Two Sets Of Jewels

by Juan L. Mercado


“Better to have second-hand diamonds than none at all.” Mark Twain once joked. On the 40th anniversary of martial law, Rep. Imelda Marcos wails about stolen diamonds and jewelry.     

No, no, no. Imelda did not say she stashed stolen gems. “The Presidential Commission on Good Government stole my  jewels,” she claims.  “They should return them, instead of displaying them”  (at National Museum) They were already mine before Ferdinand became president”.

“Jewels take people’s mind off their wrinkles.” Now pushing 83, Imelda gripes she has only paste gems left. She paraded  the bogus trinkets before reporters.

“I have no expertise on jewelry”, President Benigno Aquino shrugged.  After the museum road show, PCGG proposed the jewels be auctioned.  “I just want to ensure all will be disposed off properly, and every centavo go to government.”

The exhibit-cum-auction proposal caromed into 2012 martial law rites that goes beyond routine slamming of the lady’s 1,080 shoes.  “There’s a little Imelda in all of us”, reads a New York shoe store poster.

So, “where are all those shoes?,” asks Virginia Moncrieff in Huffington Post.  “Mrs. Marcos wants them returned… even if they don’t qualify as vintage kisch”, Moncrieff adds.  She edged out other Third  World dictators in a Newsweek list. “No mean feat for the woman with expensive feet. But Imelda continues to fight for what she says is rightfully hers —- the loot acquired from her husband’s 21 years of pillaging the Philippines”.

The storm, this year, swirls around three batches of gems: (a) the Malacañang Collection; (b) the “Honolulu Batch and (c.) the Roumeliotes Set”.

People Power demonstrators stumbled across 300 gems in deserted  Malacanang closets, hours after the Marcoses scrambled aboard Chinook escape helicopters.

In Honolulu, 25 US customs officers took five hours to inspect Marcos luggage which arrived a C-141 cargo jet,  recalls “Chronology of the Marcos Plunder.” The  Marcoses were allowed to keep what they declared: bein arer bonds, cash etc.  But US customs didn’t look the other way  with  278 crates of art,  P27.7 million in newly minted currency,  plus 400 jewels stashed among gold bars, wrapped in diaper bags.

Philippine authorities nailed Greek national Demetriou Roumeliotes when smuggling out 60 gems, two weeks after the Marcoses flight. A 37 carat diamond, crafted by Bulgari, is centerpiece.

Imelda’s fight to get “her” jewels back continues of what  Arab News reported in September 2005:  “(She) asked a local court to stop  government from selling the  Roumeliotes Collection’, as experts from auction house Christie’s arrived in Manila to inspect  the gems.

“They were inside a package addressed to Imelda Marcos when seized.  Roumeliotes denied she owned them and later said they were fakes — a claim both Sotheby’s and Christie’s refuted.

“The jewelry was taken out of Malacañang presidential palace without  knowledge, much less the consent, of the petitioner between Feb. 26 and Feb. 27, 1986,” her petition said. “These are all mine,” she stressed.

Mrs. Marcos abandoned claims to the “Honolulu Batch’, Arab News reported. She signed an agreement, with the US government in 1991,  giving the jewels to the Philippines. In exchange, two racketeering cases against her in Honolulu were dropped.

“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world?”, you ask. “It took almost 14 years for the Filipino people to dislodge the Marcoses,” Inquirer’s Randy David  writes.   Members of his family are back in power.  No one has been jailed. Bulk of the money stolen has not been recovered.  This is not just  failed memory. This is the result of a flawed social system that remains vulnerable to temptations of authoritarianism.”

The controversy reminds many of  “Jewels of the Pauper”, written in 1942, by a  25-year old Jesuit scholastic, imprisoned with 460 others, by the Japanese, in what was Ateneo de Manila on Padre Faura.  Horacio de la Costa later became a historian and first Filipino to head the Jesuit province in the Philippines. He wrote a three minute piece that enabled change of sets for a program to uplift the starving depressed co-prisoners.  Excerpts:

“We are a  remarkably poor people. Poor even in the riches of the spirit. No Shakespeare, no Cervantes has yet been born, among us to touch with immortality, that which in our landscape,  customs, history, is most memorable, most ourselves.

“Yet, this pauper hides two jewels in her rags. One is our music. We are sundered by 87 dialects. We are one people when we sing. In the  north, a peasant woman croons her child to sleep; and the Visayan, listening, remembers cane fields of his childhood, and his mother singing the self-same song.

“We are one people when we pray. Our other treasure, faith, gives to our uneventful days, a splendor; as though touched by a King.  Our religion and our music  (blend)  like basic rites of human life. Harvest, seed-time, wedding, birth and death are, among us, drenched with the fragrance of incense and coolness of music.

“These are the bonds that bind us together; these are the soul that makes us one…“This nation may be conquered, trampled upon, enslaved, but it cannot perish. Like the sun that dies every evening, it will rise again from the dead.”

Two kinds of jewels. Two unbridgeable worlds? P-noy better auction those gems soonest.  His term is limited. A  successor less principled may agree with what Imelda says: “If you know how much you’ve got, you probably haven’t got much.”


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