The Marcoses never really left home
Editor’s Note: Starting Sept. 21, the 42nd anniversary of the proclamation of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos, we have been running a series of articles to remember one of the darkest chapters in Philippine history. The articles are necessarily commemorations and more so a celebration of and a thanksgiving for the courage of the men and women who endured unspeakable pain and loss to overcome the Marcos dictatorship and regain our freedoms. These are some of their stories.
When the Marcoses fled Malacañang in 1986, many Filipinos heaved a sigh of relief, thinking they were gone for good.
Now 28 years later, the Marcoses are parked at the very doorstep of Malacañang, with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ only son and namesake being groomed to retake the Palace come 2016.
Ferdinand Jr. (Bongbong) is a senator eyeing the presidency; his sister Imelda Jr. (Imee) is governor of their northern stronghold; their mother Imelda is a congresswoman; and their late dictator-dad turned into a saintly-looking icon like the dead Pope that is miraculously preserved inside St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican.
Religious cults like the Alpha-Omega have sprung to await Marcos’ resurrection. As cult member Teresita Maglahus said in 1993: “We are waiting for a miracle in the Philippines, the new Jerusalem. It will be revealed to our countrymen and other nations that … President Marcos is God.”
How do you account for such a stunning reversal from ill fortune?
They never really left.
Political roots intact
The 1986 People Power Revolution did chop down the Marcos political tree. But its intricate roots that spread far and wide across the state bureaucracy and Philippine society remained intact. All the Marcoses had to do was nurture the roots and wait for the tree to grow back.
In 1998, by Imee Marcos’ own reckoning, “we waited 12 years to be on the right side of the fence.” Right side meant a political alliance with then victorious President-elect Joseph Estrada, velvet seats in Congress for Imee and her mother, and a governorship for Bongbong.
An ecstatic Imee spilled the family’s secret to success: “Many professionals were appointed by my father. So you have this immense bedrock of Marcos appointees who keep moving up.”
Like secret stay-behind units, this vast army of professionals scattered in all sectors of society have defended the Marcoses and helped erase the dark legacy of their regime.
For various reasons, no post-Marcos administration made it a point to keep the memory of the atrocities and the greed alive and pass this on to the next generation. I remember early on then President Corazon Aquino’s board of censors chief Manoling Morato scolding the public and the media for discussing the Marcos excesses. “Let’s stop demonizing the Marcoses,” he said, after the dictator died in 1989.
Morato was probably following the age-old Filipino practice of not speaking ill of the dead.
I have been a Marcos watcher since 1981 when I unwittingly witnessed the paper “lifting” of martial law in Malacañang. This was courtesy of an invite from Ferdinand Marcos’ speechwriter Adrian Cristobal who had taken over the Philippine Education Company which published The Review magazine. I was its associate editor.
I did not know it then but that was part of my political awakening—to see up close the pomp and power of the dictatorship. Imelda Marcos delayed the speech but no one minded. When she entered Heroes’ Hall, the center parted like the Red Sea as she walked regally, towering above all, heavily made up and in a terno that made her look like a character in a play. She knew how to stage drama.
Later, I would cover her as the governor of Metro Manila Commission, then as congresswoman and an accused.
Looking back, I can see the various factors that helped the Marcoses stage their comeback.
First of all, few in the political opposition that replaced Ferdinand Marcos knew how to run a government. President Corazon Aquino had to rely heavily on the bureaucracy that Marcos had built up to institutionalize his tyranny. Enough key civil servants remained closet Marcos loyalists or were sympathetic or deeply grateful to the Marcos couple for acts of favor.
President Cory tried to “deMarcosify” the bureaucracy through a purge but the Senate pressured her to suspend this twice, according to Dr. Ledivina Cariño, a University of the Philippines College of Public Administration professor in her 1992 book, “Bureaucracy for Democracy: the Dynamics of Executive-Bureaucracy Interaction during Governmental Transitions.”
This is probably what enabled Mrs. Marcos to beat her corruption conviction.
In 1991, President Cory’s government was faced with a difficult dilemma. The Swiss Federal Court had given an ultimatum: If Manila did not take Mrs. Marcos to court by December 20, 1991, the freeze on all the Marcoses’ Swiss bank assets, including the already identified US$356 million, would be lifted. That meant the Marcoses could claim them all.
This was why Imelda Marcos was finally allowed to come home.
Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr.—Mrs. Aquino’s second Interior and Local Governments Minister—told me the second factor that allowed Mrs. Marcos to manipulate the situation. The Aquino government stopped itself from implementing deeply needed reforms that could have rooted out the dictatorship because “we wanted to be the opposite of Marcos.”
When Marcos imposed Martial Law, he jailed his political enemies. When Imelda Marcos returned home on November 4, 1991, she was allowed to stage a dramatic homecoming.
Writing about that moment in “The Aquino Administration–Record & Legacy” published by the University of the Philippines Press in 1992, Mrs. Aquino’s executive secretary, Franklin Drilon (now the Senate President), said: “Mrs. Marcos was allowed to return with no restriction to the pomp and pageantry which accompanied it. Her personal security was ensured, and she was allowed to participate in the election.”
Goofy sound bites
Imelda’s return probably marks the start of the family’s slow but steady climb back to power. Reporters, both foreign and local, simply adored her because she gave such goofy sound bites.
By September 1995, as the Church and militant groups prepared to mount nationwide protests against the 27th anniversary of martial law, Mrs. Marcos defiantly said: “The martial law declaration on Sept. 21, 1972, was one of the best things that happened in Philippine history … to ensure peace for our country.”
Few recalled that this was the same woman who got a convicted murderer to win the presidency in 1965 by serenading voters and telling them—would someone as beautiful as I marry a murderer?
Off-camera, she tirelessly nurtured the network that she and her husband had built up over two decades of being in power. That network gave her the edge when she fought off hundreds of lawsuits and she was convicted on Sept. 24, 1993, for approving an “anomalous transaction” that caused the Light Rail Transit Authority, which she chaired, to lose the equivalent of US$4.8 million. The LRTA vice chair Jose Dans was also convicted for signing the contract on behalf of LRTA.
Convicted but never jailed
This transaction involved leasing out two train station terminals at below market rates to a private foundation that she herself put up and headed. Philippine General Hospital Foundation was supposed to raise funds for the state-owned Philippine General Hospital but its hospital director told me then in an interview that PGH never got a cent from PGH Foundation. Mrs. Marcos signed the contract with LRTA on behalf of the foundation even though she was also the LRTA chair.
In 1996, the Supreme Court found Mrs. Marcos “guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” sentenced her to 12 years in jail and fined her the equivalent of the anomalous contract. Dans was acquitted because the Court found “no conspiracy” between him and Mrs. Marcos.
Around the same time that the government of Fidel Ramos—the dictator’s second cousin—was prosecuting Mrs. Marcos in court, it was secretly negotiating a deal that only came to light in 1996 when former Solicitor General Frank Chavez asked the Supreme Court to stop it. The deal would have allowed the Marcoses to walk off with 25 percent of all their ill-gotten wealth—here and abroad. Tax-free. In addition, all pending criminal and civil cases against them would be dropped.
But that wasn’t all. Chavez presented a letter dated Jan. 24, 1995, from Mrs. Marcos’ lawyer to Presidential Commission on Good Government chair Magtanggol Gunigundo saying “it is further understood that $50 million will be taken from the top as approved by President Ramos and your
(Gunigundo’s) good self.”
“Where will the $50 million taken from the top go?” Chavez demanded to know as he asked to court to permanently bar all compromise deals with the Marcoses.
Just think. If the late lawyer Chavez had not won this case, the Marcoses would have walked off with at least US$89 million, or P3.9 billion (at P44 per dollar). That would have been their cut in the US$356 million loot the dictator and his wife stashed in Swiss banks—not for the Filipino people but for their three children. I have copies of Swiss documents to show this.
In addition, the government would never have known about the US$40 million Arelma account that the court recently awarded “with finality” to the government as part of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.
Senator Bongbong Marcos told me during a foreign correspondents forum in 2011 that he was still after striking a deal: “We’ve been pursuing a compromise settlement since 1986. We will continue to do so.”
You can just imagine what he will do with the rest of his family’s cases if he became President.
Part of the Marcos propaganda being propagated on the Internet is that no Marcos has ever gone to jail for any crime. Therefore all the crimes alleged against them are untrue.
Mrs. Marcos was acquitted in 1990 over the antiracketeering case in New York for four reasons. First, Mr. Marcos who was the principal accused was never arraigned because he said he was “too ill” to stand trial.
Second, the Swiss bank documents that would have traced the money trail for the purchase of New York properties from Manila to Hong Kong to Switzerland to New York never came. Her lawyers had successfully blocked their release. Third, Mrs. Marcos’ lawyer Gerry Spence used the “I’m just a housewife” defense while the former First Lady put on an act before the jury. And fourth, the jurors felt Mrs. Marcos should be standing trial in Manila, not in New York.
If Twitter and Facebook had existed then, her trial would have had a different outcome.
Now let me go back to the LRTA case for which Mrs. Marcos was actually convicted. This illustrates how she has managed to escape convictions all these years.
Five years after her conviction by the Sandiganbayan over the LRTA anomaly, Ramos’ Solicitor General Romeo de la Cruz suddenly submitted a highly unusual request before the Supreme Court to reverse Mrs. Marcos’ conviction for lack of evidence.
I was greatly puzzled and shocked by seeing the chief government lawyer throw away a landmark case that the government had been trying to win all those years.
And so, I interviewed SolGen De la Cruz on the matter. He told me then: “Sandiganbayan erred. It should not have convicted Mrs. Marcos. It played blind to the evidence she presented. So we recommended to the Supreme Court…to acquit Mrs. Marcos.”
He also told me that he arrived at this on “purely legal grounds” and “without asking clearance form higher officials including President Ramos.”
This was even though his office was under the Office of the President and it was never involved in prosecuting the case before Sandiganbayan. The Office of the Ombudsman provided the prosecution lawyers.
I asked him how he got involved and he said it was because the Supreme Court had directed the SolGen, not the Ombudsman, to comment on Mrs. Marcos’ appeal for acquittal.
One of the boys
I asked him about his background and I learned that SolGen De la Cruz became a government lawyer in 1974 serving under Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza—Mrs. Marcos’ lead lawyer. De la Cruz slowly rose through the ranks before being appointed chief government lawyer by Ramos in February 1998—a nearly midnight appointment.
A disgusted human rights lawyer Rene Saguisag told me at that time, “Solicitor General Romeo de la Cruz’s flip-flop is a reflection of the new power situation. If, as we understand it, he is one of the boys of former Solicitor General and Justice Minister Estelito Mendoza, the snicker or wink factor will be there. That passes for administration of justice in our benighted country.”
The Supreme Court used Solgen De la Cruz’ stunning request for acquittal as one of the grounds to acquit Mrs. Marcos on Oct. 6, 1998, by a vote of 8-5-1.
“Thank you, Lord,” Mrs. Marcos said.
But former Senator Jovito Salonga had a different take on the verdict. He noted that five upheld Mrs. Marcos’ conviction: Chief Justice Andrews Narvasa, Justices Artemio Panganiban, Florenz Regaldao, Flerida Ruth Romero and Hilario Davide Jr.
But Salonga noted that seven of the eight justices who cleared Mrs. Marcos owed their appointments to senior judicial positions to Mr. Marcos or to Estelito Mendoza, her lead counsel.
I tried checking out Salonga’s statement and this is what I found. Four of the eight justices who had acquitted Mrs. Marcos once had her lawyer Estelito Mendoza as their boss.
Reynato Puno (now a retired Chief Justice) worked under Mendoza for nine years. Vicente Mendoza was Assistant SolGen under Mendoza from 1973 to 1980. Santiago Kapunan worked under Mendoza from 1972 to 1973. Fidel Purisima did not work under the SolGen but Mr Marcos appointed him a judge.
The two others who acquitted Mrs. Marcos were Antonio Martinez and Leonardo Quisumbing. I could not find any reference to Martinez but I personally knew Quisumbing who once worked at the Defense Department under Ramos. Jose Vitug abstained from voting.
If this was a jury in the United States, at the very least some of them could have been questioned for possible conflict of interest.
To this day, the Supreme Court is silent about its dark history during the dictatorship. When Renato Corona was Chief Justice, the court website just skipped any reference to the fact that it was the Supreme Court that legitimized the Marcos dictatorship. Today, if you click the icon that says “history,” nothing comes out.
Is the Supreme Court ashamed of its history? Or is it still being rewritten?
As my fellow journalist husband Alan wrote, “It is a truism that Filipinos are a forgiving people. But how will they ever forgive the crimes of the Marcoses? They cannot even seem to remember them.”
Raissa Robles is journalist-webmaster of raissarobles.com: inside Philippine politics and beyond and Manila correspondent of South China Morning Post. Her twitter handle is @raissawriter and her Facebook community page is www.facebook.com/raissawriter.
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