Philippines on the Hunt for Hidden Marcos Art Trove

The Philippine government is redoubling their efforts to track down hundreds of paintings by the likes of Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo that were allegedly purchased using state funds by the country’s former leader, dictator Ferdinand Marcos, reports Al Jazeera.

Officials from the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) believe that Marcos and his wife, former beauty queen Imelda Marcos, stole as much as $10 million from government coffers during their two decade rule (1965–86), funding an extravagant lifestyle while effectively bankrupting the Southeast Asian country. Now, the commission is working to recover that wealth, even as Imelda and her children seek to regain political power.

Once ousted from power in 1986, the family fled to Hawaii, but are said to have left expensive jewelry and about 300 paintings with friends in the Philippines, about half of which have yet to be recovered. After Ferdinand died in 1989, Imelda and her children returned home in 1991. No member of the family nor their affiliates have ever been convicted, and Imela now serves as a congresswoman, her son as a senator (and rumored presidential candidate), and her daughter as a vice governor.

The PCGG has already seized at least 15 paintings from Imelda’s home because “we believe that they were purchased using ill-gotten wealth and public funds,” as PCGG head Andres Bautista told Al Jazeera (see “Court Seizes Goya, Picasso and other Priceless Paintings from Marcos Family“).

Another attempted raid turned up only empty walls where old photos showed paintings, after Imelda had the inspectors wait an hour before entering. Many who opposed the Marcos dictatorship fear that the family will continue to evade punishment and that their crimes are being forgotten.

“The freedom in our democratic community has enabled [the Marcos family] to gain some space to participate in government. But the people and a generation cannot trust a Marcos’ full ascendancy to power,” anti-Marcos activist and former senator Heherson Alvarez warned Al Jazeera. “It would be very dangerous. It means the nation has lost its capacity for fair and balanced political judgement.”

For its, part the PCGG lacks a political agenda. “We are just doing our job; let history judge the Marcos family,” said Bautista.

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