The main event of course was all about the Marcoses being driven out of Malacañang. Remember People Power?
As we very well know, there is an ongoing shamelessly vainglorious subterfuge to rewrite Philippine history by the remaining Marcoses, with vigorous assistance from the well-financed remnants of that strange “Marcos pa rin!” zealotry.
There was once a sensational side event to the continuing universal all-media news coverage about that fall and flight of the dictator and his family. This ‘incidental’ event may well have been easily forgotten over time but Imelda’s purloined fortune cannot obscure much less deny what has been indelibly recorded and documented.
Actually, the proper description ought to be “inventoried.” Not just by journalistic reportage through mainstream media but by the strict and meticulous Customs Service of the United States. It took American professional bureaucrats some 10 days to complete the ‘inventory’ from the moment of ‘discovery.’
What am I talking about? US Customs, you say! Was it a matter of smuggling, then? Here is what happened:
Let us skip EDSA and move on to Clark Air Base. February 25, 1986, a Tuesday. (“Corazon Aquino becomes President of the Philippines. Marcos flees the country.” onthisday.com)
The Marcoses spend their first night out and away from their 20-year stronghold of pelf and power centered in Malacañang. The following morning, they were winging their way to Honolulu’s Hickham US Air Force Base on board a C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft, courtesy of President Ronald Reagan’s offer of sanctuary and the American taxpayer. They deplaned just before noon (February 26/Honolulu time) and were received on the tarmac by Hawaii Governor George Ariyoshi and wife plus some US Air Force officers. Hickham became the Marcoses’ temporary quarters until they moved to their own place of exiled residence.
Port courtesies rendered the entourage included waiving the entire party through Customs, without need for the usual declarations. After the planeside niceties, they all filed into vehicles that ferried them to their temporary quarters within the Base, along with all luggage and carry-ons. There were 89 individuals, including the Marcos family and their household staff of domestics and nannies for the grandchildren, among many others. Photographs showed nannies hugging on to “Pampers” (diapers) boxes. Just a few days later, rumors began to circulate in Honolulu and the world that diamonds and jewelry were secreted within the folds of diapers!
This was occasioned by news of the arrival of a second C-141 just before midnight, which was also part of the Marcos flight into exile. Upon unloading the cargo of the second aircraft, Honolulu Customs personnel discovered inordinate kinds and amounts of valuables and currencies not usually covered by port courtesies. Physical entry of currency into the US is not illegal but non-disclosure is a violation that is highly enforced. Still observing sensitivity and prudence, Customs authorities had to burn the lines Washington DC seeking guidance as to “what to do with the material.”
Initial alarm was raised by the unloading of 22 crates which contained bundles upon bundles of Philippine 100-peso bills! And that was just for starters! The inventory counted the Philippine currency to be in excess of 25-million pesos while the certificates of time deposits found in envelopes amounted to 46-million-plus pesos.
The press followed through with called-for reportage. Combined dispatches in Honolulu newspapers had for its headlines: “Marcos and Party Brought Treasure in Currency, Gold;” “US Says Marcoses Brought in Proof of Vast Holdings.” I remember an accompanying photo showing a nanny hugging a huge box of “Pampers” while holding on to a toddler.
It may have taken the Customs personnel about 10 days to wrap up the inventory and appraisal process. They then issued a confidential document titled: “Articles Accompanying Marcos’ Party Upon Arrival, Honolulu on February 26, 1986, per U.S. Customs Service’s Records.” (This report was ‘done’ on March 10, 1986.)
Altogether, there were about 300 crates/boxes of various sizes to which Customs each appended a “Bag Tag number” with corresponding numbered Itemization, followed by description and nomenclature.
I am certain that any historical researcher will find these documents deposited in the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) archives. For purposes of this conversation, suffice it say however that this inventory consisted of at least 20 pages. Apart from currencies and monetary certificates, the inventory listed ”jewelry worth several million dollars, from gold to diamonds to emeralds to rubies and pearls.” I think it was The Honolulu Advertiser that described the pearl collection alone as having been measured to occupy 48 square feet of space. All the watches, Rolexes, Seikos (and most probably some fake ones, too) could very well “stock a department store.”
How and when all these were eventually released to the Marcoses I have no way of knowing. But I do recall that newly installed Central Bank Governor, Jose 'Jobo' B. Fernandez visited Honolulu and had a conference with some government authorities. I know for a fact that the peso currency was released to the Marcoses because an executive of the First Hawaiian Bank told me that the Marcoses approached the bank wishing to do a foreign currency exchange. First Hawaiian would have nothing to do with the transaction.
I hope it does not escape notice that this load of goodies, all in one C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft, before the advent of EDSA, were stored in Imelda Marcos’s Malacanang boudoir! Along with the shoes, of course!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.