Sula: How do you solve a problem like Imeldific?


BACK in the early 80s, when the gripping power and influence of the Marcoses were ebbing, an investigation of financial donations poured into then First Lady Imelda Marcos's projects was launched, almost in a haste.

I was working then in a company representing coconut farmers in the country. The company was brought into the legal fray because of a P20 million donation to one of Imelda's novelty projects, the Coconut Palace.

The company was awash in cash at the time because of the substantial subsidy it got from the government through the controversial coconut levy whose rates varied from time to time because of the fluctuating copra prices in the world market, apart from the obtaining political vagaries.

Mrs. Marcos had her own version of build, build, build that gave rise to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Folk Arts Theatre and the Philippine International Convention Center and others on a reclaimed area along Roxas Boulevard, epitomizing her ` edifice complex`. The projects were implemented by the late Aber Canlas.

(Canlas, in one those no-holds-barred conversations at EDSA Plaza on Tuesday Club, would always make it known to everyone within earshots that he never made a single centavo from Imelda's projects, a claim that was shored up by his friends in media, notably Nap Pineda and Jimmy Gil of GMA 7).

Not that it was bad per se, in fairness, as the area became a mecca to what passed for as a kind of cultural and cosmopolitan renaissance in the Philippines. Mrs. Marcos hobnobbed with global celebrities like Hollywood actor George Hamilton and international pianist Van Cliburn. Foreign movies from the banal to the bold were shown at PICC that catered to both the cultured and hoi polloi.

So, as it happened, our company lawyer was summoned to the hearing at the Supreme Court headed by then Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, who earned his one-minute fame by holding the umbrella for Mrs. Marcos in one event.

When it was his turn to argue our company's case over the P20 million donation, our lawyer had one seven-word sentence to justify it: Who can say no to Imelda Marcos, he pleaded before Fernando. Fernando understood but came up with his own repartee.” And you think that is valid a legal argument?”

I don't know what happened to the case.

And here we are, more than 30 years after, being told by the Sandiganbayan that Mrs. Marcos is guilty of seven counts of graft after all, for what is described as the Marcoses' entrepreneurial scheme that made them questionably richer by P200 million at that time or the equivalent of P10 billion today. Could the millions of donations given, freely or otherwise, have been part of the alleged scheme? Balzac could not have been more perceptive or prescient: behind a great wealth could be a great crime.

How did they do it?

Our company lawyer's answer to Fernando will probably answer the money question. Who could say no to Imelda, or to the conjugal dictatorship, at the time?

That short but reality-packed answer should give us a hint, a creeping sense of pessimism, a stab into the faintest hope, to the most important question of the day? Will Mrs. Marcos ever see or touch jail for the alleged crime?

Your guess is a good as mine, or of the many, given the prevailing political and judicial atmosphere today.

Some people are not just smarter than others, as Imelda was once quoted; they are also luckier.


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