Is Imelda Marcos a swindler? by Luis B. Lim

In May 2005 Imelda Marcos needed US$1.5 million purportedly to pay for legal services rendered by the lawyers who handled her cases abroad. Her immediate problem was sourcing. The Philippine government has apparently been doing an excellent job in ensuring that  the sequestered Marcos assets remained sequestered, and beyond the reach of the former First Lady. The formal banking sector was obviously out of bounds, leaving her no alternative but to tap sources within the underground economy under conditions of secrecy and anonymity.

The back channel negotiators who used to work for her and her husband on clandestine financial transactions were no longer available 19 years after their overthrow. Mrs. Marcos now had to choose a nominee who would act in her behalf. It had to be someone whose loyalty to her was total and absolute, whose discretion could be relied upon and whose business exposure was wide enough to fulfill this mission. She decided to call on Sonya Mathay.

Sonya Gandionco Mathay was the first wife of Quezon City Mayor Ismael (Mel) A. Mathay, Jr,. Mrs. Marcos got to know Sonya in the ’70’s when her husband became Vice-Governor of the Metro Manila Commission (MMC). It was the time when their marriage has hit rock bottom. Mel, after more than twenty years of married life with Sonya,  abandoned her for another woman. Mrs. Marcos, with her conservative Catholic upbringing common to women of her generation, would not, however, tolerate concubinage in the open. She insisted that Mel kept house with his legitimate spouse and maintain a semblance of a normal married life before the public as a condition for the position of MMC Vice-Governorship. Unlike Edward VIII who surrendered his throne for love, Mel Mathay chose power and influence over love; which suited Sonya just fine, for despite the deep wound that Mel dealt her, in the depths of her heart, she still loved him, and keeping him for herself, even under duress on his part, was her way of exacting revenge on the other woman whom she accused of bewitching her beloved. That her erring husband no longer loved her was of little moment for Sonya. And the author of this arrangement further enhanced the position of Sonya by elevating her to the role of a close companion, earning the accolade from a former Marcos cabinet member who described her as, “The bluest of the Blue Ladies”. (As a parenthetical remark, when your unloved wife is a good friend of your boss, antagonizing her is not a good idea.)

Then came EDSA. As the Filipino nation bid farewell (or good riddance) to the Marcoses,  Mel packed his bags and went back to the woman he really loved whom he eventually married after he became a widower. Later, despite his image as a Marcos loyalist (which he was), Mel managed to win a congressional seat in Quezon City and from there he moved on to become that city’s mayor for three terms on his own without assistance from the Marcoses. Sonya became excess baggage as Mel tried to jettison her not once but twice by way of  church annulment proceedings. These failed due to Sonya’s effective rear-guard action.

Having lost her beloved for good and traumatized by the experience, she drew closer to Mrs. Marcos who at that time had very few friends. As a touching gesture of loyalty, Sonya offered her unit in Pacific Plaza rent-free to the then homeless Mrs. Marcos upon her return from exile. Somehow, for Sonya, Mrs. Marcos filled the vacuum left by Mel. The role of a dominatrix to a weak and wounded personality suited Mrs. Marcos perfectly in the drama (or farce) that followed.

And so, the stage was set on that day in May of 2005 when Mrs. Marcos invited Sonya for a mid-morning snack and there communicated her need for cash. Sonya herself was in no position to extend such amount but she might be able to secure the desired accommodation through her connections with sourcing agents. The financial package prepared by Mrs. Marcos would have the following features:

Amount: US$ 1,500,000; Term: Three Months; Interest: 100% per Quarter; Security: Post-dated Check (PDC)

What Mrs. Marcos, in effect, was saying: “I will double your money in three months.  Lend me US$ 1.5 million on 1 June 2005 and on 31 August, I pay you back US$ 3 million. Your security will be post-dated checks signed by an American you probably don’t know but I’ll vouch for him.” For Sonya the voice of Imelda was the voice of God. It was not just a matter of complete trust in Mrs. Marcos; it was faith, the kind that moved mountains. Sonya then went to work at the behest of her “patrona”.

Sonya got in touch with two bank officers whom we shall call “Liza” and “Sarah”. They had worked together before and there was a high level of trust among them. They knew she was speaking for Mrs. Marcos, she with all that gold sitting somewhere, with all the billions she was supposed to have plundered for which she was never convicted. Perhaps, those financial terms looking like the handiwork of a crackpot, had it been made by others, might have some substance since it was Imelda talking.

And so, Liza and Sarah set forth to look for takers. They found one.  Let’s call her “Anna”.  Anna had the money and she was willing to lend it to Mrs. Marcos. However, she balked at the offered security and insisted on a guarantee from Sonya, even a verbal one. Sonya agreed. The deal was consummated; Imelda got her $1.5 million in cash, Anna got her PDC’s (one for $2 million and two for $500 thousand each, all dated 31 August 2005 drawn on the account of one Henry Fischer at JP Morgan Chase, New York and Sonya gave her word.

The inevitable happened — the checks bounced. The dream of Anna doubling her money in three months, the expectations of Liza and Sarah of receiving dollar commissions melted away. They made intermittent efforts to remind Mrs. Marcos of her promise; days, weeks, months and years marched out of the calendar as Imelda Marcos performed the same song and dance routine common to debtors who could not or would not pay. Not a single red penny peeked out of the Madam’s purse. In the meantime, the ever loyal and faithful Sonya, perhaps out of some sense of honor, managed to shell out P10 million of her [own] money in partial fulfillment of her guarantee. Finally, Mrs. Marcos spoke out to Liza and Sarah: Sonya should pay as she was after all a business woman! Sonya, who chose to  stick with Imelda while other Blue Ladies flew the coop, was given this reward in response to her fidelity by the very person who was the object of her faith!

Except for the rubber checks that were not even Mrs. Marcos’, there was no paper or signature trail that could serve as evidence in court. The shame of admitting in public that one has been swindled of a huge amount without any fallback position, thereby admitting a gross lack of intelligence prevented Anna from  accessing the media. The vested interests of Liza and Sarah in preserving their careers and reputations in the banking community were inducements for them to keep quiet. And Sonya? Sonya drew away from the company of Mrs. Marcos for the last years of her life which ended in November 2012 at the age of 82.

As this article began with a quotation, it seems pertinent to end it with another one, this time from the German dramatist, Schiller:

“Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain!”

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