BOOK REVIEW: POLITICS OF PLUNDER, The Philippines Under Marcos

by Rose Churma

On February 26, 1986, deposed Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos arrived in Hawaii together with family members and supporters to begin an involuntary exile in the islands.

In the news item that described his entourage’s arrival, his children “left the plane after their mother and were carrying several boxes of disposal diapers.” (Hon. SB 2/26/1986. p.1).

The Marcoses left Malacañang in a hurry and left behind papers and materials that would reveal an incredible tale of plunder, but also brought with them, carted in various pieces of luggage and these disposable diaper boxes, documents, jewelry and other items that contain vital information on Marcos’s “hidden wealth.”

This book is the most comprehensive documentation of what was stolen over a period of twenty years when Marcos was in power, and pieced together the “dimensions of the Marcos plunder, which is unprecedented in the political history of the Philippines.”

It also explores the dynamics of the Philippines political landscape under Marcos and the ways that made it possible for him to plunder the country. It is a well-researched description of the systematic extraction of enormous wealth from the Philippines.

When they arrived at Hickam Air Force Base, the US Customs Service made an inventory of the contents of what the Marcoses brought to Hawaii.

Annex 1 of the book describes in detail what the customs officers unearthed: vast amounts of jewelry “with the pearl collection alone was measured as occupying 48 square feet and the watches, from Seiko to Rolex, were enough stock a department store.” There were 300 crates and 22 of those contained nearly the equivalent of $1.4 million in freshly-minted Philippine pesos.

The other eight attachments include contracts of the Marcos couple with the Swiss Credit Bank, information released by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) on companies and assets subject to sequestration, and check disbursements of Imelda Marcos (including a May 23,1983 disbursement of $20,046.56 for shopping at Liberty House in Honolulu).

The PCGG was created by then President Cory Aquino on February 28, 1986 – her first executive order, to try to recover the wealth stolen by Marcos, and was first headed by then Senator Jovito Salonga.

The book’s author was one of four representatives in the US as part of this Commission and had full access to the “Marcos Papers.” She had a front row seat to the aftermath of the exile of a “regime which existed for the sole purpose of plundering the wealth of a country it governed” as noted by by Rep. Stephen Solarz of the US Congress who had conducted his own investigation.

The book’s author, Belinda A. Aquino is a native of San Fernando, La Union, a true-blue Ilocano who received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of the Philippines-Diliman (UP), her master’s degree in Political Science and Public Administration from University of Hawaii at Manoa.

She was an East-West Center grantee in the early 1960s before going back to teach in the Philippines. While teaching at UP, she was offered a grant to further her studies at Cornell University, where she received her PhD in Political Science.

When Martial Law was declared in 1972, she found out that she was on the regime’s “blacklist”, her passport revoked, her student visa expired and unable to return home, stranded in Hawaii.

While in Hawaii in the early 1970s, she was offered to complete a feasibility study on the creation of a Filipino program at UH, and within a few years, a Center for Philippine Studies (CPS) was established with Dr. Aquino as its first director.

In 1989 to 1991, she served as UP’s vice president for public affairs to fulfill her obligation to UP for giving her the opportunity to study at Cornell. She returned to CPS in 1991as its director until her retirement in 2010.

In 1999 when the second edition of the book was released, a companion piece was also published – a monograph entitled “The Transnational Dynamics of the Marcos Plunder” by the same author.

In this companion monograph, the author shows how it was possible for Marcos and his “cronies” to implement the plunder due to the cooperation of transnational networks.

“Hot money” was laundered to clandestine destinations to off-shore tax havens, secret accounts in Switzerland, and elsewhere. There were also descriptions of “kickbacks” from Japanese corporations and Marcos’s gold stories and references to an Australian bank called Nugan Hand, which also helped launder billions of dollars for the Shah of Iran.

This companion piece attempts to broaden the general public’s understanding of the colossal Marcos plunder – a phenomenon that shocked even the most hard-boiled cynics and earned the former dictator the description of “the world’s biggest thief.”

More than twenty years since the publication of the two books, and 36 years since the Marcos’ overthrow and exile, the Philippine government and human rights groups and victims still need to recover most of the ill-gotten wealth.

The public’s recollection of these events has also faded, aided by the Marcos family’s strategies termed historic revisionism, to portray the plunder and human rights violations they perpetrated in a better light, or erase altogether – with the use of fake news via social media.

It seems to be working: the son and namesake of the plunderer is now leading in the polls to be the Philippines’ next president!

Copies of the two books are difficult to purchase since most commercial outlets consider them as out-of-print. But those interested to acquire this book can send an email to

ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning.  As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write their stories so that we become active participants in documenting our history as Filipinos of Hawai’i.  

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