The story

The riddle of Marco's Millions

The riddle of Marco's Millions

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The question is asked in the context of theories about the use of 'millions' or 'milioni' in association with Marco Polo and the reason for the use of the word as the Italian title for his book, known in English as 'The Travels of Marco Polo' and the Ca' Polo, which is still known as the 'Corte del Milion'.

One of the theories (cited in Moule and Pelliot (1938), p 32, note 3) is that it is an Italian version of Aemilius and that it was Marco's name.

Another that it was on account of either his excessive use of the word or his exaggeration in telling stories, although the word does not appear in his book. (Moule and Pelliot (1938), p 33, note 1), (Yule (1871) p xciv f).

Another that it was because the Ca' Polo was bought for a million (Yule, as above).

These are all credible and substantiated. There is another theory put forward by Benedetto, in his 1928 edition of the work, however, which is that it is based on the family having originated in 'the Venetian Sestiere of Emilione'. (as quoted in Markus and Munkler).

I haven't been able to verify Benedetto's account directly, to see whether he meant a Venetian sestiere, or a region near Venice (eg Emilia-Romagna / Reggio Emilia / Castelfranco Emilia) nor have I been able to find any mention of a Venetian Sestiere called 'Emilione'.

So - my questions are:

1) Is there any record of such a district existing in Venice? I can find no reference to it on contemporary or historic maps I've looked at to date. Nor have I found a reference to a Church of Santa Emilia there, for example.

2) Is there any evidence to connect the Polo family with any of the 'Emilia' regions?

Only a few cities were divided into sixths. The most famous, those of Venice, were and continue to be Cannaregio, San Polo, Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, San Marco, and Castello -- nothing resembling the name quoted, Emilione.

The spelling doesn't completely justify this theory, but one outside possibility is that the translator mistook figurative use of the adjectival form of the region's name (a "sestiere emiliano") for the actual name of a sixth. The one relatively closer to Emilia in the south of the city is Dorsoduro. Seeing the Italian text from Benedetto's edition would clear this up.

The statement is a confusing one and I would rely on other sources if possible.

In the 1865 catalog of Bernard Quaritch (one of the oldest and most respected book dealers in the world) it says that the epithet of "Il millione" (by the millions) is an idiom meant to be a mocking nickname for someone prone to exaggeration.

In his own time, many of Marco Polo's stories were regarded as outlandish and wildly exaggerated. Someone who tells stories "by the millions" means that they are making huge exaggerations.

Also, by the way, Marco Polo was born and raised in Korcula, not Venice. His family originally was from Sibenik, but by the time of his birth they were operating out of Korcula.

Occultism in Nazism

The association of Nazism with occultism occurs in a wide range of theories, speculation and research into the origins of Nazism and into Nazism's possible relationship with various occult traditions. Such ideas have flourished as a part of popular culture since at least the early 1940s (during World War II), and gained renewed popularity starting in the 1960s. Books on the topic include The Morning of the Magicians (1960) and The Spear of Destiny (1972). Nazism and occultism have also been featured in numerous documentaries, films, novels, comic books, and other fictional media. Notable examples include the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the Wolfenstein video game series, and the comic-book series Hellboy (1993-present).

Historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke analyzed the topic in his 1985 book The Occult Roots of Nazism in which he argued there were in fact links between some ideals of Ariosophy and Nazi ideology. He also analyzed the problems of the numerous popular occult historiography books written on the topic. Goodrick-Clarke sought to separate empiricism and sociology from the modern mythology of Nazi occultism that exists in many books which "have represented the Nazi phenomenon as the product of arcane and demonic influence". He evaluated most of these as "sensational and under-researched". [1]

Famous names gave spiritualism credence

The two most prominent proponents of spiritualism were British: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Oliver Lodge. Doyle was, of course, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Lodge was a respected physicist known for his work with radio waves.

Both men had a longtime interest in the supernatural, and both had lost sons in the war. Lodge’s son Raymond had been struck down by a shell fragment while fighting in Belgium in 1915. Doyle’s son Kingsley had been wounded in France in 1916 and died of pneumonia in 1918, likely brought on by the influenza pandemic. Doyle also lost his younger brother to the flu in 1919, while his wife’s brother had been killed in Belgium in 1914.

After the war, both men lectured widely in the U.S. and also wrote books describing their psychic experiences.

Lodge’s 1916 book, Raymond, or Life and Death, describes numerous purported contacts with his late son. Lodge and his wife met with a variety of mediums, who practiced such techniques as automatic writing and table tilting to communicate with the dead.

In automatic writing, the spirit supposedly guided the medium’s hand to write out messages. In table tilting, participants typically sat around a sບnce table while the medium recited the alphabet. When the medium arrived at the letter the spirit had in mind, the table would tilt, turn, levitate or make some other inexplicable move. Still other mediums went into trances and allowed the dead to speak directly through them.

In his messages, Raymond offered a comforting version of the great beyond, complete with flowers, trees, dogs, cats and birds. He repeatedly assured his parents that he was happy. He told them he𠆝 reconnected with his late grandfather plus a brother and sister who died in infancy, and made many new friends. He reported that soldiers who𠆝 lost an arm in battle found it magically restored, although those who were 𠇋lown to pieces” took a bit longer to become whole.

In a 1920 visit to New York, Lodge told a reporter that he was still in touch with Raymond, as well as other fallen soldiers. “I have talked to a good many lads killed in the war,” he said. “They have not gone out of existence. They tell me it is pretty much over there as it is on this side.”

[ANALYSIS] Just how bad was corruption during the Marcos years?

Although that one’s false, Marcos does have a legitimate Guinness World Record to his name: “Greatest Robbery of a Government” to the tune of $5 billion to $10 billion. This record has yet to be beaten.

You might wonder: why such a wide estimate of the Marcos plunder?

Part of the reason is that, to this day, it’s hard to pin down the true extent of corruption during the Martial Law years. Corruption then was so rampant not just in the public sector but also – more insidiously – in the private sector.

In this article let’s look back at the horrific scale of corruption during the Marcos years.

“We practically own everything”

By no means did Marcos invent corruption. But you might say he perfected it.

When we talk of corruption in government we commonly think of bribes, rigged biddings, and kickbacks in overpriced public projects.

Sure, Marcos did his share of “traditional” corruption. But during Martial Law he wielded a trump card: absolute power. His regime’s subsequent corruption proved just as absolute.

To begin with, Marcos forcibly took over the businesses of political rivals like the Lopezes.

Meralco at one point was taken over by Imelda’s brother Kokoy Romualdez, who mismanaged and drained the company of its finances.

In fact, the expense of Imelda’s birthday celebration in Leyte in 1974 was shouldered by Meralco, and the company’s catering – including staff, silverware, and china – were flown from Manila all the way to Leyte using Meralco’s private planes. By the way, Imee Marcos’ fake graduation ceremony from UP Law was also staged at the Meralco Theater.

While he stamped out the opposition, Marcos appointed key cronies (friends and relatives) to monopolize key industries, thus forming the backbone of so-called “crony capitalism.”

To name a few of these captured industries, bananas were monopolized by Antonio Floirendo, sugar by Roberto Benedicto, and coconuts by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco.

Marcos also routinely issued presidential decrees that granted special privileges to his cronies.

For instance, Lucio Tan secured from Marcos substantial concessions for his beer and cigarette manufacturing businesses. Retail magnates Benny and Glecy Tantoco operated those famous duty-free shops.

Juan Ponce Enrile, whose staged assassination attempt was used to justify Martial Law, enjoyed several concessions in the logging industry.

Herminio Disini, aside from monopolizing the importation of cigarette filters, also brokered the construction of the useless Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and received $50 million in commissions (Marcos himself got $30 million out of that deal).

Special levies, in lieu of regular taxes, fattened the pockets of Marcos and his cronies.

Arguably the most famous of these was the coco levy, essentially a tax imposed by Marcos on the coconut industry by presidential decree. Ostensibly, revenues from the coco levy – which amounted to about P93 billion – were meant to improve the welfare of coconut farmers. Ultimately, most of it got siphoned by the Marcoses and their ilk.

Multiply this scheme across the country’s major industries, and you begin to grasp the staggering degree of corruption that took place during Martial Law. Marcos and his cronies were co-conspirators in a systematic scheme to loot the Philippine economy, which, in their minds, was theirs for the taking.

In 1998 Imelda was even quoted as saying in an Inquirer interview: “We practically own everything in the Philippines, from electricity, telecommunications, airlines, banking, beer and tobacco, newspaper publishing, television stations, shipping, oil and mining, hotels and beach resorts, down to coconut milling, small farms, real estate, and insurance.”

Imelda also once said, “If you know how much you’ve got, you probably don’t have much.”

Bankrupted central bank

Besides the private sector, Marcos also prodigiously plundered the public coffers. But few people remember it came to the point where our Central Bank went bankrupt.

To understand how this seemingly impossible economic tragedy had happened, note that Marcos – again by virtue of his absolute power – routinely “raided” the treasury and other government financial institutions.

The regime was particularly infamous for its “behest loans”: Government banks and social security institutions like SSS and GSIS lent – at Marcos’ behest – huge sums to the cronies’ projects, even if many of them were wholly unfeasible. The Central Bank facilitated many of these behest loans.

In the early 1990s, prominent economist Paul Krugman came to the country and assessed what exactly had bankrupted our Central Bank.

He found that, “In essence the problem is that the Central Bank is itself insolvent. Abuse of its domestic credit creation during the Marcos era has left the Central Bank with a portfolio consisting largely of uncollectable loans…”

By the end of the Marcos regime, the old Central Bank had amassed about P300 billion in losses. On top of this, then-governor Jaime C. Laya was discovered to have overstated the Central Bank’s supply of foreign reserves.

In 1993 the Central Bank was abolished and replaced by a new institution, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, partly in a bid to leave behind its dark past.

The Central Bank’s bankruptcy was a key event in the run-up to the country’s worst postwar recession in the mid-1980s.

The Marcoses not only ransacked the economy, they also flaunted their loot to the world.

Even in their last two years in power – at the height of the economic crisis – the Marcoses had spent a whopping $68 million: $11 million on clothes, paintings, antiques, and handicrafts $2.4 million on food, hotel accommodations, and transport and $1.6 million on flowers alone.

When the Marcoses were exiled and fled to Hawaii, they carted off in two C-141 planes a total of 23 wooden crates, 12 suitcases, and 70 boxes and bags.

Contained therein were, among others: $9 million in cash, jewelry, and bonds P27 million in “freshly printed” bills 24 gold bricks 413 pieces of jewelry including tiaras, necklaces, earrings, and brooches studded in diamonds, rubies, and sapphires.

Imelda couldn’t bring everything, of course, and had to leave behind in Malacañang relatively less valuable things like 1,060 pairs of shoes (1,800 more pairs were at Tacloban), 508 floor-length gowns, 427 dresses, 15 mink coats, and even one swan feather gown.

Years before, the Marcoses had also bought 50 or so real estate properties in New York (including the 72-story Trump Building in lower Manhattan), New Jersey, and Connecticut. Some of these were bought using Panamanian shell or dummy corporations.

Imelda was also an infamous hoarder of rare paintings, including a Monet that fetched $43 million when it was resold at a London gallery in 2010, and jewelries (3 collections are now in the Bangko Sentral’s vaults for safekeeping).

Awash with cash, Ferdinand and Imelda had also stashed about $500 million in ill-gotten wealth in Swiss bank accounts using the pseudonyms William Saunders and Jane Ryan, respectively.

Post-EDSA, you can’t blame former president Cory Aquino for urgently ordering the creation of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), whose primary task was to recover the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.

As of 2017 the PCGG has recovered P171.4 billion. Their work is far from over, yet President Duterte – a close ally of the Marcoses – wants the PCGG abolished.

Never again, never forget

We’ve barely scratched the surface. At the UP School of Economics it takes an entire semester to teach this and other economic aspects of the Martial Law years.

To be honest, researching this piece was emotionally draining. In spite of the wholesale corruption that took place during Martial Law, it’s baffling to think that the Marcoses today are firmly back in political power.

Carl Sagan once wrote, “If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.”

Never again should Filipinos be bamboozled by the Marcoses. But to ensure that, all of us must never, ever forget. –

The author is a PhD candidate at the UP School of Economics. His views are independent of the views of his affiliations. Thanks to Jess Pasibe for generously sharing materials from his own research on the topic. For a suggested reading list on the economics of Martial Law, check out this Twitter thread. Follow JC on Twitter (@jcpunongbayan) and Usapang Econ (

JC Punongbayan

JC Punongbayan is a PhD candidate and teaching fellow at the UP School of Economics. His views are independent of the views of his affiliations.

Marcos' Millions

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has ruled that thousands of Filipinos can share $35 million in a New York brokerage account that belonged to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The Philippine government claimed the money belonged to its treasury, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it had no legal right to the account, which Marcos opened in 1972 with a $2 million deposit.

The ruling was part of a 10-year financial battle for 9,500 Filipinos, most of them living in the Philippines, who sought compensation from the dictator's regime to settle human rights abuses.

The plaintiffs filed a class-action suit against the Marcos estate in 1986, the year he was deposed as president after ruling for 20 years. Marcos and his family fled to Hawaii, where he died in exile in 1989.

In 1995, using a two-century-old U.S. law, a Honolulu jury awarded the group $2 billion after finding Marcos responsible for summary executions, disappearances and torture.

So far, none of the award has been distributed because it has been tied up by foreign banks and the Philippine government claiming ownership. The original award is nearing $4 billion with interest.

Trending News

Last year, the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit appeals court, which covers Hawaii and eight other western states, ruled that the 9,500 plaintiffs have no right to recover $683 million in Marcos assets that were transferred from a Swiss account to the Philippine government, which claimed ownership of the money.

The plaintiffs also are pursuing other avenues to collect the judgment.

They are trying to seize $22 million in Marcos assets located in a bank in Singapore, and other properties in various countries.

First published on May 5, 2006 / 4:46 AM

© 2006 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Recovering Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth: After 30 years, what?

MANILA, Philippines – The figures look staggering and impressive.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), tasked to recover the ill-gotten wealth of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his family, and cronies, has recovered over the last 30 years at least P170 billion (nearly $3.6 billion) in cash, despite working on an overall budget of P2.9 billion ($61 million) over the same period.

Various estimates put the total Marcos loot at between $5 billion to $10 billion, however.

The total recovery efforts could reach over P200 billion ($4.2 billion), as the PCGG winds up its task and sells the remaining illegally acquired assets in its possession and recover some more illegal assets in civil cases pending in various courts.

But it's been a period of false starts and dead ends, cloak-and-dagger operations, and, ultimately, successes, failures, and the ubiquitous feelings of frustration, helplessness, and powerless among the people tasked to do the job.

The illegal asset recovery program has been problematic, both in the way it was thought out and how it was implemented.

Following are the key concerns:

Does crime pay?

The irony – or tragedy – is that not one of the Marcoses and their cronies had spent a day in prison for plundering the Filipino nation.

Despite the overwhelming pieces of evidence showing the Marcoses and their cronies' participation and complicity in the unparalleled raid of the national treasury and the subsequent transfers of their loot elsewhere, the post-Marcos administrations have hardly succeeded to bring any of them before the bar of justice.

The lesson in history seems to be that crime pays. When one steals, he has to steal big to buy his freedom. Indeed, the issue ill-gotten has yet to reach an acceptable closure after 30 years.

It is said that the post-EDSA Revolution administrations, except Corazon Aquino’s, are hardly serious in running after the plunderers. Proof: Except for the dictator, who died in 1989, the Marcoses are back in power.

LEFT BEHIND. The Marcos family leaves behind documents and personal belongings in Malacau00f1ang.

Photo from the Presidential Museum and Library

Son Ferdinand Jr. is now a senator and running for vice president in the May 9 presidential polls. Daughter Imee is now the Ilocos Norte governor. Wife Imelda is a lawmaker representing Ilocos Norte's 2nd district.

They do not live on bended knees, as what scions of dictators do. They wield influence along the corridors of power. They are back with vengeance, as if to mock the restored democracy.

They are revising history, using the loot to rewrite and reinterpret what had transpired during the martial law days. (READ: Bongbong Marcos: EDSA disrupted Marcos' plans for PH)

The scuttlebutt is that the Marcos loot is so big that it would take many decades to recover them. Besides, they have successfully hidden an undetermined amount of the illegal wealth to empower them to stage a political comeback. They have done their comeback with flying colors.

Changes in strategy

For PCGG chair Richard Amurao, the government could have recovered more illicit assets had it employed what he described as the “appropriate strategies” at the beginning of the recovery program in 1986.

The inconsistency in recovery strategies triggered by changes in post-EDSA governments could have contributed to the inability to obtain more ill-gotten assets from the Marcoses and their cronies, the 41-year-old Amurao said in an interview.

“The Cory Aquino government could have been more decisive right at the very start,” Andres Bautista, Amurao’s predecessor at the PCGG and current chair of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said in a separate interview. It could have grabbed the bull by its horns and pursued relentlessly the recovery efforts, Bautista added.

To this day, the PCGG continues to receive tips and leads about the unknown but remaining illegal assets of the Marcoses, according to Danilo Daniel, head of the PCGG research department.

For instance, daughter Imee Marcos, now the Ilocos Norte governor, was reported 4 years ago to have links to a secret offshore trusts and an offshore company. She was listed as one of the beneficiaries of the Sintra Trust, which was formed in June 2002 in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Other beneficiaries were Imee Marcos’ adult sons with estranged husband Tomas Manotoc: Ferdinand Richard Michael Marcos Manotoc, Matthew Joseph Marcos Manotoc, and Fernando Martin Marcos Manotoc. (READ: Imee Marcos tied to secret offshore trust)

Documents showed that Imee Marcos was also a financial advisor for the Sintra Trust as well as for a company in which the Sintra Trust was a shareholder, ComCentre Corporation, which was formed in January 2002 in the BVI. The PCGG had investigated this matter, but the results of its probe have yet to be reported publicly.

Destabilized regime

Both Bautista and Amurao acknowledged that the overall recovery efforts have been anchored within the spirit and parameters of the democratic system, which the Cory Aquino government had sought to rekindle, restore, and reinvigorate immediately the EDSA Revolution.

Hence, the PCGG has largely stuck to the legal processes in their search for the hidden Marcos loot.

“Please remember that we did not have a template to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and cronies,” Amurao said. “It was a mandate imposed on us by the Filipino people in the EDSA Revolution."

In the august hall of the Senate, Rene Saguisag, then a senator, used to say that the failure to go after and jail the plunderers and cronies stemmed from the inherent weakness of the Cory Aquino government.

It was a fledgling government threatened by military mutinies and political destabilization.

“We did not even know if we would be around by tomorrow,” Saguisag said with an intense feeling of exasperation, as he recalled the government’s exercises of brinkmanship to survive the debilitating onslaughts of coups and destabilization campaigns. It was an open admission of the limitation of the first post-EDSA government that conceived and pursued the recovery efforts.

Martial law and failed promises

After declaring martial law in 1972, Ferdinand Marcos, who was first elected in 1965, ruled for another 13 years. But the promised changes did not happen. Instead, he created the following legacy:

Although the first 4 or 5 years brought about sustained economic growth, Marcos ruled without mandate, triggering widespread criticism in the domestic front and the international community. He was not popularly elected beyond 1973, but held several rigged referenda to reflect ostensibly the people’s approval of his martial law regime.

Marcos, Imelda and their cronies, which constituted the martial law-sponsored new oligarchy, were behind what is plain and simple kleptocracy, or the use of power and state structures to plunder and accumulate wealth and enable them to live like kings and queens even for 20 lifetimes.

Former Senate President Jovito Salonga, the first PCGG chair, estimated their total loot at between $5 billion to $10 billion. After 30 years, the estimate stands. Even the international community accepts these figures.

1986: Game-changing revolution

The four-day EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986 was the game-changing political upheaval that led to the determination of the scope and extent of the illegal wealth the Marcoses and their cronies had acquired and stashed here and abroad.

Marcos left many documents in Malacañang and these documents revealed the paper trail of an intricate web of corruption that led to their accumulation of illicit wealth. The paper trail has led to the discovery and identification, although not all, of the illegally acquired wealth and the dynamics of corruption.

Hence, the first order of the day for the administration of President Corazon Aquino was the full documentation and recovery of the illegally acquired assets of the Marcoses and cronies, and the prevention of their dissipation and transfer to other parties.

Three days after she took her oath as president at the historic Club Filipino in San Juan, Mrs. Aquino issued Executive Order No. 1 creating the PCGG as the quasi-judicial, collegial body tasked primarily to recover the illegally acquired wealth that accumulated during the dictatorship.

It was her first official act as president. She named Salonga as chair, and Ramon Diaz, Pedro Yap, Raul Daza and Mary Concepcion Bautista as commissioners.

EO 1 signaled to the world the political will of the new government to address the problems caused by the dictatorship.

With the national coffers emptied by the toppled dictator, Mrs. Aquino was then hoping that her government could recover a respectable portion of the illegal assets to provide social services for the Filipino people.

But this did not happen overnight.

No confiscation

Corazon Aquino, as the first post-EDSA Revolution president, declared her government as “revolutionary,” with her exercising the executive and legislative powers until a new constitution was put in place.

Governing under the temporary “Freedom Constitution" that later gave way to the 1987 Constitution, Mrs. Aquino was a virtual dictator during those days. But she chose not to be one.

The Aquino administration did not pursue immediate confiscations of suspected illegal assets. Broadly, Mrs. Aquino, through EO 1, gave PCGG the task to recover their ill-gotten wealth and take over or sequester business enterprises and entities they owned or controlled.

EO 1 also sought to adopt safeguards to avoid any repetition of large-scale corruption under her government and institute adequate measures to prevent any backsliding.

Mrs. Aquino clarified her stand on the illegal wealth issue, when, on March 12, 1986, she issued Executive Order No. 2, which states that all claims on those illicit wealth and funds of the Marcoses and cronies should follow “the requirements of justice and due process.”

Clarifying the broad strokes of EO1, EO 2 said: “It is the position of the new democratic government that former President Marcos and his wife, Imelda Romualdez Marcos, their close relatives, subordinates, business associates, dummies, agents or nominees be afforded fair opportunity to contest these claims before appropriate Philippine authorities.”

EO 2 has led to the freezing of those assets and pieces of property of the Marcoses and cronies in the country, the prohibition of any person from transferring, conveying, encumbering or depleting or concealing those assets, and the requirement that persons holding those assets should make full disclosure to the PCGG.

Furthermore, EO 2 empowered the PCGG to make representations with foreign governments, where the illegal assets are based and appeal or request foreign governments to prevent their transfer, conveyance, encumbrance, concealment, or liquidation by the Marcoses and their ilk, pending the outcome of the investigations whether those assets were acquired by improper or illegal use of state funds.

Because of the two EOs, the PCGG had sequestered numerous assets and business enterprises suspected of being part of the illegal wealth of the Marcoses and cronies and, for business enterprises, placed fiscal agents to prevent their transfer and dissipation and ensure continuity of their operations until the settlement of the ownership issues.

Clashing views

Despite the marching orders, the PCGG was beset with controversies stemming from clashing views of its leaders on the implementation of the two presidential orders.

A faction believed to go all-out in the recovery efforts by sequestering those questionable assets and filing appropriate charges before the court. Constituting the hawks within the PCGG, they did not want to give any quarters to the dictator and his ilk.

But another faction felt it made better sense to negotiate with cronies for an out-of-court settlement. Court battles are messy they take time before decisions are rendered. The prospect of out-of-court settlements, where Marcos cronies would return sizable amount of illegal assets in exchange for immunity from lawsuits, loomed as an option. (READ: Search for Marcos' wealth: Compromising with cronies)

In the end, the Cory Aquino government adhered to the two approaches.

In most instances, the PCGG has filed court charges – criminal and civil - against the Marcoses and certain cronies.

But, in other instances, the government entered into out-of-court settlements, albeit selectively, with certain cronies.

It was the best of both worlds. But Amurao noted that quite a number of those court cases remain pending in various local courts.

In hindsight, Amurao said it would have been better for the PCGG to have immediately filed forfeiture proceedings on those suspected illegally acquired assets instead of going through the circuitous route of criminal and civil suits.

“The burden of proof would have been on the Marcoses and the cronies, not on the government,” Amurao said. “In forfeiture proceedings, they would be the ones who would explain the ownership issues.”

Botched attempts

Unconventional attempts were also conceived and considered to recover the secret Marcos bank deposits in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Vanuatu, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Monaco, Austria, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, United States, among others, and bring the funds back to the country.

Operation Big Bird, quietly conceived few months after the Marcos downfall, sought to recover the alleged $7.5 billion of secret bank deposits and assets scattered in various parts of the world. Banker Michael de Guzman was the prime mover of the scheme to withdraw the Marcos bank deposits and remit them to the Philippine government on one condition: a commission of a 20 percent from all recovered funds. (READ: What Bongbong Marcos knew of Swiss deposits)

De Guzman claimed that he had personal knowledge of those secret funds. No less than Marcos told him of those deposits when he met him in the Marcoses’ house in Honolulu in March, 1986. Marcos tapped him to withdraw their Swiss bank deposits after Swiss authorities froze their assets there.

De Guzman claimed that he met Marcos largely through the intercession of Col. Irwin Ver, son of Gen. Fabian Ver. At that time, Marcos was frantic because of the freeze order on their Swiss assets. Marcos issued the document giving him the power of attorney to withdraw those funds. He claimed to have gone to Switzerland thrice to withdraw those deposits, but he failed.

Because of his failure, de Guzman said he had decided to switch sides. He claimed to have networked with Victor Bou Dagher, a Lebanese national residing in Austria, who claimed to have connections with the European banking network. De Guzman and Dagher sought audience with retired Brig. Gen. Jose Almonte, who approved and joined the plan along with activist Charlie Avila.

Almonte later brought the scheme to Mrs. Aquino’s attention, but Salonga, in his capacity as PCGG chair, did not buy it, as he thought it could be a sting operation.

Then Solicitor General Sedfrey Ordoñez rejected it upon learning that de Guzman wanted an advance of $250 million for the operations.

Operation Big Bird did not take off. But it had succeeded to bring to the attention of the international community the unbelievable magnitude of the Marcos loot abroad.

Operation Big Bird was not the last scheme of its kind. In 1991, Operation Domino became public, as its proponent, Rainier Jacobi, an Australian national, claimed he had identified after 12 years of sleuthing the alleged Marcos gold bullions worth $13.2 billion hidden and deposited in a warehouse in Kloten Airport in Switzerland and secret Swiss bank deposits of $14 billion under the name of Irene Marcos Araneta, the youngest of the three Marcos children.

Just like de Guzman, Jacobi said he intended to work for their recovery and return on one condition: a 10 percent commission. But the PCGG did not take Jacobi seriously. It viewed de Guzman and Jacobi as a pair of treasure hunters, whose hunt could be more of a miss than a hit.

Drastic moves

The PCGG took the country by surprise when, in 1986, it sequestered 263 firms and shareholdings of 146 other firms, and assigned a number of fiscal agents and volunteers to prevent the dissipation and transfer of resources in the sequestered firms. But the PCGG dismissed over the next two years a number of erring fiscal agents and volunteers.

The PCGG likewise took custody of the identified local Marcos assets, including the jewelry collection the Marcoses hurriedly left in Malacañang, filed the first 39 civil cases for the recovery of the Marcos assets, and recovered P157 million ($3.3 million) in cash dividends from Philippine Overseas Telecommunications Corp. (POTC) and Philcomsat, two sequestered firms.

It was also in 1986 when the PCGG, showing political will to recover Marcos assets in foreign countries, worked on two most difficult issues of the entire recovery efforts: the recovery of the Marcos bank deposits in Switzerland and the criminal prosecution of the Marcoses.

The PCGG filed with Switzerland a request for legal assistance to recover the identified Marcos Swiss deposits of $340 million at that time. In the absence of any bilateral treaty on treatment of illegal wealth deposited in Swiss banks, the PCGG relied on the provisions of the International Mutual Assistance on Criminal Matters Act (IMAC) as its legal bases.

The IMAC, also called mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT), is a pact between two or more countries for the purpose of gathering and exchanging information mainly to enforce public laws or criminal laws.

The Swiss government froze the Marcos assets there, but it was in 1987 when the Swiss Supreme Court, in an unprecedented decision, upheld the Philippine claim on the Marcos deposits and agreed to lift the banking secrecy on these deposits. The lifting enabled the PCGG to identify other Marcos deposits, raising the total of Marcos deposits to $658 million after 25 years.

What the Swiss Supreme Court did was a breakthrough.

It was the first time that the Swiss government gave way to claims on illegal wealth of dictators. The Swiss government had reacted to widespread perceptions that the country’s banking system, enjoying iron clad guarantees for the secrecy of their deposits, had become a haven for dictators.

Imelda's acquittal

It was also in the turbulent 1986, when the PCGG filed criminal charges against the Marcoses in the US District Court for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or the RICO Act. It accused the Marcoses of racketeering, as they converted the Philippine government machinery into a virtual criminal organization geared to plunder the country of its resources.

The court trial involved only former first lady Imelda Marcos husband Ferdinand died in 1989. It had its drama, but the jury acquitted her in 1992 in what was a major setback for the recovery efforts. Her acquittal enabled the exiled former first lady to return to the country.

The PCGG likewise secured in 1986 from the New Jersey Supreme Court the award of titles to two Marcos assets in New Jersey: the Princeton Pike property, which the PCGG sold in 1987 for an amount equivalent to P34.6 million (around $727,000), and the Pendleton Drive property.

Moreover, the PCGG filed a $200 million claim in 1986 on four New York buildings that constituted the hidden assets of the Marcoses there: Crown Building Herald Center on the 34th and 6th Avenues 200 Madison Avenue and 40 Wall Street on the 57th and 5th Avenues. The New York City Federal Court responded by freezing those four New York assets.

The PCGG found out quite belatedly that the four New York buildings were heavily mortgaged. When sold to private parties, the proceeds the government received were quite measly when compared to the original claim of $200 million. The Herald Center was sold in 1989 for $25 million, but only $1.5 million went to the government due to heavy mortgages.

The 40 Wall Street (Trump Building) property was sold in 1989 in a foreclosure sale of $3.25 million. The Crown Building was sold in 1991 for $93.6 million, but only $769,852 went back to the government because of heavy mortgages.

The Golden Buddha and the Marcos millions: The legend of Yamashita’s treasure

General Yamashita, who was also known as the Tiger of Malaya.

Recently, we reported on the emergence of a video that claimed to show treasure hunters uncovering a huge hoard of looted Japanese gold (see here). There has been no update on the alleged discovery of the so-called Yamashita Treasure — which implies either a hoax, or discoverers who are sensible enough to keep quiet about their sudden wealth.

But it’s not the first time that the discovery of the gold has been claimed. Depending on who you believe, the treasure either led to the fall of Marcos, or bank-rolled America’s post-war supremacy.

The story has it that at the end of World War II the Japanese high command were sitting on a staggering fortune of looted treasure. This was the result of the biggest act of systematic plunder in human history.

Prince Takeda, of the Japanese Royal family, and General Yamashita, devised a plan called operation ‘Golden Lily’ to bury the treasure in a series of 175 manmade tunnels throughout the Philippines.

After the last of the gold was safely interred, Takeda took his staff into one of the bunkers to celebrate. After several hours of festivities, Takeda and Yamashita quietly slipped away.

The tunnel’s entrance was then blasted with dynamite and sealed. The 175 men inside, if they did not commit suicide, were left to suffocate to death among the vast riches. The slave labourers received similar treatment.

However, according to one theory, the Americans had already got wind of these plans, and after the Japanese surrender set about tracking down the treasure.

After a public trial, Yamashita had been hurriedly executed, so special agents interrogated his driver, who eventually broke and led them to 12 of the vaults to the north of Manila.

President Truman took the decision to keep the discovery of the treasure secret.

The men were stunned by their find. They immediately reported back to General MacArthur and then travelled to Washington to brief President Truman.

Policy of secrecy

It was here that a pivotal decision was made — the loot had to remain secret. Repatriating such vast treasures would be a logistical minefield, especially with many of the countries it was stolen from already under communist control.

Furthermore, revealing the existence of such huge sums of precious metals would cause the gold price to plummet, and upset an already fragile world economy.

But most of all, the Golden Lily treasure would give the US incredible power in the cold war. Such an immense, covert slush fund could manipulate governments, buy elections and bankroll near limitless black operations.

While this may sound like a conspiracy theory, it’s beyond doubt that the Japanese plundered a staggering amount of treasure, and it must have ended up somewhere. Perhaps it could help explain the source of the $52 billion annual ‘black budget’, as revealed in the Edward Snowden leaks?

However, there’s another story that links the treasure to the Marcos family, and resulted in a Hawaii court awarding a world-record sum of damages against Imelda Marcos.

Roger Roxas with the golden Buddha.

In 1970, Roger Roxas was spending every spare moment treasure hunting at a site around his home. His friend, Albert Fuchigami, the son of a Japanese army officer, said his late father had shown him a treasure map.

Roger and Albert began to excavate the site near Baguio. After a few weeks they located a tunnel system, that had apparently been sealed off with an explosion.

After more digging, they broke through to find a complex network complete with train tracks. Roger was the first to enter: “To my surprise, I found several Japanese skeletons. There must have been more than 10.”

Presumably, these were the unfortunate men entombed by Yamashita and Prince Takeda when they sealed the vaults in 1945.

The golden Buddha

As well as the skeletons, Roger made a more exciting discovery — a large gold statue of Buddha that weighed, literally, a ton. Venturing further inside, they found box upon box of gold ingots.

They hit upon a plan. They would remove and sell the Buddha and use the money to hire trucks and equipment to extract the rest of the treasure. This, sadly, would prove to be a terrible mistake.

News of Roger’s discovery had already reached the ears of Ferdinand Marcos. He sent his soldiers to Roger’s house to ransack the place and steal the Buddha.

Roger foolishly went to the press and local prosecutors to complain about the theft. Opposition leaders sensed a chance to embarrass Marcos and seized upon Roger’s allegations.

An inquiry into the golden Buddha affair was called by the Senate, where much evidence about the theft and Marcos’ corruption was presented to the court. The president was furious and vowed revenge.

This came in the form of martial law, when Marcos had his opponents rounded up and jailed. Democracy in the Philippines had died and Marcos had tightened his grip on the country.

Was the Japanese gold the source of the Marcos family’s fabulous wealth?

All the while, the president would have his soldiers torture Roger to try and locate the tunnels.

The prolonged torture had turned Roger into a physical wreck, but he didn’t talk. However, his friend Olympia Magbanua, after having his teeth ripped out one by one, relented and revealed the location.

10,000 gold bars

Over the next year, Marcos’ troops would extract an estimated 10,000 gold bars from the tunnels. These were worth tens of billions of dollars, helping to build their legendary wealth.

But Marcos had a problem, the gold only made him theoretically rich. He couldn’t sell plundered gold without its origins becoming obvious. To enjoy the wealth, he had to make it look like it was newly mined.

Mining engineer Robert Curtis meets Ferdinand Marcos in 1975.

In 1975, he turned to an American mining engineer named Robert Curtis, who agreed to help Marcos follow the maps and find more Golden Lily vaults.

Bluff saved his life

Together they found five more tunnel complexes, piled high with dizzying amounts of gold and jewels.

Marcos, however, was not about to share the treasure.

One day, he had his men escorted Curtis to the American military cemetery at Fort Bonifacio. Curtis was shocked to see a freshly dug grave. He realised, as a gun was placed against his head, that it was intended for him.

The American managed, somehow, to talk his way out of a bullet in the head. He told the men he had the maps to other vaults and Marcos would never find them if they killed him. The bluff bought his life.

Having narrowly escaped death, Curtis immediately fled the Philippines.

Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in 1989. It wasn’t until 1992 that his widow Imelda first publically commented on the source of her husband’s vast wealth. It was, she admitted, because of the Yamashita Treasure.

Speaking in 1992, Imelda Marcos stated that the source of her family’s fabulous wealth was the looted Japanese treasure

According to Imelda, her husband had become so rich from the looted gold that it would have been ‘embarrassing’ to admit it. She estimated their true fortune to be close to 1 trillion dollars, not the usually cited sum of $10 billion.

The story continues

However, the story doesn’t end there. After both Roger and Marcos had died, the Roxas family pursued the Marcos family through the courts in Hawaii. In 1996, a jury in Honolulu awarded $22 billion in compensatory damages that, with interest, amounted to more than $40 billion. This was a world record sum at the time.

This was thrown out by the Hawaii Supreme Court in 1998 on the basis that the true value of the stolen treasure was unprovable.

However, there was another hearing in 2000 that focused solely on the value of the gold buddha and 17 bars of gold.

The jury found for the Roxas family, and a judgement against Imelda Marcos awarded $6 million for the human rights abuses, and $13,275,848.37 for the stolen treasure.

To date, not a cent has been paid, and the location of the golden Buddha remains a mystery.

Should any of these stories be true, it implies that there could be dozens of vaults as yet undiscovered. Of course, it’s most likely that the Japanese plunder was sent to the bottom of the sea by American torpedoes. But who knows, perhaps that video the other day was the real deal?

  • These baffling riddles have been collated by
  • The answer to the mind-boggling riddle above is 'time'
  • Other cryptic questions include: What gets wet when it dries?

Published: 07:21 BST, 16 September 2016 | Updated: 14:58 BST, 16 September 2016

What is greater than God, more evil that the Devil, rich people need it, poor people have it and if you eat it you'll die?

The answer is 'nothing'. But do you know how a pocket can be empty but still have something in it?

And can work out what flattens all mountains, wipes out all species, destroys all buildings and turn everything into pieces?

What is greater than God, more evil that the Devil, rich people need it, poor people have it and if you eat it you'll die? This is just one of the mind-boggling riddles which have been collated by news site The other 29 are equally baffling

The answer to the riddle is 'nothing'. Other baffling riddles include: How can a pocket be empty but still have something in it? What is tall when it's young and short when it's old?

Hurricane sinks Spanish treasure ships

A hurricane strikes the east coast of Florida, sinking 10 Spanish treasure ships and killing nearly 1,000 people, on July 31, 1715. All of the gold and silver onboard at the time would not be recovered until 250 years later.

From 1701, Spain sent fleets of ships to the Western Hemisphere to bring back natural resources, including gold and silver. These groups of ships were heavily fortified against pirates, but there was little that could be done to protect them from bad weather.

On July 24, 10 Spanish ships and one French ship left Havana, Cuba, on their way to Europe, carrying tons of gold and silver coins, about 14 million pesos worth. The Spanish ships stayed very close to the Florida coast, as was the custom, while the French ship, the Grifon, ventured further out from the shore. A week later, as the ships were between Cape Canaveral and Fort Pierce, in modern-day Florida, the winds picked up dramatically.

The hurricane advanced quickly and, one by one, the ships were wrecked. The Nuestra Senora de la Regla sank, sending 200 people and 120 tons of coins to a watery grave. The Santa Cristo de San Ramon went down with 120 sailors aboard. In all, somewhere between 700 and 1,000 people lost their lives in the wrecks. Meanwhile, the Grifon was able to ride out the storm most of its crew survived.

In the following months, Spanish officials in Havana sent ships to salvage the treasure. About 80 percent had been recovered by April 1716, but the rest remained lost until the 1960s.

Spiritual Religion

To put it more simply, compassion depends on the capacity to emotionally and spirituality connect with other human beings, and religious belief (particularly in its fundamentalist form) reduces this capacity. The function of religions is to strengthen the ego, and a strong ego is separate and disconnected and so can’t feel empathy and compassion.

Of course, I’m aware that I’m painting with a very broad brush here. For example, there are obviously many Christians who do attempt to — and even manage to — follow Jesus’s teachings. As hinted above, I’m discussing religion in its dogmatic, fundamentalist form.

As described in my book Back to Sanity (and in a previous blog), it’s important to distinguish between two basic types of religion: dogmatic and spiritual. While dogmatic religion has led to some of the most heinous acts in human history, spiritual religion has led to some of the noblest and most altruistic acts, such as those of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Florence Nightingale.

It is ironic that the true function of religion, in its spiritual form, is the opposite of its function for fundamentalists: to soften the boundaries of the ego-self and transcend separateness, so that we can sense the essential oneness of all human beings, and work together to alleviate each other’s suffering and make the world a more harmonious place.

Originally published at Psychology Today and reproduced with permission.

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About the author:

Steve Taylor is a senior lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK. His latest books in the US are The Calm Center and Back to Sanity: Healing the Madness of the Human Mind. He is also the author of The Fall, Waking From Sleep, and Out Of The Darkness. His books have been published in 19 languages. His research has appeared in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, The Journal of Consciousness Studies, The Transpersonal Psychology Review, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, as well as the popular media in the UK, including on BBC World TV, The Guardian, and The Independent.

As the author of Out Of The Darkness, one of Steve’s research interests is “awakening experiences” — moments when our normal awareness intensifies and we feel a sense of connection and meaning. What causes these experiences? Is it possible to control them? Steve’s work also examines the sources of psychological suffering — Why is it that human beings find it so difficult to be contented? His research also shows that many awakening experiences are triggered by intense psychological turmoil, such as depression and loss.

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