the artist explores the ill-gotten art and jewelry of the Marcos family as his son Ferdinand Jr leads the presidential elections


Filipinos go to the polls today to elect their next president, and the leading candidate according to recent polls is a controversial figure: Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of ousted former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda. Among the concerns raised by human rights groups at the prospect of Marcos Jr’s election victory is what will happen to legal efforts to recover the more than $10 billion that his family is suspected of having hijacked the country to finance their luxurious lifestyle, which included secret Swiss bank accounts, real estate in Manhattan, millions of dollars in rare jewelry and hundreds of works of art, many of which are still missing.

Known as Bongbong, Marcos Jr spent his political career rewrite the history of his family, downplaying the human rights abuses committed during his father’s reign of martial law and describing this period as a “golden age” of prosperity and order in the Philippines. Marcos Jr’s recent rise to prominence and popularity has been attributed to a disinformation campaign and social media blitz. A particularly outrageous lie that has proliferated is that the Marcos family’s inexplicable wealth stems from a legendary gold stash, which was either hidden by a Japanese general on the islands during World War II and found by the elder Marcos, or given to him as a gift for legal services rendered to a mythical royal family.

“The Marcos have always been incredibly good at using political fiction for personal gain”

Pio Abad, artist

In reality, the Marcos family was accused of large-scale corruption and embezzlement, and soon after Ferdinand Sr. was removed from office in the People Power Revolution of 1986, an agency known as the Presidential Commission on good government (PCGG) was created to track down the family’s illicit assets. Around $5 billion was clawed back by the PCGG, its chairman John Agbayani told Reuters, but another $2.5 billion is tied up in legal cases, and more is still missing. Imelda Marcos was sentenced for seven registry accounts in 2018 and sentenced to 42 years in prison, although she is appealing this decision.

Manila-born, London-based artist Pio Abad pictured at his exhibition The fear of freedom makes us see ghosts at the Ateneo Art Gallery in Quezon City Courtesy of the artist

“The PCGG, a Presidential Commission, was created specifically to find the Marcos’ ill-gotten assets and liquidate them on behalf of the Philippine Treasury. There is still Marcos loot in the custody of the PCGG, including Imelda’s horde of jewellery,” says Pio Abad, a Manila-born, London-based artist who uses his art to expose the history of exploitation. of the family. “What will happen when a Marcos heads a commission to prosecute the Marcos family for their crimes? It’s not hard to guess.

Abad is currently showing a series of works that examine the corruption of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in the solo exhibition The fear of freedom makes us see ghosts at the Ateneo Art Gallery in Quezon City (until July 30). The museum is on the campus of the Ateneo de Manila University, where Abad’s parents were arrested on campus in 1980 for their political activism against the Marcos regime, after being released from incarceration in a military camp .

The exhibition opens with a photograph taken by the artist’s mother, Dina, at the presidential residence Malacañang Palace. Abad’s parents were among the first wave of protesters to enter the Marcos’ lavish home hours after the family was driven out of the country on February 25, 1986. Pictured, Abad’s father Butch poses at alongside a portrait of Ferdinand Marcos portrayed as Malakas, the first man in Philippine mythology. Imelda was often introduced as Maganda, her female counterpart.

“The Marcos have always been incredibly adept at using political fiction for personal gain,” says Abad. “At the height of the dictatorial illusion, Ferdinand and Imelda portrayed themselves as the Adam and Eve of Philippine mythology, emerging naked from a single stalk of bamboo.” The propaganda machine has only gotten better technologically since the family returned from a short exile in Hawaii to reintegrate into the political world of the Philippines.

At Pio Abad Malakas to Maganda (1986-2022) (2014-22), an enlarged replica of a sculpture by Anastacio Caedo Courtesy of the artist; Photo: In Maculangan

“The weaponization of social media and the rise of fake news that has empowered Trump, Putin, Duterte and other authoritarian regimes has also been the perfect vehicle for the Marcoses to spread more lies and disinformation,” he said. Abad said. “They used troll farms to attack and harass their enemies and deployed Tiktok, Facebook and Youtube to rewrite history and portray dictatorship as a golden age in the Philippines. And all this using the money they stole from the Filipino people.

Perhaps the clearest demonstration of how the Marcos family stole the country’s resources is shown by Abad The Jane Ryan and William Saunders Collection, a series of works recreating the jewels smuggled out of the country by Imelda Marcos. The title is based on the fake names the couple used open bank accounts at Credit Suisse in Zurich, where they channeled millions of dollars for their own use.

Working in collaboration with his wife, Frances Wadsworth Jones, who is a jeweler, Abad made 3D replicas of the former first lady’s stash of gems, which have been confiscated by the government and are kept in a bank vault in Manila. The copies are based on photographs taken of the collection when it was appraised by Christie’s in 2016, in preparation for sale at auction, although that sale never took place.

Works from The Jane Ryan and William Saunders Collection (2019) by Frances Wadsworth Jones and Pio Abad, with Jillian Robredo, daughter of opposition leader Leni Robredo, in the background Photo: Clefvan Pornela

The hoard of lavish jewelry has been valued at over $21 million, and with his recreations, Abad highlights the social services and public uses the gems could have paid for. A Cartier tiara, for example, could fund the treatment of 12,051 tuberculosis patients until they are fully recovered, while a heart-shaped ruby ​​cabochon and matching necklace, bracelet and earring set could pay 52,631. textbooks for 11th and 12th graders. Imelda has fought several times in court to get the jewelry back, but so far without success.

“The depiction of Imelda Marcos as a ridiculously outlandish figure also served as an elaborate distraction from their crimes, as she served as an entertaining smokescreen for human rights abuses, state-sponsored killings and the large-scale plunder that occurred during the Marcos kleptocracy,” says Abad.

Since the family was allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991 after the death of Ferdinand Sr, they have rebuilt their grip on power. Imelda Marcos ran for president twice, unsuccessfully, but served in the House of Representatives for three terms. His daughter Imee Marcos is currently a senator and previously served as governor of the province of Ilocos Norte, a family stronghold. Ferdinand Jr also served as a senator and governor of Ilocos Norte, before running for vice president in 2016, which he lost to his current presidential opponent, lawyer and human rights activist Leni Robredo. male.

Judy Taguiwalo, an activist imprisoned during the dictatorship, examining Abad’s postcards which collect Marcoses’ collection of old master paintings Photo: Clefvan Pornela

In addition to the whitewashing of history the family promoted, many voters may not have clear memories of the dictatorship, as they were too young or unborn when Ferdinand Sr was ousted from power. . “The absence of the horrors of the dictatorship from the educational curricula is also a contributing factor,” says Abad. “You have to take into account this history and the need to create a structure to teach this history. We cannot claim that we will never forget if we do not actively remember.

But despite polls showing Ferdinand Jr winning the election by a wide margin, Abad sees hope in the candidacy of Vice President Leni Robredo, who he says “inspired an explosion of creativity and passion. citizenship among many Filipinos”. The artist’s brother, Luis Abad, for example, is running as deputy for the island of Batanes, where their father’s family is from, on a list of the Liberal Party, the same party as Robredo.

“What happens on the ground goes against the readings,” says the artist. “This weekend alone, nearly a million people turned out for Leni Robredo’s latest campaign rally. The entire stretch of Ayala Avenue in downtown Manila was filled with people dressed in pink (the color of its campaign). This is not an isolated event either, as Robredo campaigned across the country, people rallied in their hundreds of thousands to support his vision of decency and transparency in government, and to rally against the return of fascism to the country.

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