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Marcos-Era Gold Reported Missing : Philippines Tracing Flow of Millions in Bullion, Cash and Illegal Profits

March 16, 1986|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — At least seven tons of gold worth more than $75 million reportedly disappeared from the inventories of the Philippine national treasury in the seven years after President Ferdinand E. Marcos took direct control of the processing and distribution of gold mined in the Philippines.

During those same years, Marcos' family and friends are believed to have amassed tens of millions of dollars in illegal profits from unauthorized logging operations that have left much of the country's jungle and forest a barren wasteland.

Also, Marcos and his friends are believed to have siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from the treasury, either through the creation of private corporations and quasi-governmental institutions that never repaid government loans or by simply removing money at will from discretionary funds Marcos created in several of his ministries.

Poring Over Records

All this has been disclosed by ministers and auditors of the new government of President Corazon Aquino in interviews with The Times. In the 2 1/2 weeks since the Aquino government came to power, these people have been poring over the books and records Marcos and his family left behind when they fled to the United States on Feb. 25.

The ministry audits, which are being carried out in addition to inventories the new government is preparing on the Marcos family holdings here and abroad, are nowhere near complete. But a pattern is emerging that shows not only what Marcos owns but how he came to own it--how one man and his family amassed fortunes that total between $5 billion and $10 billion, according to officials in the new government.

Mansions, Office Towers

Every day since Marcos surrendered a job that officially paid him about $5,000 a year, the Philippine people have been hit with new reports of the deposed president's wealth--mansions and office towers in New York, California, New Jersey and Texas; scores of crates containing gold and cash on board the plane that carried the Marcos party to Hawaii; dozens of boxes filled with gold coins, priceless jewelry and art objects removed from the presidential palace since Marcos' flight; wardrobes so extensive that, in just one closet of Imelda Marcos' bedroom, government auditors found 500 identical, imported black brassieres.

'Raped, Robbed' Nation

The Aquino government's investigation into how the Marcoses acquired so much wealth has been much quieter. But, according to many analysts here, it says a great deal about the way Marcos led a country of 54 million people whose per capita income is $625 a year.

Ernesto Maceda, who served in the Cabinet under Marcos and is minister of natural resources in the Aquino government, said the other day of the Marcos era: "This was a government that raped its own country of its rich resources and directly robbed the nation's treasury to enrich just one man and his family and friends.

"From gold and timber to coconuts and sugar, they kept creating new ways and new conduits to take things out of the country for themselves, and they very nearly mortgaged the future of the country in the process."

According to independent Filipino and Western analysts in Manila, at the outset of his two decades in power, Marcos set up structures of administration and operation that made possible the accumulation of vast private wealth.

System 'Well Oiled'

"The entire economic structure here was set up not to stimulate overall growth for the nation, but to produce rents that people could scrape off the top," said a senior Western diplomat who had intimate knowledge of Marcos and his government. "It was a system that was very much in place on every level, and it was a system that was very well oiled."

It is alleged, and widely believed, that the system involved routine official bribery. Filipino and foreign businessmen have said publicly that corporations had to pay huge cash commissions to Marcos and his ministers in order to do business in the Philippines.

But the corruption went far beyond that, and it was all grounded in Marcos' virtually unbridled political power. He personally appointed every minister and judge; he wrote and rewrote the constitution; and, until his last few days here, he controlled the armed forces.

Even Marcos' harshest critics concede that in his first eight years as president, he was honest. It was not until he declared martial law in 1972 that he consolidated his power, dissolving Parliament, setting up military courts and assuming the power to rule by decree, without checks or balances.

Although Marcos lifted martial law in 1981, he retained most of the authoritarian powers he had held under it. And by then he had filled every position of power outside the presidency with a close ally.

Rich in Gold

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