The Myth of The Yamashita and Tallano Gold

by Perry Diaz

Right after Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was ousted from power and sent to exile in Hawaii, he began plotting his return. And he almost succeeded.

In 1987, Marcos planned to travel by boat and land in his home province of Ilocos Norte where he’ll be met by 10,000 of his Ilocano supporters. But two Americans, business consultant Robert Chastain and lawyer Richard Hirschfield blew the whistle on Marcos’ plans when they testified before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs.

They played a recording in which Marcos revealed the plot to invade the Philippines.

I am going to land there, I don’t care who opposes me,” Marcos said on the tapes. “And if they oppose the landing, that is when we start the battle.”

When asked what would happen to then-President Corazon Aquino, who was installed after the revolution, Marcos gave this reply: “What I would like to see happen is that we take her hostage. Not to hurt her. If necessary, forcibly take her.”

They testified that they were able to gain Marcos’ trust through their association with a Saudi businessman named Mohamed al-Fassi. The Americans pretended that they were arms dealers who were willing to help Marcos get weapons and the money to buy them, as well as pay mercenaries who would carry out the invasion.

The Saudi business connection
Hirschfield first met Marcos during a party at his home in Hawaii in September 1986. Marcos was intrigued when Hirschfield brought up the Saudi business connection. A few weeks later, Marcos asked for help in obtaining a passport from another country so he could travel free from the restrictions imposed by the U.S. and Philippine governments. Marcos also asked Hirschfield to arrange a $10 million loan from al-Fassi.

Then, during a meeting on January 12, 1987, Marcos asked for an additional $5 million “in order to pay 10,000 soldiers $500 each as a form of ‘combat life insurance.’”

Hirschfield was taken aback. He asked Marcos if he was talking about an invasion of the Philippines. Marcos flatly answered, “Yes.”

According to Hirschfield, Marcos had also been negotiating with several arms dealers to procure anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft missiles, rifles, mortars, and “enough ammunition for a three-month fight.”

The two Americans were able to record their conversations with Marcos by placing microphones and tape recorders inside their briefcase and in their suits.

Marcos also told Hirschfield that he owned 1,000 tons of gold worth about $14 billion, which he had hidden somewhere, possibly in the Philippines.  Hirschfield said that Marcos was vague about where the gold was hidden.  Marcos reportedly alluded that “some of it may have come from money set aside to pay Philippine veterans after World War II and some of it may have come from the Philippines’ central bank.”

Golden Buddha
In 1970, Roger Roxas, a treasure hunter, discovered a Golden Buddha when he and a friend, Albert Fuchigami, excavated a site shown on a map that was given by Albert’s father, who was an officer in the Japanese army during World War II. The map pinpointed the location of a secret tunnel system where the Japanese had left a treasure of gold bars.

To make the story short, Roxas and Fuchigami excavated the site and they uncovered a large solid gold statue of Buddha. They ventured further inside the tunnel until they found boxes of solid gold bars. They decided to dynamite the tunnel to hide the treasure. They planned to sell the Buddha to buy trucks and equipment so they could come back and get the gold out of the tunnel.

Roxas took the Buddha home. A potential buyer confirmed that the Buddha was solid gold. Roxas then found out that the Buddha’s head was removable.  Inside were handfuls of diamonds. Roxas hid the diamonds in a closet.

News of the discovery spread until it reached President Marcos.

Two months later, soldiers invaded his house. Then out of nowhere, the potential buyer appeared. Roxas realized then that he’d been double-crossed.

Roxas later found out that Marcos had put a price on his head. He and his family went into hiding. They never heard of the Golden Buddha again. To this day, the gold bars remain hidden in the tunnel.

“Island arrest”
After the tapes were made public, the U.S. government under then-President Ronald Reagan put Marcos under tight restrictions. He was placed under “island arrest” and couldn’t go anywhere without approval from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Save the world
In 2013, Imelda Marcos said her family was willing to share the gold bars of her late husband not just with Filipinos but also with the rest of humanity, as “this will save the world.”

Eight years since Imelda’s words, supporters of the Marcoses are betting on the dictator’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., to win the presidency in 2022 and thus end the guessing game on the lost Yamashita treasure, which has long been linked to their family.

In 2017, when asked about the fabled treasure, Bongbong told reporters, “Kung mayroon kayong mahanap, inyo na.” (If you find it, you can keep it).

But then-president Rodrigo Duterte claimed that an emissary for the Marcoses had reached out to say that the family was willing to return “a few gold bars” that they had hidden away.

Today, Imelda has yet to make good on her promise to return “a few gold bars.”

Tallano gold
Then there is the myth about the Tallano gold. Believe it or not, the Tallano gold was a cache of 617,500 metric tons of gold that was purportedly deposited in the Central Bank of the Philippines to comply with the requirements of gold reserves. And this was where Marcos and a certain Fr. Jose Antonio Diaz came into the picture.

According to some sources, the Tallano clan paid Diaz and Marcos a 30% commission in gold for a total of 192,000 metric tons of gold, which made them the richest men in the world at that time. Marcos withdrew his share of gold from the Central Bank and re-minted them “RP-CB.” Later on, Marcos and Diaz allegedly brought their gold to Switzerland at the Swiss Bank Corporation in Zurich, Switzerland.

Accordingly, the remaining 400,000 metric tons of the Tallano gold were deposited in the third-floor basement of the Central Bank Minting Plant in East Avenue, Quezon City.

The myth about the Tallano gold was propagated by Bongbong’s election supporters, who promised that they’ll all be given P5 million each upon Bongbong’s election as president. However, after Bongbong’s landslide victory, talks about the Tallano gold stopped.

According to history professor Francis Gealogo, former head of the Department of History of the Ateneo de Manila University, there are no historical accounts to prove these claims. “A narrative that is not factual is fiction,” he said.

According to claims of Marcos supporters, the wealth of the Marcos family came from the gold bars that were payments from the Tallano-Tagean Royal Family, a supposedly Maharlikan Empire that ruled the country. This “royal family” purportedly owned the Philippines and was among the parties that signed the Treaty of Paris.

However, it was revealed that there are no records of a Tallano-Tagean Royal Family; much less the latter’s representative signing the Treaty of Paris. Apparently, the story was a total fabrication by Marcos supporters who dreamed of a comeback to power.

Researchers also found no Fr. Jose Antonio Diaz. Instead, his purported photos were that of a certain Fr. Antonio Aglipay, but the latter was never listed as among the richest in the world.

Historians also debunked the claim that the Marcoses returned the gold bars to the Philippine government after World War II.

Gealogo also debunked the claim that Marcos Sr. withdrew and deposited gold in the Swiss Bank in Zurich, Switzerland and that the remaining 400,000 metric tons of the Tallano gold were deposited at the Central Bank office on East Ave, Quezon City. No such thing.

But what was found out was that Marcos Sr. and his wife Imelda Marcos deposited $950,000 in Credit Suisse in 1968, under the aliases William Saunders and Jane Ryan, based on the findings of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG). Historians said that the accounts show that what was deposited was not gold but stolen money from public coffers.

According to the independent think-tank IBON Foundation, the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses is approximately pegged at P1.87 trillion ($36.4 billion), assuming that the family just had US$4 billion in 1989. This could have inflated to at least US$38.4 billion by 2021 from interest on deposits, earnings from investments, and appreciation in the value of real properties and assets.

Now, the question is: Which would you believe: the existence of the Yamashita and Tallano gold treasure or the “ill-gotten wealth” of the Marcoses?

PERRY DIAZ is a writer, columnist and journalist who has been published in more than a dozen Filipino newspapers in five countries.

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