Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr may be arrested once he sets foot in the United States after a court cited him in contempt after he and his mother, Imelda Marcos, evaded testifying in a hidden wealth case.
Bongbong and Imelda, famous for her 3,000 pairs of shoes, jewelry, and art collections, have been trying to withdraw $40 million from a US-based bank, one of the first accounts opened by the dictator before martial law was imposed in 1972 to stash ill-gotten wealth.
The money was being contested by the Marcoses, the Philippine government, and the thousands of human rights victims under the repressive Marcos gime. It has remained pending in the US court.
The $40-million deposit is just a drop in the bucket for the Marcos family, which stole an estimated $10 billion during the 20-year iron-fisted rule by the dictator.
The estimates of ill-gotten wealth vary. The $10-billion estimate was made in 1986 by the late senator Jovito Salonga who was the first chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), an agency tasked to recover the stolen assets.
Nearly half of the estimated $10 billion in ill-gotten wealth has been recovered. After more than 30 years, the PCGG still has a lot of work to do to take back the wealth stolen by the dictator and kept by his heirs, including his only son and namesake who is now running for president.
A former US ambassador to the Philippines testifying in the US Congress estimated the ill-gotten wealth at $10 billion to $13 billion during the late 1980s. But a former finance secretary in the Cory Aquino government, Jesus Estanislao, gave a much higher estimate at $30 billion.
Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth could be worth more than $30 billion by now because of the accumulated interests and appreciation of assets.
For instance, a Monet painting acquired by Imelda Marcos in 1977 for $700,000 was sold by her staff in 2010 for $200 million. The value of properties, shares of stocks, jewelry, and art pieces held by the Marcos family could be worth five times more than the appraisal in the late 1980s.
Bongbong Marcos holds the key to these assets. He knows where the money is but refuses to testify in courts where the government is trying to recover them.
In 2011, when he was a sitting senator, Bongbong and his two sisters went on a fishing expedition, seeking a meeting with the PCGG to settle all cases.
Andres Bautista, a former PCGG chairman, said there was only one meeting between the Marcos siblings and his agency but nothing came out because there was no offer made to return the assets.
Bongbong and his sisters only asked the PCGG under then president Benigno Aquino III how much was its estimate of assets to be returned to the government. The PCGG cannot make an estimate at that time except those made by Salonga in 1986.
The Marcos ill-gotten assets could probably be worth more than the known estimates — it would be better to keep it secret than share it with the government.
The Marcos family would rather face thousands of criminal and civil suits than give up the ill-gotten wealth. The family is confident that after years of litigation, these cases will go away.
Some have been dropped, some have resulted in conviction but are under appeal, and some were dismissed because the evidence was no longer available or lost and the witnesses have died.
Bongbong was convicted in the 1990s for not filing his income tax returns when he was a local official in the 1980, but he remained free and he never bothered to settle the tax liabilities. He also continued to evade paying the P23 billion in estate taxes, which could grow to hundreds of billions of pesos because of interest, penalties and surcharges.
In the US, the contempt case is the only legal reason Bongbong has not set foot on American soil for years. He will be compelled to testify and face jail time if he will continue to evade testifying in court.
But if he wins the elections on May 9. Washington may allow him to set foot on American soil despite the contempt charges, giving him courtesy as a head of government and head of state.
But the case against him stays. The cases against the Marcos family remain.
Of course, Bongbong can find many excuses to skip a visit to the United States, just like President Rodrigo Duterte who never visited the country’s closest military ally in iix years.
Duterte is the only Philippine president since 1946 to skip visiting the United States and other Western countries, like the United Kingdom, Western Europe countries, Canada, and Australia.
But he has been to Moscow twice. He flew five times to China, and at least twice to Southeast Asian countries, Japan, South Korea, and India.
Duterte has personal reasons for avoiding the US and Western states. He could be afraid of these countries for fear of protests against his brutal and bloody war on drugs. It would be too embarrassing to be welcomed by protests against human rights abuses in the country.
If Marcos wins and succeeds Duterte, he could also do the same and avoid the US.
He could continue the country’s foreign policy pivot to China and Russia, making it hard for the United States to enjoy business-as-usual relations.
There is no reason for Bongbong to hold the country’s foreign policy hostage because of a simple case of contempt in the United States. There must be more logical reasons for it.
But the wealth case is the biggest reason. Bongbong wants to keep the money. He would evade testifying and blunt the government’s efforts to recover the stashed assets.
If he has evaded testimony in a US court about his family’s ill-gotten assets, the Philippines can forget about recovering the stolen assets if Marcos wins on May 9.