End of 30-Year Hunt for Marcos Billions?

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End of 30-Year Hunt for Marcos Billions?

The Philippines may conclude its effort to retrieve the former dictator’s fortune — with less than half recovered.

A shortage of funds and a resurgence of political power within the Marcos family have cast a shadow over the hunt for billions-of-dollars that went missing when Ferdinand Marcos was ousted as president, with a recommendation that the Philippine Government wind down its almost 30-year search.

That advice came from the Presidential Commission on Good Government which has led investigations aimed at retrieving the estimated U.S.$10 billion the Marcos family amassed between 1965 and 1986 when a bloodless popular revolt forced Marcos out of office and into exile.

Less than half that amount has thus far been recovered.

Ferdinand Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989 but his wife Imelda was allowed to return home where she is now a member of the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the former dictator’s son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is a senator while his daughter Imee is governor of Ilocos Norte, a province in the northern part of the country.

The family remains popular in parts of the Philippines despite the widespread corruption that flourished during Ferdinand’s dictatorship.

Imelda was famous for her extravagant displays of wealth that included prime New York City real estate, world renowned art, outlandish jewelry and more than a thousand pairs of shoes. A diamond tiara containing a giant 150-carat ruby is locked-up in a vault at the Swiss central bank. Some have valued it at more than U.S.$8 million.

The family has denied all allegations of wrongdoing and no convictions have been registered against any member of the Marcos clan in relationship to Ferdinand’s rule. The commission investigating them was established by Cory Aquino, the woman who replaced Ferdinand, and mother of current president Benigno Aquino.

Last year a Singaporean court dismissed a U.S.$23 million claim that the Philippines had lodged against a Singaporean branch of the bank West Landeskbank AG, which Manila believed was holding a trust fund for the Marcos family.

In explaining his recommendation to wind down the investigation, Andres Bautista, the head of the commission said retrieving the wealth has “become a law of diminishing returns” and added that it would be more cost effective for the government to have the Department of Justice undertake any future investigations.

“It’s been 26 years and people you are after are back in power. At some point, you just have to say, ‘We’ve done our best’, and that’s that. It is really difficult,” Bautista said.

This could lead to further complications. Aquino won the 2010 election largely on his promises to root out corruption and winding down the commission hardly seems like a display of good governance.

The commission is empowered with a degree of autonomy and legal powers and has been funded comparatively well. Besides lacking necessary funding the justice department’s autonomy could soon be curtailed in light of Ferdinand Jr.’s recent suggestions that he might run for president in 2016.