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The tragic tale of the Marcos loot ‘discoverer’

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.

Forgotten: A 1990 US report on a testimony that a package of diamonds was given to Cory.
Forgotten: A 1990 US report on a testimony that a package of diamonds was given to Cory.

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.


This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. Benj

    Another insightful column Sir! Please give us more!

  2. Pugadlawin

    I remember reading about the start of Cojuangco’s money, i think from Dr. ambeth Ocampo’s article.

    Cory’s grandaunt is the lover of I think Juan Luna who is the treasurer of the Katipunan.

    Her grandaunt, a duaghter of a Chinese carpenter, kept the monies when Luna died.

    They are thieves to start with… What can you expect?

  3. Nadia

    Connect the dots… Drug protector leni Robredo… Brother in law… Del Castillo…. Ex councilor Rosales… Share this with jojo robles

  4. Humanda ka abnoy

    The Aquino family is the most corrupted and biggest PLUNDERER in our government at panahon na para ikulong ang manga hayop na yan

  5. Olan Arellano

    Cory Aquino was the looter. Not marcos.

  6. arnel amador

    marcos era as being told today as a part of ph history is like a jig-saw puzzle with so many missing pieces. those missing pieces are clouded with yellow color. the piece (story) above is just one of them.

    the drama that mainstream media feed us daily about those group against marcos burial on LNMB gives us an impression that they alone and only them should be heard and be given attention, screw up the written law of the land just to satisfy them. ang tanong ilan ba talaga sila sa labas at loob ng bansa? if we permit numbers to decide that 17m (+/-) people who chose bongbong during the last election is a solid proof against those remnants of maozedong fans + diehard yellows.

    my take, painful or not, the true story must be told, not that half truth and half lies they want us to believe…

  7. jhun carlos

    take note too about the alleged Imelda’s precious necklace posted in Facebook wall then, now in possession of Kris Aquino (the queen of all life wreckers) . they may be related to this “bag of Diamonds” CLAIM…

  8. jo

    So that explains that Kris Aquino’s diamond necklace is of Imelda after all. Sila pala ang totoong magnanakaw, come to think of it kung makaakusa sila parang mga santa including their yellow supporters.

  9. Julio

    This is nothing new, Cory and her relatives became beneficiaries of the unaccounted jewelries, golds etc

  10. Dayne

    Thank you, Mr. Tiglao. With your article, I now wonder no more why the Yellows are so mad at Marcos and PNOY with GMA. Now I know. They said that Marcos, is corrupt daw…and they are “clean”;.and that Marcos being “dirty” should not be buried in the LBNMB for it would “taint” the “cleanliness” of those buried there! Whatta sham! Now your article shows the opposite. Maybe if the box of diamonds would surface…! hehehe!

  11. cris

    Mr. Tiglao, this past few months i’m beginning to admire your writings. I was originally one of your critic for I don’t believe you then. Going back to the last sentence of your commentary;

    “Our historians have been sleeping on their jobs”

    that is understatement. they are not just sleeping, but also writing our history on the premise that these yellow cult are the messiah of our nation….

  12. Ka Ernie

    How about the 133 Companies taken from Kokoy Romualdez was given to brother-in-law of Cory name Lopa. These companies shall be turn over to the government why this case was not mention by PCGG. Can you please enlighten this matter so that the People of the Philippines will know the real truth.

  13. Dennis Fernandez

    Mr. Tiglao, thanks for this insightful article. Most of those you mentioned to have knowledge of the events surrounding the missing box of diamonds are still alive. I can’t wait to hear from them.

  14. David Michael Meyer

    Nowhere,could we see a dictator buried as a hero –Except here in the Philippines –Where else-? Accept ,maybe the USA -But I think even there ; the idea would be ludicrous ..Maybe we can look at genghis Khan …Attila the hun..in retrospect–and make them into heroes too .
    David M Meyer( PhD Psych}

    1. red planet

      You must be ignorant of the fact that at one point all monarchies that had a king or queen ruled as autocratic dictators by terror with blood on their hands.

      They were hailed as national heroes just as long as they bought their country a moment of prosperity and power however brief in history. France is proud of Napoleon, Germans secretly of Hitler, Russians nostalgically of Stalin and Chinese unapologetic of Mao so let Filipinos have the right to call Marcos their dictator a hero and bury him as such.

  15. ddd

    That’s also my one thousand questions to myself. Bakit ganon ang galit ni PNOY kay Gloria Arroyo? If you are a good observer, revenge of PNOY towards Arroyo is too personal. I do not believe that PNOY hates Gloria because of the corruption charges. It is more than that.

    Well, Mr. Tiglao, please continue unearthing the hidden wrong doings of the Aquinos. Sila ang nagpalala ng problema ng Pilipinas. Marami parin ang mga nagbubulagbulagan at naniniwala sa mga Aquinos. What a shame to them.

    Good luck to your fight for the truth.

    1. red planet

      Actually hindi lang galit kundi GANID laban kay PGMA, inagaw ni PNoy lahat ng mabuting programa ng gobyerno, tulad ng READY project under Gloria, ginaya at ginawang NOAH project. kaya lang dahil incompetent and greedy nga itong si PNoy ito ay naging isang multi-billion peso PDAF scam tulad din ng TRC ng DOST na inabolish din pagkatapos mabuking na itong gov’t agency ay front pala ni Napoles NGO’s.

      Ang READY project ni PGMA ay legitimate successful project of concerned gov’t agencies, pero ang NOAH ay isang PDAF front by psuedo experts na hindi maudit dahil sa bulag-bulagan ang COA, dahil magaling lang ang NOAH ni PNoy sa bola at PR, pero actual output of cost per benefit, WALA.

    2. Haino

      Ipagdasal na lang po natin sila na sanay makita nila ang liwanag, ang katotohanan, nang sa ganun ay magkaisa ang lahing Pilipino

    3. RexO

      It was the Ombudsman who investigated GMA and recommended prosecuting her for plunder,not PNoy. PNoy did not have a hand other than maybe preventing her from going out of the country. It’s the same with Corona. It’s the Congress who impeached him and found him guilty of not reporting his bank accounts and properties in his SALN

    4. jack reacher

      Exactly .. Bakit ganun na lang kagalit si PNOY kay GMA .. this goes beyond Hacienda Luisita lang.. kung ganun bakit sina Peping Cojuangco hindi naman .. There must be a something that GMA have or have done (unbeknownst to us or to mainstream media) that would bring down this “Cory” mystic..

  16. Leodegardo Pruna

    There were a lot of rumors about the diamonds recovered from the palace and how these were transferred from one hand to another. Lots of speculations as well. With this column, a re-investigation is in order to correct history. God save the Philippines.

  17. red planet

    Now this here is NEWS of the TRUTH hidden from the FILIPINO PEOPLE, that after all and everything the yellow history of Marcos cronies and multi-billion dollar plunder are based on planted documents, Oh No!

  18. lili

    I like reading all your article. You are one of the best among few good journalist.

  19. Rudi Miranda

    Bobbi thank you! Historians are not apt when it comes to the details, they get lost?

  20. Jose A. Oliveros

    Mr. Tiglao, Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo had written several columns about Chito Roque. In one of those columns, Tulfo wrote that Roque walks with a limp because one of his legs was hit by a bullet when his men in the Task Force Gambling shot each other following an argument – if I remember correctly – about sharing the payola from juetent lords. Roque was caught in the crossfire.

    Roque was very much around in 1998 as consultant to then Senator Nikki Coseteng. Roque supplied Coseteng with materials that she used in her speech about the so-called Centennial Expo scam. I was present when he boasted to media men – off the record, he said – that “may mga general na tatamaan dito at may isa pang mataas na tao.” In turned out that the real target was former Pres. FVR.

    Roque claims to be a descendant of Gen. Miguel Malvar but Atty. Maning Malvar, a grandson himself of the General said that Roque does not have even a single drop of Malvar blood in his veins.

  21. Emperor JC

    This matter should be re-investigated by the new administration.

  22. Top Gun

    If you are honest; people will eventually know. If you are corrupted; people will certainly know about you are dead.

  23. Dan Louis

    I love this Article very well written.

  24. Rio Legaspi

    well if you are in power secrecy is the name of the game. so it is bulshit that they are for the people. that is tantamount lying.

  25. Daniel Ali

    Very well said Mr. Tiglao.

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