POSTSCRIPT / August 15, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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No Manafort deal for Phl this time?

NEW YORK – The recent search by FBI agents at the residence in Virginia of Paul Manafort, high-flying lobbyist and adviser of controversial foreign leaders, has sent Fil-Ams wondering if he also has a Philippine account at this time.

This is no idle point, considering Manafort’s having done pricey crisis PR (public relations) for then Ferdinand Marcos when the dictator was trying to retain Washington’s support despite his slipping popularity on human rights issues in late 1980s.

Manafort was campaign chairman of President Trump, but resigned after the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Senate committees dug into alleged Russian links of the Trump inner circle. The 68-year-old lobbyist belatedly registered also as a foreign agent as required by law.

Were it not for his having been sideswiped in inquiries into alleged deals involving Russian interests, Manafort would have been a “right connect” of President Rodrigo Duterte to President Trump and influential political operatives in Washington.

Manafort has mastered the Capitol circuit peddling influence and lobbying for controversial foreign leaders such as Marcos, former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych, Mobutu Sese Seko of the former Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi.

We asked Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar if the Philippine government has a “lobbying, public relations, political liaison or any related contract” with Manafort. He replied: “The PCOO has no contract with him. I haven’t even met or talked to the person.”

During the Marcos regime, one Manafort deal was done indirectly through a group called The Chamber of Philippine Manufacturers, Exporters & Tourism Associations, according to the Manafort firm’s foreign agent filings with the US justice department. A Ronaldo Zamora signed for the Philippine side.

Raymond Bonner wrote in his 1988 book “Waltzing with a Dictator; The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy,” that before the contract was signed, then first lady Imelda Marcos delivered the first $60,000 (of what was intended to be a $950,000 contract) during a visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly.

Its filings showed the Manafort firm received on Feb. 24, 1986, its last payment of $258,000 from the Chamber. The amount, which included reimbursements for expenses, brought to $508,000 its total recorded payments for the Philippine account.

One wonders how much it would cost today to launch a Manafort-type operation to, say, launder a bloody human rights scenario in the Philippines to look like a “great job” in the eyes of President Trump.

• Famous Laxalt-Marcos exchange recalled

POLITICO magazine reported in an article by Kenneth P. Vogel that Marcos faced in the 1980s rising concerns about rampant corruption, plunder of public assets and human rights violations while he amassed a fortune estimated at $10 billion.

Vogel said in part: “Manafort, then in his 30s, was a hotshot Republican operative who had made his name helping Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and pioneered a new form of international political consulting (which) parlayed his clout with the emergent conservative ruling class (for) foreign leaders looking to buff their reputations in Washington.”

A Marcos front hired Manafort’s firm to help him retain his grip on power, agreeing to pay it $950,000 a year. On reports that he accepted Marcos millions, either as a bonus or as a donation for Reagan, Manafort told POLITICO: “It’s totally fiction… We’d have done everything by the book.”

Manafort entered the Philippine arena at a time when international opinion was turning against Marcos. POLITICO reported: “In Manila, Manafort and his associates advised Marcos on electoral strategy. In Washington, they worked to retain goodwill by tamping down concerns about the Marcos regime’s human rights record, theft of public resources, and ultimately their massive vote-rigging to stay in power in the 1986 election.”

Culling from Bonner’s book, POLITICO reported that shortly after Mrs. Marcos’ speech at the UN, her husband “in a dramatic effort to prove he was not anti-democratic, announced in an appearance on ABC’s ‘This Week with David Brinkley,’ that he would call for a snap election with more than one year left in his term.

Manafort urged Marcos to conduct the election in a way that would appear credible to Americans, but the advice was ignored. There was extensive fraud and violence, which independent international observers blamed mostly on Marcos supporters.

While the Commission on Elections declared Marcos the winner, an independent international watchdog said it was Cory Aquino. A tense three-week standoff ensued while the world watched.

Even as the State Department reported to the White House that Marcos’s allies were responsible for widespread fraud, Marcos and Manafort’s firm worked to perpetuate the idea that there was fraud on both sides, but that Marcos had prevailed.

At 3 a.m. the next day, after Manafort got his last payment, a desperate Marcos called Reagan’s close friend Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, proposing power-sharing with Aquino, while trying to guess whether Reagan really wanted him to step down.

Laxalt said he would check with the President. When the senator phoned Malacañang two hours later without a definitive answer, an exhausted Marcos asked him for his personal advice.

“Cut and cut cleanly. The time has come,” Laxalt replied, leading to a long silence on the other end, and prompting the senator to ask whether Marcos was still there.

“I am so very, very disappointed,” Marcos said. As a parting shot that day, Feb. 25, 1986, Marcos had himself sworn into office for another term.

But at 9 p.m., the Marcos family was ferried on four Sikorsky HH-3E helicopters to Clark air base in Pampanga where they boarded US Air Force C-130 planes that flew them via Guam to Hawaii where they arrived Feb. 26.

On the two C-141 transport planes that carried the Marcoses and some allies were 23 crates, 12 suitcases and bags, and boxes whose contents included enough clothes to fill 67 racks, 413 pieces of jewelry, 24 gold bricks inscribed “To my husband on our 24th anniversary,” and more than P27 million freshly-printed notes.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 15, 2017)

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