Autocratic government calls for autocratic heroes, and the dangerous Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has found one: the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Marcos died in 1989, leaving behind federal racketeering charges that awaited him in New York. Thanks to Duterte, Marcos has now received burial in a cemetery reserved for national heroes.

This was enough to send me back to articles I wrote in New York Newsday about the trial of Marcos's wife, Imelda Marcos. The former Philippine first lady was acquitted in 1990 of charges that she looted the Philippine government to buy some of the most pricey Manhattan real estate and millions of dollars in jewelry and other luxuries. The reason for the acquittal was that prosecutors were never able to provide direct evidence she knew the massive amount of money she spent so freely was stolen from her impoverished nation. But there was plenty of such evidence against her husband.

Former associates of Ferdinand Marcos testified that they helped him collect massive "commissions" from government contractors and to dupe his country's central bank. Fraudulent documents made it appear to the bank that it was backing Middle Eastern projects where Filipino workers would be employed, not a New York shopping spree. Thousands of documents traced the path of money through Swiss banks to the purchase of New York skyscrapers. Even after he was deposed in 1986, Marcos tried to grab  $65 million he had in a Manila bank, a witness testified.

In the face of all this evidence, the defense put forward the dubious claim that Marcos was rich not because of systematic kickbacks but because he had discovered a secret hoard of gold and jewels that Japan's Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita had accumulated through Japan's wartime conquests. Had he lived to stand trial, Marcos would likely have become a convicted racketeer -- no hero.


Paul Moses is the author, most recently, of The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia (NYU Press, 2023). He is a contributing writer. Twitter: @PaulBMoses.

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