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Remember the plunder

Publication Date : 25-02-2014

 

Over the years, the complex context that led to Edsa has gradually been lost in the irresistible drive to celebrate the event as a fiesta—that is to say, as a very Filipino feast, steeped in religious imagery and bound by familial or neighbourly ties, which finally resolved political differences in a peaceful, indeed picnic-like, way.

But it was not until the last day or so of the uprising that the threat of retaliatory violence from military forces still loyal to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos finally disappeared. The following possibilities (to cite only three) were all too real: that the civilians who thronged the thoroughfare between the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo and police headquarters in Camp Crame to protect the defectors led by Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos would be caught in the crossfire of a military attack; that the praying crowd at the intersection of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue and Ortigas Avenue would be run over by Marine tanks; that loyalist forces would stage hostile raids on the periphery of the action, such as Libis in Quezon City, where scattered groups of Cory Aquino’s supporters could be found.

Another thing that has been under remembered all this time: popular outrage over plunder.

Part of the reason millions of Filipinos went to Edsa was disgust over the plundered economy; it was truly Imeldific in scale. Almost from the imposition of martial rule, rumours had swept the country about extraordinary corruption. In no time at all, the pattern was set: Big-ticket items such as the construction of the country’s first light rail system or the ill-fated nuclear power plant in Bataan were perceived as especially favored and speedily expedited, at high cost. It may be said that the Marcos regime reached its decadent phase when the signs of plunder could no longer be hidden or disguised: lavish residences for military and police generals; Imelda Marcos’ infamous shopping sprees in world capitals; above all, the foreign debt incurred by the government, which metastasised from approximately US$1 billion when Marcos assumed the presidency in 1965 to about $26 billion in 1986.

The years since the Marcoses fled Malacanang have yielded proof: lawsuits in various parts of the world, massive deposits in secret Swiss bank accounts, inadvertent statements from Imelda herself.

A World Bank case study summed up the case succinctly. “[Marcos] is estimated to have siphoned off between $5 and $10 billion. This ill-gotten wealth was accumulated through six channels: outright takeover of large private enterprises; creation of state-owned monopolies in vital sectors of the economy; awarding government loans to private individuals acting as fronts for Marcos or his cronies; direct raiding of the public treasury and government financial institutions; kickbacks and commissions from firms working in the Philippines; and skimming off foreign aid and other forms of international assistance. The proceeds were laundered through the use of shell corporations, which invested the funds in real estate inside the United States, or by depositing the funds in various domestic and offshore banks under pseudonyms, in numbered accounts or accounts with code names.”

And yet most of Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth has remained out of reach of the country’s continuing attempts at recovery. The Presidential Commission on Good Government has recovered probably about $2 billion in Marcos assets since 1986. That is not an inconsiderable amount, but compared to the total the Marcoses “siphoned off,” it represents only a fraction, perhaps as low as 20 per cent, of the Marcos plunder.

The plunder case now facing three senators and other respondents, including alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, seems like a small matter when compared to Marcos-scale corruption. But those guilty of siphoning off pork barrel funds through fake beneficiary-organizations or fake projects must be studying how the Marcoses got away with it all. To date, not a single member of Marcos’ immediate family has served time in jail; indeed, his wife is back in Congress, and his son and namesake made it to the Senate on his second try.

We should not allow them to slip through the cracks; we must, ever vigilantly, remember the plunder.

 

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