Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez is not sold on the suggestion that Imelda Marcos’ fabulous jewelry collection be presented to the world at large. Reacting to Presidential Commission on Good Government Chair Andres Bautista’s call on the Department of Tourism to exhibit the former first lady’s treasure trove before it is auctioned off, probably by Sotheby’s or Christie’s, Jimenez sounded lukewarm. The man who has capitalized on the country’s natural sites as proof that everything’s preeminently more fun in the Philippines doesn’t deem Bautista’s idea fun, or funny. Has Mister Tourism become Mister Killjoy?
Apparently, Jimenez doesn’t think Imelda with her loud jewelry will be a good poster girl for Philippine tourism. Indeed, he noted the sordid gleam of notoriety in the issue. But like it or not, the woman and her absurdly ostentatious ways remain good copy as far as the international news media are concerned, still generating star power even with the emergence of Manny Pacquiao. But really, the jewels should be exhibited if only for the nation to be reminded on the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law of the excesses of the conjugal dictatorship. The collection on exhibit will afford Filipinos the opportunity to reaffirm, “Never again!”
Divided into three caches, the collection has been drawn from three sources, each with its own unique and tantalizing story. The Malacañang cache has roughly 300 pieces that were left in Imelda’s closets when she and her family hightailed it at the height of the 1986 revolution. The Honolulu cache has at least 400 pieces that were seized by the US Bureau of Customs from the Marcoses when they landed in Hawaii. The third cache is named after Imelda’s Greek operative, Demetriou Roumeliotes, who was caught by Philippine authorities trying to spirit 60 pieces of jewelry out of the country a few weeks after the Marcoses fled. It is said to be the most expensive, its most prominent piece being a 37-carat diamond. In 2006, the Sotheby’s and Christie’s international auction houses estimated the worth of the entire collection at P15 billion.
This is actually the best time to sell the collection. Imelda Marcos has constantly asked the courts to stop the PCGG from making the sale, claiming that many of the pieces were heirlooms, but she has not been successful in obtaining an injunction. What has really stopped the sale of the collection in the past was the inability of the PCGG to work out credible business arrangements with the auction houses. Surely it can now redouble its efforts to finalize arrangements.
The collection is stored in the vault of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Thus, even without the DOT’s cooperation, the collection may be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, which is attached to the central bank. The Met Museum has run bigger international exhibitions, such as those of the Vatican art collection in 1994-1995 and the Picasso prints from the Vollard collection earlier this year.
Bautista considers the proposed exhibition and sale of Imelda’s jewelry collection part of the PCGG’s swan song in preparation for its imminent phaseout. He said the commission had asked President Aquino “to shut us down” because it had been “losing some of the evidence [versus the Marcoses].” He added that the Office of the Ombudsman could take over the recovery of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies. “The PCGG can help the Ombudsman because [Executive Order] 1 mandates us to look into cases of possible graft and corruption,” he said.
The proposed exhibit-sale will serve to bring the curtain down on the PCGG and the Philippine government’s mixed record in recovering ill-gotten wealth from the Marcos era. To be sure, much of the attempts to recover the stash are embodied in the 260 cases that have been filed against the Marcoses and their cronies since 1986. “Most of the cases are being dragged to death in court,” Bautista said. “The failure of the PCGG in the past is mirrored by the failure of the courts. Our cases are over 20 years old—over 260 of them. The courts should not have been allowed to indefinitely delay these cases. Hopefully, with the new Ombudsman, the new Chief Justice and the secretary of justice, we will have a better output with our cases.”
Exhibiting Imelda’s diamonds, rubies and pearls will highlight the government’s failure to recover the criminal stash of the past and to give justice to the victims of the dictatorship. Turning that failure into success is another fundamental aspect of the enormous task embodied in the “daang matuwid.”
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