Anti-martial law group questions 'secrecy' in alleged Romualdez donation to Harvard

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Anti-martial law group questions 'secrecy' in alleged Romualdez donation to Harvard
House Speaker Martin Romualdez and former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos attend the post-inaugural rites at the Malacañang Palace in June 2022.
Lakas CMD

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 09/15/2023, 3:09 p.m.) — Martial law victims and rights advocates have criticized House Speaker Martin Romualdez for remaining silent on reports of his alleged million-peso donation to Harvard University for a new Filipino language course.

In a statement Thursday, the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang questioned the secrecy surrounding the reports of two US-based news organizations on the alleged $2 million donation by the president’s cousin to Harvard University.

“Why the need to keep the donation a secret? Is it because Speaker Martin Romualdez is a philanthropist who quietly helps? Or because the Marcoses and the Romualdezes don't want the public to know where the funds come from?” CARMMA said.

FilAm, a US-based magazine for Filipino Americans, first reported in August that Romualdez had donated $1 million or around P56 million to support the creation of the new Tagalog language course.

The magazine quoted an unidentified Harvard alumnus who attended a dinner in honor of Romualdez as saying: “Yes, the Speaker was the donor… And we were told not to share this information. I found that very suspicious. If you are doing something without any nefarious intent, then why make it so secretive?”

The Harvard Crimson, the student paper of the university, reported on Thursday that Romualdez’s donation was actually $2 million and was used to endow the Filipino preceptor position at Harvard.

This was based on “a source familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity,” the Harvard Crimson wrote.

The Harvard Crimson also reported that Harvard University’s Asia Center had announced back in March that it would allocate $1 million to fund three preceptors in Filipino (Tagalog), Bahasa Indonesian, and Thai, “but funding for the preceptor position wasn’t guaranteed to last longer than three years — until Romualdez’s pledge."

Philstar.com has reached out to the office of Romualdez and was told that the Speaker did not have a statement on the matter.

An April 20 press release from Romualdez' office quoted him as saying that he is expressing his "full support" for the creation of the new Tagalog language course at Harvard. The press release mentioned that the Speaker delivered a policy speech at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“Our language is our pride! And learning about Harvard’s new Tagalog language course, I am expressing my full support for the program. I hope and pray that the Harvard Tagalog course will flourish and grow in the future to include many aspects of Filipino culture!” Romualdez said.

The Harvard student paper reached out to two Harvard University officials about the alleged donation, but both declined to comment on the donor's identity, citing the school's policy not to disclose individual donations.

'Vanity project'

“(W)e condemn this donation as a vanity project, a project towards rehabilitating the Marcos name. The amount is not only $1 million; it is $2 million according to the Harvard Crimson. If true, the $2 million is equivalent to 20-25% of the Speaker’s declared wealth,” CARMMA said.

CARMMA also condemned the creation of the new Filipino language course at the US-based school using “funds (that) came directly from the thief’s family.”

“How can we be happy if the funds came directly from the thief's family, which until now remains unaccountable for billions of dollars of ill-gotten wealth?” the group said.

The group — composed of martial law survivors and academics — also stressed that “language teaching is political” and can be used to spread inaccuracies and false narratives about the Marcos dictatorship.

RELATED: 31 YEARS OF AMNESIA: Stories on the myths that made Marcos   | 'Lessons on Marcos dictatorship cannot be mysterious and nameless'  

“If Harvard really sees the importance of including the teaching of Filipino in its curriculum, why do Filipinos need to fund it? Why should the money come from us, from a poor country to the richest university in the world?” the group added.

Washington-based US Filipinos for Good Governance (USFGG) said that a "sizable donation" from Romualdez should be transparent and disclosed to the public but cautioned against demanding that Harvard return the sum, which is "premature and seems unwarranted."

"If the Marcos family wants to truly repair their reputation, President Bongbong Marcos Jr. should pay the Hawaii US Federal Court's judgment of $250 Million from the dictator's estate for the thousands of human rights victims as well the outstanding unpaid $3.5 Billion in taxes to Filipino People," said Loida Nicolas Lewis, USFGG national chair.

The Marcos family and their associates amassed immense wealth during their rule, with the Presidential Commission on Good Government saying it recovered P172 billion in ill-gotten wealth from the Marcos family as of 2019. 

The martial law period under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. is also notorious for widespread human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances.

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