Jewel duel
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph T. Gpnzales (The Freeman) - December 26, 2015 - 9:00am

Now that the average Filipino has had his attention drawn to the US$300,000 crown snatched from Miss Colombia and placed rightfully on Miss Philippines' gorgeous head, it might be a good time to think about those fabulous Imelda Marcos jewels that our government might auction.

It's been more than a couple of decades already since the Marcoses fled, and various administrations have, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, embarked upon the arduous task of recovering their ill-gotten wealth and slowly returning them to our treasury.

There was the easy pickings, the Manhattan towers and the corporations forcibly wrested from Manila's old business elite.  There was the dreary money trail, which forced the PCGG to pierce through dummies and corporate shields before being led to the moolah.  There were the countless shoes, yes, and the spectacular art that even now is rocking the art world and tainting prestigious galleries while littering the desk of the New York district attorney. But aside from those, there was also the glamorous jewel collection that rivals the world's finest.

Imelda Romualdez Marcos had a penchant for collecting rocks, and boy, did she amass a whopping collection.  Divided into three (known) categories, the Hawaii, Roumeliotes and the Malacañang, the jewels are a glittering testament to the buying power of the Philippine treasury.

The Hawaii collection represents what Imelda just couldn't bear to leave behind in Malacañang Palace when the enraged Filipino public was at the gates clamoring for her head.  So, she lugged them along when she choppered her way to the airport and then took a swift dramatic exit from stage left to Honolulu.  But U.S. Customs weren't so forgiving of her personal effects now that she was an ex-First Lady, and so the loot was confiscated at the border, where they were eventually turned over to our country.

In turn, the Roumeliotes collection, reported to be the best of the lot, was confiscated from Demetriou Roumeliotes, a Marcos associate, as he was fleeing the country.  The Malacañang collection is still being litigated by the Marcos family.  So now the question hangs over officialdom: what to do with the rocks?

The current proposal on the table is an auction.  Generate as much cash as possible, now that the Philippine economy is hot and so many Filipinos are so liquid.  This might be the best time to dangle these jewels in front of the moneyed, so that the government can rustle up the best prices.  After all, given the staggering amounts seen in recent art auctions (case in point, the Kenneth Cobonpue swivel Yoda chairs that reached millions at a charity auction), Imelda's diamonds and pearls could see exponential bids from culture vultures with cash to spare, international art aficionados, history buffs, brash new rich out to make a name for themselves, and even Imelda's unembarrassed fans.

But some Filipinos object to this idea. I saw a news article about the call of Kenn Velasco to just keep this entire collection in a museum, where the public can view first hand the excesses of the Marcos rule and appreciate a carat or two of Philippine history.  That idea had instant appeal to me, as I thought that encountering the sapphires, rubies and emeralds first hand would give Filipinos that strong impact no dusty history book could convey.

What would an ordinary Filipino on minimum wage think upon seeing the cornucopia of glittering gold laid out in velvet cases before him?  How would he feel while looking at a small trinket valued at a price much higher than his monthly salary?  Would he then awaken and think to himself, "never again?"  Would he vow to vote for only those candidates that had integrity written all over their career?

Mr. Velasco notes that the government is actually enjoying a surplus now, and not a deficit, so what do we need these auction proceeds for?  Which is true, come to think of it.  We're finally a lender country in the World Bank and not a destitute borrower, so what's with the fund raising?

On one hand, I am tempted to side with Mr. Velasco.  What a powerful historical representation.  We would be attracting tourists from all over the world.  Manila would offer something else aside from Intramuros and Chinatown.

On the other, this nagging thought keeps circling in my head about how keeping them in our government's hands results in just maintaining this neon lure to the Marcoses about these jewels, and some eager lackey will think of yet another dastardly scheme to return the jewels unto the hands of their former masters. And then succeed.  Disaster.  So, it might just be better to get that red cape out of the bull's way, and comfortably plump our coffers while we have the chance.  Sort of like the bird in the hand persuasion

Yet still on another hand, (let's pretend I am Shiva), those multi-millions might just end up in the wrong politician's hands, much like the taxes I shell out every couple of weeks.  For the same reason why I am loath to think about the support I'm giving to those government employees who clock in, get a mani-pedi, and clock out, I am likewise loath to let government parasites get their grubby hands on so much potential wealth.

This is so tough, worthy of being asked a Miss Universe finals candidate. Display or dispose? That is the question.

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