Filipinos angered by report of leaders' foreign investments. Scandal elicits calls for Marcos's impeachment
Manila — The government of President Ferdinand Marcos faces a deepening crisis of confidence following a news expos'e on the investments of top Philippine officials in the United States. The investments reportedly total $100 million. The San Jose (California) Mercury News reported last month that President Marcos, his wife, Imelda, and some of their friends including Cabinet ministers and businessmen have acquired large real estate holdings in the US, ``draining vast amounts of wealth from their nation and hiding it overseas.''
The Philippines is experiencing its worst economic crisis ever. The report that prominent Filipino politicians and businessmen are investing heavily abroad when there is such a financial crunch here has many people up in arms. Public anger is mounting, and some people have taken to the streets to protest. There have been repeated calls for Mr. Marcos to resign.
Following publication of the report Marcos ordered Justice Minister Estelito Mendoza to conduct a probe and to ``spare no one.'' However some doubt the investigation will lead anywhere.
Jaime Ongpin, a local businessman, says, ``Marcos can assume full control of the investigation. The justice [minister] can delay action on it; he may not even act on it [the order] at all.''
Among those named in the San Jose Mercury News report as top investors in the US are Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Energy Minister Ger'onimo Velasco, Philippine Air Lines president Roman Cruz, coconut king Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., banana magnate Antonio Floreindo, sugar baron Roberto S. Benedicto, and businessmen Jose Campos and Rodolfo Cuenca. All are said to be close to the President. Most of them have kept quiet about the report.
Mr. Enrile has admitted owning a condominium in San Francisco but denies owning other properties as reported by the Mercury News.
Mr. Velasco sent Marcos a letter of resignation saying the expos'e ``cast doubt'' on his integrity as a government official. Marcos refused to accept the resignation.
The strongest reaction came from Mr. Floreindo, who threatened to file a $1.9 million libel suit against any local newspapers writing about or reprinting the three-part Mercury News story.
Some here say Floreindo's move must have been instigated by Marcos. One former Cabinet minister said privately, ``He [Floreindo] will not do this without the blessing of the President.''
Many observers say Floreindo's move will not accomplish much as most of the damage has been done. A source from the President's Malacanang Palace said, ``We do not expect to win. We just had to stop the damage at some point.''
Some members of Marcos's party admit the foreign-investment issue ``spells trouble'' and may diminish the party's chances for victory in local elections in 1986 and the presidential polls in 1987.
But Labor Minister Blas Ople disputes this. While he admits that overseas investments by top government officials are no longer rumor but a documented fact, he says,``The issue has not yet crystallized in the provinces. . . . It may not affect our chances at the polls.''
Opponents of Marcos are using the report for all the political mileage they can. Salvador Laurel, an opposition leader and presidential candidate, called the reported $100-million investments in the US only the ``tip of the iceberg.''
Political parties have issued statements of outrage. Some opposition members of the National Assembly have started a campaign to collect a million signatures for a petition calling for the President's resignation. One has made a resolution urging a full investigation of the scandal by the National Assembly. Others have called for Marcos's impeachment and for a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister and Finance Minister C'esar Virata.
All these may be futile steps. The assembly is dominated by Marcos's Movement for a New Society.
Businessmen and civic groups are clamoring for the establishment of an independent probe. Professionals and businessmen have started picketing residences and offices of some of the top investors to protest what they call the ``shameless plunder'' of the country.