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Marcos’ codes for his Swiss accounts

Type “William Saunders” in the Google Search bar and the results vary: an architectural firm, a British photographer, entomologist or boxer; an American botanist or football coach; a Canadian scientist or ice hockey player; a Scottish physician; and much more. In the list of related searches is “william saunders marcos,” which leads to articles about the Swiss bank accounts Ferdinand Marcos opened in 1968 under the name “William Saunders,” and those of Imelda Marcos under “Jane Ryan.”

The Marcos couple opened four bank accounts from March 20 to 21, 1968, with all correspondence directed to a certain “Antonio Martinez, Manila Post Office Box 4539.” They had a total deposit of $950,000—money unexplained and presumed ill-gotten, since Marcos’ statement of assets liabilities and net worth (SALN) as of Dec. 31, 1966, was P120,000, or roughly $30,000. Mrs. Marcos had no SALN till she was appointed minister in the martial law years. If their combined and accumulated lawful salaries from 1966 to 1986 run to P2,319,583.33 ($304,372.43), how could they explain away an undeclared $950,000 in 1968?

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These and much more came to light from the papers found in Malacañang after the Marcoses fled in 1986, and are now preserved in the archive of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG). The Marcos diaries that have been made available to me, collated from five different sets, were stripped of attached notes, documents, receipts and memoranda that make for more engaging reading than Marcos’ glorified account of his life.

In January 1970, Marcos announced a plan to transfer all his material possessions to the Filipino people through the Marcos Foundation, which would “help in the advancement of education, science, technology and the arts.” He was not lying, for he made a legal distinction between what was publicly known as his and excluded all else under the name of William Saunders and the many complicated offshore foundations he had set up as shells to conceal his real wealth. The four Swiss accounts from 1968 were closed in February 1970 and the funds transferred to a “Xandy Foundation” that later grew and morphed into foundations under the names Wintrop, Charis, Scolari, Valamo, Spinus, all of which ended up in a consolidated account known as the Avertina Foundation. All these and much more are summarized in a Supreme Court decision (G.R. No. 152154, July 15, 2003, available online).

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Belinda Aquino’s book, “Politics of Plunder: The Philippines Under Marcos,” reproduced the elaborate code used by the bankers to authenticate cables sent by Marcos from Manila:

“First of all, all cables will be numbered to appear after the words ‘To GEF.’ After the number will come the rotating cable code so that the first cable will come with the code worded ‘Sugar,’ and in subsequent cables the codes shall be worded as follows: (a) Copra, (b) Plywood, (c) Copper, (d) Chromite, (e) Nickel. [Second] for further authentication, the sender’s name should as follows for the following months: (a) January and February—Robert [Barracas]; (b) March-April—Johnny Esteves; (c) May and June—William McNaughton; (d) July and August—Andrew Warner; (e) September and October—Frederick [illegible]; (f) November and December—Anton Preble. If any of these authentication codes will not appear in the cable, the cable should be disregarded.”

Marcos, in an attempt at humor, added to instructions issued in February 1970 that: “In the event we would wish to make withdrawals, we will send you a cable with the words ‘Happy Birthday’ authenticating our message with the agreed-upon code.”

Nobody knew of the William Saunders-Jane Ryan accounts when Marcos made public the supposed gift of all his worldly possessions to the Filipino people through the Marcos Foundation in January 1970, yet people were skeptical. Ernesto Granada in his Manila Chronicle column wrote: “President Marcos’ unprecedented act of giving up his wealth is perhaps the greatest humanitarian gesture in [the] land since Jose Rizal threw his other slipper into Laguna de Bay.” Jose Balein commented: “What was left anyway after elections… We are sure that many Filipinos, if elected twice to the presidency, would not hesitate to do what he has done.”

Working on the Marcos Diaries three years now, do I take these writings with the proverbial grain of salt? Or try to mine truth from a biased, self-serving document?

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, Ferdinand Marcos, Filipino people, Jane Ryan, Marcos wealth, Swiss accounts, wealth, William Saunders
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