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Marcoses Spent Millions in Failed Bid to Retain Power

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In their final days in the Malacanang presidential palace, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos engaged in an orgy of spending--dispensing tens of millions of pesos to thugs, politicians and journalists--in a desperate campaign to retain power in the Philippines.

According to a palace ledger, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, the couple spent more than 170 million pesos (about $8.5 million) from boxes of cash stored in their bedrooms during the last 100 days of the Marcos regime.

The previously undisclosed ledger, seized along with other palace documents by the new Philippine government after Marcos fled a popular revolt on Feb. 25, 1986, provides an intimate and sometimes sensational glimpse of the late dictator’s last campaign.

An accused political assassin, for example, is among the scores of cash recipients listed in the ledger. Arturo Pacificador, now a fugitive from charges that he murdered a top aide to rival presidential candidate Corazon Aquino, is credited with receiving 1 million pesos (about $50,000) five days after the killing.

The ledger also shows the national press corps received frequent cash gifts from Mrs. Marcos during the election campaign. For one palace reception, the entire Malacanang press contingent was given watches and individual envelopes stuffed with pesos worth about $250 each.

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Even an avowed communist received regular Marcos stipends amounting to about $15,000, according to the ledger, after he announced his conversion from Marx to Marcos and campaigned for the incumbent’s reelection.

One independent member of Parliament also received 100,000 pesos in cash on the day he publicly declared his support for Marcos. The ledger records that two weeks later Rafael (Raffy) Recto got an additional 1 million pesos (for a total of about $55,000).

And three days after an election so rife with fraud and violence that the outcome was still in doubt, Imelda Marcos hosted a dinner for employees of the agency responsible for investigating election fraud allegations in Manila. Among the 55 place settings were 55 envelopes stuffed with 10,000 pesos each (about $500).

The 56-page register of cash expenditures--originally kept by private secretaries for Mrs. Marcos, according to sources familiar with the government documents--is similar to other palace ledgers that have recently been admitted into evidence at the 6-week-old federal fraud and racketeering trial of Mrs. Marcos in Manhattan.

Those similar, but apparently unrelated, court documents include a number of expense logs covering the former first lady’s travels to the United States and other foreign countries. In the expense logs, aides to Mrs. Marcos recorded millions of dollars in art and jewelry purchases as well as entertainment and shopping expenses.

On one visit to New York in 1983, for example, Mrs. Marcos paid $1 million toward a $3.5-million Michelangelo painting; wrote checks for more than $2.5 million for jewelry, including a $200,000 diamond bracelet; and spent $19,400 on nightgowns, tablecloths and linens for her daughter Irene’s wedding, according to the expense logs. Thousands of dollars also were given to Philippine journalists traveling with her.

Federal prosecutors have accused Mrs. Marcos of conspiring with her late husband to divert Philippine government funds to New York real estate and other personal uses in an alleged $300-million scheme of fraud, theft and embezzlement that continued after they got to Hawaii. Last month, in opening statements, Assistant U.S. Atty. Debra Livingston said the Marcoses looted their country.

Defense lawyers contend that the cash was used to pay for Mrs. Marcos’ official and legitimate travel expenses and to purchase gifts for Philippine and international dignitaries.

The palace ledger obtained by The Times makes no apparent reference to New York real estate or other expenses related to the federal charges in the United States, and it is not expected to be introduced in the Marcos trial.

The ledger was compiled between Sept. 1, 1985, and Feb. 22, 1986, a period spanning the special presidential election campaign that ended in a hotly disputed vote tally on Feb. 7.

In the fall of 1985 Marcos was under pressure both from enemies inside the Philippines and from allies abroad. The Philippine economy was in trouble. Communist rebel activity and anti-Marcos sentiment was on the rise. The Ronald Reagan Administration warned that Marcos was headed for civil war and a possible communist takeover unless he faced a free election and reformed his corrupt military.

The ledger shows that in October, Marcos dipped into the palace cash boxes to turn over to his political party leaders 2.5 million pesos (about $125,000). Some local journalists also got cash payments.

In November, Marcos announced a snap election, and the spending rate reflected in the ledgers skyrocketed.

Over the next three months, the Marcoses passed out nearly 10 million pesos (about $500,000) to Philippine journalists. Many of the payments were made to individual writers, broadcasters and editors, not their news agencies.

On Dec. 21, 1985, for example, a ledger entry with the initials “F/L” --indicating Mrs. Marcos’ (first lady) authorization--records a cash payment of 44,000 pesos in 44 envelopes of 1,000 pesos each (about $50) to be distributed “to the photographers--media.” Another set of 10 envelopes filled with 25,000 pesos each (about $1,250) was designated the same day for 10 “media supervisors.”

Three weeks later the first lady authorized 600,000 pesos (about $30,000) to be given to 12 editors in individual envelopes.

One television talk show host got 500,000 pesos (about $25,000). A prominent newspaper columnist received a number of cash payments totaling 350,000 pesos (about $17,500). And two days before the election a group of 10 journalists shared nearly 1 million pesos ($50,000).

On occasion prior to the election as much as 25 million pesos in cash was recorded being transferred out of the palace in a single day. The largest sums were funneled to members of Parliament responsible for directing the president’s political campaign efforts in various parts of the country.

Among the smaller, but significant, payments were those to Nilo Tayag, regarded as a pro-communist radical until he stepped to the campaign podium beside Marcos for the last two months of the campaign. Mrs. Marcos authorized a series of payments of 50,000 to 100,000 pesos totaling 300,000 to the converted Marxist.

After the election was over, the vote count remained in doubt. Independent poll watchers reported a landslide victory for Aquino, but the Marcos-controlled national assembly took nearly a week to conduct an official vote tally.

It was during that period that Evilio Javier, director of the Aquino campaign in the remote province of Antique, was chased through a town plaza by a gang of masked men with machine guns and riddled with bullets. Published accounts immediately linked Marcos crony and member of Parliament Arturo Pacificador to the assassination. Pacificador, Marcos’ campaign director in the same province, has since been indicted but remains a fugitive, Philippine officials said.

Five days after the shooting, and on the day that Pacificador and his political colleagues declared Marcos the winner of the prior week’s election, the ledger notes that he received 1 million pesos authorized by “F/L” Imelda Marcos.

The ledger also shows that in the months leading up to the Feb. 7 elections, banks controlled by the Marcoses delivered boxes of cash filled with millions of pesos to the palace.

One of the last entries records that Mrs. Marcos took 4.5 million pesos (about $225,000) from “Box 10 from the Room of PFM (President Ferdinand Marcos) c/o Lucy (an aide).”

Some of those boxes, nearly two dozen cardboard cartons filled with 27 million freshly minted pesos (about $1.35 million), arrived in Hawaii later that month aboard the American C-131 military aircraft that carried Marcos and his entourage to exile in the United States.

Although details of the Marcos spending were not available in early 1986, news accounts of that period reported that the presidential campaign was so expensive that it ignited nationwide inflation and a spontaneous devaluation of the peso.

Kristina M. Luz, a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, also contributed to this story.


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