which would include immunity from prosecution — for the return of a “portion” of their allegedly ill-gotten wealth. But former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos and President Duterte debunked the rumor and said that no agreement had been reached. However, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo had confirmed that lawyer Oliver Lozano, a supporter of the Marcos family had submitted to Malacañang a draft proposal for the return of a part of the Marcoses’ wealth to the government.

According to Lozano, his proposal was based on the April 9, 1973 notes of then president Ferdinand E. Marcos “bequeathing his earthly goods to the Marcos foundation for the benefit of the people.” Duterte should then issue an executive order lifting the freeze so that the government would have a share although Lozano did not say by how much.

It’s interesting to note that Lozano’s proposal did not say how much the Marcoses were willing to return. If he was referring to what the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) – created by then president Cory Aquino after Marcos was ousted from power in 1986 – had estimated to be $10 billion, of which $4 billion the PCGG had recovered, that it can be presumed that the remaining “wealth” in question is only $6 billion. And what would be the “portion” of that wealth the Marcoses were willing to return?

What Lozano did not take into consideration was the amount of loot that Marcos recovered from Japanese treasure sites all over the Philippines during his dictatorship. The recovered gold is now referred to as the “Marcos Loot.”

In my column “Brouhaha over the Marcos Loot” (January 11, 2013), I wrote: “The hunt for the fabled ‘Marcos Loot’ is beginning to look like an Indiana Jones sequel. The only difference is that this one is for real with real life characters, tons of real gold bullions, and a 2,000-pound solid gold Buddha filled with real diamonds, emeralds, and other precious stones that would make the Queen of England look like a pauper.

“And after three decades of hunting for the Marcos Loot that began the day the late President Cory Aquino kicked the Marcoses out of power, the hunt is finally coming to an end during the presidency of her only son, Benigno Aquino III. Not that the Marcos Loot has been recovered but that the government had seemingly lost the will to continue the hunt.

“Soon after Cory took over power and established a revolutionary government in 1986, she formed the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) and mandated it to hunt for the Marcos Loot. Twenty-six years later, the PCGG claimed that it had recovered $5 billion of the estimated $10 billion loot in the form of hard cash, artwork, jewelry, secret bank deposits, and corporate assets. But where is the gold?

“But nobody really knows how much the Marcos Loot is valued at. Some experts estimate it to be more than $60 billion. Some say at least $100 billion. But here is the stinger: Imelda Marcos showed evidence that her husband deposited a very large sum in a bank in Brussels, Belgium that would make the loot PCGG was trying to recover look like loose change.

“In February 2009, a BBC reporter interviewed Imelda Marcos. Imelda showed the British reporter several paintings by masters hanging on her living room walls. When the reporter asked where she got her wealth, she said that her husband was a very rich lawyer who worked for gold mining companies and also traded in gold. She then showed the reporter a piece of paper, which the reporter read. It was a Treasury Certificate for a deposit made by Ferdinand E. Marcos in a bank in Brussels, Belgium for the amount of… are you ready for this? Nine Hundred Eighty Seven Billion United States Dollars. That’s the equivalent of 41.5 trillion Philippine Pesos!

“In his 2003 book, Gold Warrior, Sterling Seagrave told the story of the hunt for Yamashita’s Gold, which began when Gen. Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines in October 1944. A team of men, whom he personally selected, wasted no time searching for the treasure sites. They found several treasure sites. MacArthur used the recovered gold to establish a trust fund for Emperor Hirohito after Japan surrendered in August 1945. Known as Showa Trust, the fund’s trustees were Hirohito and MacArthur himself. Nobody knows the exact amount of Showa Trust but by 1982 it was paying nearly $1-billion interest per year! MacArthur also set up the M-Fund to back up the newly formed Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which became the dominant political force in Japan to this day.

“So, what happened to the rest of Yamashita’s Gold?

“First of all, Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita had nothing to do with the loot. He was wrongly linked to the loot because he happened to be the top Japanese commander in the Philippines during the waning days of the war.

“The real person who was responsible for looting Asia was Prince Chichibu, younger brother of Emperor Hirohito. As head of the ‘Golden Lily’ campaign, Chichibu oversaw the plunder of conquered territories. His first cousin, Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda, was in charge of hiding the loot at 175 secret vaults scattered around the Philippines. Takeda had a young Filipino valet named Ben Valmores. When Takeda sneaked out of northern Philippine when the Americans were closing in, he gave a copy of the maps to Valmores for safekeeping and to be given back to him upon his return. He never came back.

“But some of the treasure maps found their way to then President Ferdinand E. Marcos. In 1968, he sent a team of military officers to Japan to make a deal for joint recovery of ‘Yamashita’s gold. They met with a prince, a cousin of the Emperor, who told them that Japan hid over $100 billion worth of loot in the Philippines that would take ‘more than a century’ to recover it all. It’s not known if an agreement had been reached. However, Marcos proceeded with the hunt.

“In January 1971, Rogelio Roxas, a Filipino locksmith and amateur treasure hunter found a tunnel behind the Baguio general hospital and crawled inside. He found a 28-inch tall solid gold Buddha that weighed one ton, and thousands of gold bars! This was the first treasure site discovered since the end of the war. Roxas, with the aid of 10 men, took the golden Buddha home.

“President Ferdinand E. Marcos heard about the discovery and sent his men to confiscate the golden Buddha. When Roxas protested, he was arrested and allegedly tortured.

“It is said that by the time Marcos was deposed from power during the EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986, his men had recovered tons of gold and precious stones from 12 treasure sites. Where did Marcos hide his loot?

“In 2004, an illegitimate daughter of Marcos by a German-born mother of Hungarian descent, Evelin Hegyesi, surfaced in the news in Australia. Her name is Analisa Josefa Hegyesi. Josefa is the name of Marcos’ mother.

“Investigations by The Sun-Herald revealed that Evelin’s Australian companies have financial links to Marcos’ secret accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The Sun-Herald provided a dossier of the Australian link to the Marcos loot to the PCGG. But the trail went cold.

“In 2011, Analisa was in the news. Now 40 years old and an interior designer, Analisa was reported by The Daily Telegraph that she was fired from a TV reality show ‘Renovators’ after she revealed to her producers that she was Marcos’ daughter.

“PCGG Chairman Andres Bautista heard about it when his staff showed him The Daily Telegraph news account. ‘We will look at the money trail and see if the amount to be recovered would be worth the lawyers’ fees we would be spending for it,’ Bautista told the media.

‘Recently, it was reported in the news that PCGG would be abolished. However, Bautista said that the hunt for the Marcos Loot would not end; the job will be continued by the Department of Justice. He said that the reason for closing the 200-man agency is that it is no longer cost effective to hunt for the $5-billion leftover from the Marcos Loot.

“But who says there is only $5 billion left in the loot? The original estimate was made 26 years ago, at which time the extent of the loot was not fully accounted for. And it may never be accounted for. But like an iceberg, what you see is only the tip of the iceberg… until you submerge into the water. It’s the same with treasure hunt; you never see the loot until you dig it.

“In September 2009, then presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III, made his first campaign promise: ‘I will recover the Marcos Loot.’”

With the news that the Marcoses had offered to return the “loot” to the Philippine government, the question remains: Where is the Marcos Loot hidden?