Fact-checking the London-based The Guardian’s May 2016 article, “The $10bn question: what happened to the Marcos millions?” which I mentioned in my column on Monday, led me to a facet of the post-EDSA history that isn’t exactly inspiring.
The Guardian piece referred to a “young civil servant named Chito Roque,” who purportedly, in the wee hours of Feb. 26, 1986 after Marcos fled Malacañang, unlocked a steel safe in the dictator’s quarters, and found inside what would be documents that proved or pointed to the loot Marcos amassed in his 20-year rule.
Chito Roque, or “Potenciano Roque,” wasn’t a civil servant but a small businessman, an activist in Agapito “Butz” Aquino’s “August 21 Movement (ATOM).” That Roque found the documents after unlocking the safe — the combination of which he said was pasted on the safe’s door — was based entirely on his sworn statement.
Cory Aquino’s executive secretary then, the late senator Joker Arroyo — who was with Roque and Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin, Jr. in Malacañang that night — many years later, in 2011, reported that while he did not see Roque opening the safe, he indeed gave him that early morning a black bag containing documents from the safe, according to the activist.
Arroyo didn’t consider the bag of any importance, and turned it over only several days later to Jovito Salonga, chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government. Arroyo said in 2011 that after Salonga pored over the documents, it turned out to be a breakthrough in terms of unearthing Marcos’ hidden wealth. Arroyo practically said that Roque was the discoverer of Marcos’ wealth: “It was a gold mine. That’s what it was,” Arroyo said. “Nobody knew about the ill-gotten wealth.”
The Guardian’s reference to Roque ended there. It is astonishing that for such a deed – securing documents that would lead to the discovery of millions of dollars in Marcos’ and his cronies’ hidden loot – Roque had not been hailed and honored as an EDSA hero. I myself had not heard of him until I read the Guardian article.
EDSA-I turned out to be the beginning of Roque’s nightmare.
Cory appointed him in March 1986 as head of her powerful Task Force Anti-Gambling, headquartered in Malacañang itself and assigned the gargantuan task of eradicating jueteng in the country. His appointment to head the Task Force had raised eyebrows: Roque wasn’t a lawyer, didn’t have any background in law enforcement or intelligence gathering and was a small businessman all his working life.
Star witness vs jueteng
Three years later, Roque was out of Malacañang. He came back to public view only in 1995, when Congressman Roilo Golez presented him in Congress as a star witness in an investigation on the proliferation of jueteng, the illegal numbers game in the country. Among those Roque alleged as jueteng lords were Rosario Magbuhos, who, he said, controlled gambling in southern Luzon, and Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda (husband of Pampanga governor Lilia Pineda) for Central Luzon.
However, in his testimony, Roque admitted that he had accepted bribes from the top 25 jueteng bosses, including Magbuhos and Pineda, amounting to P43 million monthly from June 1986 to October 1989.” If anyone fell (behind in their “payments”) he recalled, “I would order … the jueteng operators’ joints raided even if the payment was only delayed [by] two or three days,” he testified.
What was explosive in Roque’s testimony was his claim that much of the money was used by the Aquino administration to fund counter-moves against the seven coup attempts against it. He claimed the jueteng money was given to and distributed for such purposes by a top politician, whom he didn’t identify. However, American scholar Alfred McCoy alleged in his book “Policing America’s Empire: The United States, The Philippines, and The Rise of the Surveillance State,” that based on subsequent revelations by other politicians, the politician referred to by Roque was Cory’s brother Jose “Peping” Cojuangco. The veteran Tarlac politician had vehemently denied such allegations.
Roque became a figure despised by the Yellow Cult, which had been powerful at that time. Indeed, I never found columnist Randy David — an amiable person who very seldom writes angrily against somebody, except against Marcos and Gloria Arroyo — as fuming against anyone as he was against Roque in his piece on Dec. 10, 1995.
A peek from David’s column: “His (Roque’s) credibility is in tatters… his overall appearance is that of someone who has not cared to look after himself in a long time…. He was supposedly one of Cory’s special security aides, but the former president hardly remembers him… Roque is reportedly separated from his wife… He was addicted to pain killers like Demerol…. Chito Roque is, in fact, dying from bone cancer.”
A box of diamonds
Roque actually made stronger accusations against Cory much earlier.
The US government presented Roque as a witness in its racketeering charge against Imelda Marcos in 1990 at the New York Federal District Court.
Aside from confirming that it was he who found the incriminating documents against Marcos in 1986, Roque testified, to everyone’s shock, that he gave Cory “a box of Imelda’s diamonds,” which he said he recovered from Malacañang. He didn’t explain, though, why he gave the diamonds to Cory and the documents to Arroyo, the President’s most trusted aide at that time.
There is no report that Cory surrendered such diamonds. If she handed them over to the PCGG, indeed, that would have been big front-page news. She had not commented on Roque’s allegation.
Roque’s testimony was not reported by the local media at the time. The allegation about Imelda’s diamonds being turned over to Cory would be raised again only in October 2005. That was when PCGG Chairman Ricardo Abcede reported that he “received a transcript of a racketeering case against Imelda Marcos in a New York court in 1995, which quoted a certain Potenciano Roque as saying that he gave Corazon Aquino a box of diamonds, which was recovered from Malacañang.”
“The PCGG never received that box of diamonds,” Abcede declared. He said he plans to call Cory to the PCGG to deny or confirm the allegation. Abcede never did. (He died in 2012.)
Roque disappeared from history, or from the news pages, after that testimony. Golez says he has lost all contact with him since 20 years ago. Roque’s brother-in-law, Alex Padilla, has also never heard of him since. If he is still alive I hope he writes me to comment on this column.
I find Roque’s claim that he unlocked Marcos’ safe incredible. How stupid could the strongman, who was smart enough to have stayed in power from 1965 to 1985 be to, first, put the safe’s combination pasted on its door and second, to put inside that safe his most confidential documents? How did a low-ranking “Atom” activist get to be transported by helicopter from Malacañang to join Arroyo and Locsin — Cory’s most trusted officials at that time — in inspecting Marcos’ private quarters right after he fled? Why would a yellow activist claim under oath that he gave a box of Imelda diamonds to the Yellow Cult’s saint?
Could Roque have been an agent of a foreign (ahem) power that assigned him to provide Cory’s government with the documents that condemned Marcos, and then to tempt Cory with the diamonds, so it could blackmail her?
I have been wondering why former President BS Aquino harbored such deep anger toward President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that he had been consumed by the desire to jail her, at the expense of so much political capital and time spent in its pursuit.
Could it be that his mother thought that President Arroyo had ordered Abcede to publicize Roque’s allegation that he gave Imelda’s diamonds to Cory, and thus she and her son became furiously mad at the President that they went all out against her administration?
But alas, we may never find out the truth. Journalists can only raise questions, especially those that prick at the narratives created by the ruling elite. Our historians have been sleeping on their jobs.