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Extracting the Marcoses

Sen. Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. is joined on stage by his mother Rep. Imelda Marcos, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile during the announcement of his vice presidential bid at Plaza Real in Intramuros, Manila last October. File photo/Geremy Pintolo

(Second of three parts)

MANILA, Philippines – When the Marcos situation finally collapsed in Manila, he was extracted under escort of our MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) chief in the Philippines, Brig. Gen. Teddy Allen, initially to Guam. At that point I went home from the (State Department’s) Operations Center Friday night for the first good night’s sleep I had had for some time.

When I got up Saturday morning, the phone rang and it was John Monjo, who at that time was senior deputy assistant secretary in the East Asia Bureau before he went out to be ambassador to Malaysia. John asked if I would go to Honolulu.

I said, “When?”

He said, “Now.”

I said, “Why?”

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He said, “Well, the Marcos entourage just arrived there a few hours ago, and there are all sorts of questions which we can’t sort out from here… We are having a problem because five or six different people in Honolulu keep calling different people in the US government. They are calling the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, etc. and different people are getting different stories. We can’t even coordinate it in Washington because there is not one channel for all of this.”

I got there [Honolulu] Saturday night and sat down with General Allen, who was absolutely punchy from lack of sleep at that point. He talked about ten hours non-stop into a tape recorder with me asking questions about the actual process of physically getting [the Marcoses] out of the Philippines… We had some 40-plus Filipinos on a US air base, not just president Marcos and immediate family, but several of the cronies and their immediate families, nursemaids, cooks, doctors, security guards, bottle washers, etc. Nobody knew where they were going, what they were going to do, or even who all the people were.

There was some expectation that, after a couple of days on the base, Marcos would go live in a house that he owned and we would have done our bit and that would be the end of it. Well, that was certainly a naive expectation…

I was now to be the inter-agency coordinator and liaison with all the issues of the Marcos entourage in Honolulu. My two-day stay extended to three months.

After about one month I kept periodically saying, “Can I come home?” “No.”

I got no sympathy out of Washington at all. [They said,] “You are out there in Hawaii,” [and] I would say, “Yes, I know, but I don’t live here.” And, besides, I thought at that point we ought to disengage from the Marcoses. But there was an element of “Keep Rich there as a security blanket and Marcos won’t keep calling President Reagan at the White House…”

It was clear that the United States stepping in and extracting Marcos saved a lot of Filipino lives. If we had not done so there could have been a lot of bloodshed and problems created that would have been a long time healing. That was avoided — a very important goal. There will probably be other occasions when it is worthwhile our doing these things.

But there are certain things that should be thought out ahead of time. There was the issue of the wealth that the Marcoses took out with them… which included jewelry which, when I later saw it, I felt would have made any museum or the Hapsburgs envious…

Then there was the issue of assisting the Marcoses to a more permanent destination. Were they going to stay in the United States? When were we going to get them off the base? The naive assumption that they were immediately going to leave the base was totally false. Who was going to be responsible for their security? How were they going to pay? Were we going to assist them to move on to a third country?

No immunity, lots of lawsuits

One of the basic issues that I think should be addressed but was not adequately addressed in this case is the immunities of a head of government who is extracted by us under such circumstances. I think a good case could be made, if the government decides in time, that legal immunity to a foreign head of state should continue for a certain limited period of time. Because of all the furor around the Marcoses, the American government simply just caved and nobody at the cabinet level was willing to say, “No, this is absurd.”

As a result, [the Marcoses] were told “you have no immunity at all here in the United States.” Well, this allowed a tremendous onslaught of legal suits, and the Marcoses could not admit to any funds or resources or they would have been immediately attached by one court or another. Within about ten days or two weeks there must have been over a hundred legal suits filed against them. One day Marcos was in his sitting room, about the size of the living room we are in now, and he had set these stacks of folded legal briefs spread out on the floor. They covered the entire room and then some…

One set was suits in which the Philippine government was a party seeking custody of any wealth that had been removed from the Philippines in the evacuation, claiming that this had not been properly acquired with legal funds from his salary and therefore it was property of the Philippine people. Another set of suits involved property, real estate, office buildings, homes, etc. in the United States which it was claimed were owned by the Marcoses, although very complicated legal maneuvers had been conducted to not show them as the owners…

A third category of suits dated to a rather archaic part of our law which was passed by the first Congress of the United States, about 1787, called the Alien Tort Act… What it amounted to was that it allowed people outside the United States, in this case in the Philippines, to bring suit in United States courts for acts which had not been perpetrated in the United States, in other words for actions in the Philippines.

A typical case might involve a family or someone on behalf of a family whose son or husband had disappeared at some point and allegedly was killed by constabulary forces or others under Marcos’ authority. These almost all involved disappearances, torture or killings of some sort over the many years of the Marcos era. These three sets of suits all raised, of course, different kinds of complications. The problem for the Marcoses, having not been given any immunity at all, was that, unlike you or I, they could not go down to a bank and open a bank account to pay the normal bills and expenses of everyday living…

(To be concluded)

Chris Sibilla is the Acting President of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training

Part I - Imelda expected to succeed Marcos
Part III - A not so simple housewife

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