Unexplained wealth of the Marcos family

The Marcos family, a political family in the Philippines, owns various assets that Philippine courts have determined to have been acquired through ilicit means during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos from 1965–1986.[1][2] These assets are referred to using several terms, including "ill-gotten wealth"[3] and "unexplained wealth,"[4] while some authors such as Philippine Senator Jovito Salonga and Belinda Aquino more bluntly refer to it as the "Marcos Plunder."[4][5]

A 2005 image of 40 Wall Street, one of four Manhattan buildings purchased by the Marcoses in the early 1980s.

Legally, the Philippine Supreme Court defines this "ill-gotten wealth" as the assets the Marcoses acquired beyond the amount legally declared by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in the president's statements of assets and liabilities[3]—only about US$13,500.00 worth from his salary as president. The court also deems such wealth to have been forfeited in favor of the government or of the human rights victims of Marcos' authoritarian regime.[6] Estimates of the amount the Marcoses reportedly acquired in the last few years of the Marcos administration range from US$5 billion to 13 billion.[7]: 634–635 [8]: 27  No exact figures can be determined for the amount acquired through the entire 21 years of the Marcos regime. But prominent Marcos-era economist Jesus Estanislao has suggested that the amount could go up to as high as US$30 billion.[9]: 175 

Among the sources of the Marcos wealth are alleged to be: diverted foreign economic aid, US Government military aid (including huge discretionary funds at Marcos disposal as a "reward" for sending some Filipino troops to Vietnam) and kickbacks from public works contracts over a 2-decades-long rule.[10]

This wealth includes: real estate assets both within the Philippines and in several other countries, notably the United States; collections of jewelry and artwork; shares and other financial instruments; bank accounts, both in the Philippines and overseas, notably Switzerland, the United States, Singapore, and the British Virgin Islands;[11][12] and in some instances, actual cash assets.[13]

Some of this wealth has been recovered as the result of various court cases, either as funds or properties returned to the Philippine government, or by being awarded as reparations to the victims of human rights abuses under Marcos' presidency.[14] Some of it has also been recovered by the Philippine government through settlements and compromise deals, either with the Marcoses themselves or with cronies who said that certain properties had been entrusted to them by the Marcoses.[13] Some of the recovery cases have been dismissed by the courts for reasons including improper case filing procedures and technical issues with documentary evidence.[15] An unknown amount[8] is not recoverable because the full extent of the Marcos wealth is unknown.[1]


Estimates of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family vary,[16][17] with most sources accepting a figure of about US$5–10 billion for wealth acquired in the last years of the Marcos administration,[1][18] but with rough extreme estimates of wealth acquired since the 1950s going as high as US$30 billion.[9]: 175 

In a 1985 report to the United States Congress House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth estimated that the Marcoses had stolen an accumulated wealth of US$10 billion "in recent years", in the context of the rapid decline of the Philppine economy in the early 1980s.[19][7]: 634–635  The same figure was cited by the Philippines' Office of the Solicitor General soon after Marcos was deposed by the EDSA Revolution in 1986.[20]

Bosworth's source, Dr. Bernardo Villegas of the Philippine think tank the Center for Research and Communication (CRC), noted that the rough 10 Billion figure ultimately cited by Bosworth was already below well below the conservative estimate which can be derived from an analysis of the Philippines' import and export figures.[8]: "27"  In an interview with the Catholic newspaper Veritas, Villegas cited economic data gathered by the CRC saying that the conservative figure for the Marcoses' unexplained wealth would be a minimum of $13.145 Billion, and could be as high as $30 billion.[21] Villegas noted that his analysis was based on figures tabulated by the CRC from 1977 to 1985, and added that the hidden wealth was self-evident, saying "kitang kita ang ebidensya" ("the evidence is very visible").[21]

The PCGG's first chair Jovito Salonga later said that he estimated figure of US$5 billion–10 billion,[16] based on the documentary trail left behind by the Marcoses in 1986.[11] Internationally, Salonga's estimate has become the popularly cited estimate of the Marcoses' unexplained wealth,[16] and it is this amount for which the Marcoses were cited by Guinness World Records as having perpetrated the "largest-ever theft from a government" in 1989[22][23]—a record they are still holding in 2021.[24]

However, Dr. Jesus Estanislao, another noted economist from the Center for Research and Communication, pointed out that this figure reflected amounts taken out of the country in the years immediately prior to the ouster of the Marcos administration, and that there was no way to accurately estimate the wealth acquired by the Marcoses since the 1950s when he was in the legislature, and the mid 1960s when he became president. Estanislao suggested that the figure could be closer to $30 billion.[9]: 175 

Means of acquisitionEdit

Among the sources of the Marcos wealth are alleged to be diverted foreign economic aid, US Government military aid (including huge discretionary funds at Marcos disposal as a "reward" for sending some Filipino troops to Vietnam) and kickbacks from public works contracts over a 2-decades-long rule.[10]

According to Jovito Salonga in his book "Presidential Plunder", which details Salonga's time as head of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, these cronies helped the Marcoses amass his wealth by aiding him in one or more of what Salonga called "Marcos' Techniques of Plunder".[4]

These techniques,[4] says Salonga, were:

  1. Creating monopolies and putting them under the control of cronies;
  2. Awarding behest loans to cronies from Government banking or financing institutions;
  3. Forced takeovers of various public or private enterprises, with a nominal amount as payment;
  4. Direct raiding of the public treasury and Government Financing Institutions;
  5. Issuance of Presidential Decrees or orders, enabling cronies to amass wealth;
  6. Kickbacks and commissions from enterprises doing business in the Philippines;
  7. Use of shell corporations and dummy companies to launder money overseas;
  8. Skimming off of Foreign Aid and other forms of International Assistance; and
  9. Hiding wealth in overseas bank accounts using pseudonyms or code names.

Agency in charge of recoveryEdit

Shortly after Marcos was removed through the 1986 People Power revolution,[11] an quasi-judicial government agency named the Presidential Commission on Good Government was created, with the primary mandate of recovering ill-gotten wealth accumulated by the Marcoses, their relatives, subordinates, and close associates, whether located in the Philippines or abroad.[25][26][27][28] It was also tasked with investigating other cases of graft and corruption; and instituting of corruption prevention measures.[13]: 5 [28]

Two years later in 1998, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law mandated that the funds recovered by the PCGG be automatically appropriated to fund the Philippines' agrarian reform programs.[29] Since then, assets recovered from the Marcoses by the PCGG has funded more than 80 percent of the Philippines' budget for agrarian reform.[30][13] On January 28, 2013, the Philippine Congress enacted the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 (Republic Act No. 10368). Through this law, the Philippine government acknowledged its moral and legal obligation to recognize and/or provide reparation for the victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime. For this purpose, Congress allocated ₱10 billion from funds transferred to the Philippine government by virtue of the December 10, 1997 Order of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, adjudged by the Supreme Court of the Philippines as final and executory in Republic vs. Sandiganbayan on July 15, 2003, (G.R. No. 152154) as Marcos ill-gotten wealth and forfeited in favor of the Republic of the Philippines.[31]

Overseas real estate propertiesEdit

A 2013 image of the Crown Building, one of four Manhattan buildings purchased by the Marcoses in the early 1980s.

Some of the most tangible examples of the unexplained wealth of the Marcos family are the various overseas real estate properties that the Marcoses acquired while they were in power.[28][13][11]: 423 

The best known[11][32] of these properties are the Marcoses' multi-million dollar real estate investments in the United States,[33]: 16  particularly Imelda's purchases of buildings and real estate in New York,[34] the estates purchased in New Jersey for the use of the Marcos children,[35] Jose Yao Campos's investments in Seattle,[36] various properties in Hawaii including the Makiki Heights estate where they lived during their exile,[37] and their ownership of the California Overseas Bank in Los Angeles.[11][38] According to Ricardo Manapat's book "Some Are Smarter Than Others", which was one of the earliest to document details of the Marcos wealth,[39] lesser known properties include gold and diamond investments in South Africa, banks and hotels in Israel, and various landholdings in Austria, London, and Rome.[11]

Many of these properties are to have been acquired under the name of several Marcos cronies.[33] One of them, Jose Yao Campos, cooperated with the Philippine Government and made an immunity deal, revealing how he fronted Marcos’ investments both locally and abroad via numerous interlocking shell corporations.[33][40]

Marcos mansions in the PhilippinesEdit

Aside from the overseas properties, there are fifty-or-so "Marcos mansions" acquired by the Marcos family within the Philippines itself.[41] Locations of these "Marcos mansions" include[42] properties in Philippines' "Summer Capital" of Baguio City,[43] in the Ilocos region where the Marcoses trace their ancestry, Leyte where Imelda Marcos' family came from,[44] and throughout the Greater Manila Area and its outskirts.[45]

Some of these properties are titled in the name of Marcos family members, but others are titled in the name of identified “Marcos cronies” while being reserved for the use of the Marcos family.[41] In some cases, several such mansions were located close together, with specific mansions meant for individual members of the family, as was the case of the Marcos mansions on Outlook Drive in Baguio.[43] Many of the Marcos mansions were sequestered by the Philippine government when the Marcoses were expelled from the country as a result of the 1986 EDSA Revolution.[11]

The Marcos jewelsEdit

Also sequestered by the PCGG in 1986[46][47] were three sets of Imelda Marcos' jewelry, which have collectively come to be known as the "Marcos jewels" or "Imelda jewels."[48]

Individually, the three collections of jewels sequestered by the PCGG have been come to be called the "Hawaii collection," the "Malacanang collection", and the "Roumeliotes collection", respectively.[49][50][51] The "Hawaii collection" refers to a group of jewels seized by the US Bureau of Customs from the Marcoses when went into exile in Hawaii in 1986. The "Malacanang collection" refers to a group of jewels that were discovered in Malacañang Palace after the Marcoses fled the Philippines. The "Roumeliotes collection" refers to a group of jewels that were confiscated from Demetriou Roumeliotes, said to have been a close associate of Imelda Marcos, after he was caught trying to smuggle them out of the Philippines at Manila International Airport.[52]

In February 2016, the government of the Philippines announced that the three collections had been appraised as valuing ₱1 billion, and that they would eventually be auctioned off after having been kept unsold by the government for three decades.[53][54]

Overseas bank accountsEdit

Much of the Marcos wealth that the PCGG has been trying to recover is kept in various overseas bank accounts, which the PCGG was able to identify based on documents left by the Marcoses in Malacañang in February 1986.[9]: 175 [8]: 27  Marcos had started opening such accounts even before he was president, opening his first bank account by depositing $215,000.00 in Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City on July 7, 1960.[55]

The William Saunders and Jane Ryan accountsEdit

The most famous of these overseas accounts of the Marcoses are the four so-called William Saunders and Jane Ryan accounts, opened with Credit Suisse in Zurich in March 1968. Marcos famously used the alias "William Saunders" for the name of the account, while Imelda Marcos choose the alias "Jane Ryan." Four checks, totaling US$950,000.00 were used to make the initial deposit.[55][56] These were later moved into other accounts under various dummy foundations, but when records of them were discovered by the new Philippine government after the 1986 EDSA revolution, the Swiss Federal Council froze them.[4] On December 21, 1990, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court ruled that these accounts could be turned over to the Philippine government, on the condition that there be a concurring "final and absolute judgment" by a Philippine court.[57][58][59] In 1997, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court established the funds to have been "of criminal provenance" and permitted their transfer to an escrow account in Manila, pending a ruling from a Philippine court[14] that came in the form of a confiscation ruling by the Philippine Supreme court on July 15, 2003.[60] Switzerland finally released a total of $683 million in Marcos funds to the Philippines Treasury in 2004.[61]

The Arelma accountEdit

Aside from the Saunders account, another well known overseas account of the Marcoses is known as the Arelma account, opened in 1972 at the brokerage firm of Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. in New York under the name of the Arelma Foundation, a Panamanian corporation. The initial deposit had been for only $2 million in 1972, but the account had grown to approximately $35 million by 2000, and $42 million by 2014.[62]

Compromise deal accountsEdit

Among the early successes of the PCGG were achieved through compromise deals with Imelda Marcos or various Marcos cronies. Banks involved included Japan's Sanwa Bank, and in the United States, Redwood Bank and California Overseas Bank.

Status of recovery effortsEdit

As the Marcos family fled to Hawaii after the EDSA Revolution, the opposition organized themselves and Pres. Corazon Aquino released Executive Order 1 on 28 February 1986, which was the creation of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), with Jovito Salonga as its chair. The task of the PCGG was to recover all assets and moneys amassed by the Marcoses, relatives, and cronies.[63]

The first attempt to recover was organized by Salonga, Sedfrey Ordoñez, Charlie Avila, and BGen. Jose Almonte, and was called Operation Big Bird. Armed with documents recovered in Manila after the revolution, the committee worked with the European banking systems and Swiss government to recover the money hidden at Swiss banks. Operations Big Bird as formulated by Gen. Almonte was to use Filipino bankers in Europe to double-cross the Marcoses in issuing a special power of attorney (SPA) to move their money from possible investigation by Philippine, and European governments. While $7 billion of accounts were identified, this mission was only successful to transfer $356 million from Marcos connected accounts to the Philippine government accounts. Sensing the double-cross, the Marcos withdrew their SPA, and the Swiss Attorney-General has ordered the freezing of the rest of the accounts until the Philippine government can prove that these accounts belong to the Filipino people.[64][65]

The recovered money has ballooned to $570 million by 1998 when it was transferred from Switzerland to a Philippine National Bank escrow account. By 2003 the Philippine Supreme Court released a decision with finality that the said money was considered public fund. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in accordance to the law declared that the said money was to be used for the agricultural sector and agrarian reform. However, as 2004 elections are in the corner, the said funds were allegedly used for funding the campaign of Arroyo and her party-mates and allies. This was to become known as the Fertilizer Fund scam.[66]

By 2019, the PCGG had recovered more than ₱171 billion of ill-gotten wealth from the Marcoses and from Marcos cronies since its creation in 1986.[67] Some of this came from money sequestered by the PCGG or surrendered under various compromise agreements, and some of it came from the sale of various surrendered or sequestered properties.[67] By 2020 it became ₱174 billion.[68]

See alsoEdit


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