ALPSIDE DOWNED: Marcos in wonderland

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 15 January) — The last time Filipinos in Switzerland connected the Marcos name with Switzerland, it was about the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., funneling vast amounts of stolen money into Swiss bank accounts that he had opened under a fictitious name.  

In March 1968, or only three years after he was elected to the Philippine presidency, Marcos Sr., using the alias “William Saunders” opened an account at the Credit Suisse. His wife Imelda Romualdez Marcos also signed the joint account under the alias “Jane Ryan.”

Four checks totaling US$ 950,000.00 were used to make the initial deposit, but the money was later moved into other accounts under various dummy private foundations. 

The money grew with repeated deposits over the years and remained hidden until 1987, when these bank accounts were frozen by the Swiss authorities (after the Marcoses were kicked out of Malacanang by a popular revolution) and were subject of a request for recovery of ill-gotten wealth by the Philippine government. 

In 1997, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court established the funds to have been “of criminal provenance” meaning of criminal source or origin, and permitted their transfer to an escrow account in Manila, pending a ruling from a Philippine court.  

That very important ruling came in a Philippine Supreme Court final decision in July 2003 (annotated as “GR152154”), wherein the Supreme Court agreed with the earlier findings of the Sandiganbayan Philippine anti-graft court that the $650M in five Swiss accounts that were claimed by the Marcoses were “manifestly and patently disproportionate” to their lawful total income of only $304,000 while they were in power.

The July 2003 decision of the Philippine Supreme Court confirmed that the foundations were established precisely to “hide the money stolen by the Marcos spouses” from the Republic.

In 2004, Switzerland finally released a total of $683 million in Marcos funds to the Philippines Treasury.

Fast forward to the present, when Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son, elected to the presidency in May 2022, visits Switzerland with hands open, bringing an invitation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland from the WEF founder and executive chair Klaus Schwab on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia last November.

The Foreign Affairs department says Marcos Jr or BBM, while attending the five-day forum, will do a  soft launch for the administration’s “sovereign wealth fund” called the Maharlika Investment Fund. 

The bill on the proposed fund hurdled the Marcos-allied supermajority-dominated Lower House in 17 days, but the fund has not been tackled yet in the Senate and therefore has not been passed into law. 

Department of Foreign Affairs  Undersecretary Carlos Sorreta, in a press briefing on January 12,  said BBM talked in Malacanang to a DFA team  about the upcoming Davos trip and said the president himself wanted the spotlight on the proposed sovereign wealth fund. 

“The WEF is a great venue to do a sort of soft launch for our sovereign wealth fund, given the prominence of the forum itself and the global and business leaders who will be there, and they will hear directly from the President the fundamentals that we have that led us to decide that we should have a sovereign wealth fund,” said Sorreta at the press briefing. 

There are up to 270 events in the five-day staging of the WEF from January 16 to 20, and it is not clear where and how BBM can sell the concept of the Maharlika Investment Fund to the attending global political and economic leaders (52 heads of state and government, more than half of them from Europe, were invited, according to the forum president).  

Unlike former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo or GMA, who also brought a big Philippine delegation to the WEF in 2008 and addressed the gender parity group on the topic “Agenda for the Future”, BBM does not seem to be in the WEF’s 2023 program. 

Another president, Benigno Aquino III, also went to the WEF in 2012 with a party of around 42, according to the official Philippine gazette. There are reports that BBM is heading a group of at least 70. 

An article on Vera Files meanwhile, quoted the results of a study conducted by academic scholars from the University of Götinggen in Germany, University of California at Berkeley, National University of Singapore, and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (Kiel, Germany). 

The researchers used the years from 2009 to 2016 and asked the question:” Does it pay off to attend Davos?” The researchers noted that a majority of attendees come only from first world economies (topped by the US, the UK, and the host country Switzerland) and noted that the annual meeting “is dominated by high-income countries, and the share of attendees from low and middle income countries is stagnating.”

According to Vera Files, the researchers by studying the number of company attendees across all given years, “did not find evidence of a positive Davos effect on firm performance” and “did not detect any measurable effect” of Davos attendance of heads of states in firm performance. 

Marcos Jr. is one of only two Asian heads of state attending the 53rd annual meeting in the mountain resort town of Davos, the second of whom is South Korea president Yoon Suk-yeol, also recently elected.

It looks at the moment that a more tangible success will be the president’s meeting, after the forum ends, with the Filipino Communities in Switzerland and Liechtenstein and nearby countries, with the DFA saying in the press briefing that up to 700 BBM supporters have already registered online. The likely venue is a Hyatt hotel in Zurich, with performers reportedly in the president’s group to regale the audience.   

There, Marcos Jr. can finally relax in the alpine country which his parents Ferdinand Sr. and Imelda had fancied as a wonderland.  

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps)