OF FORTUNE : `We were there; we dug up gold'
following news story appeared in the Philippine Daily
Inquirer newspaper that has published a number of
insightful articles about Marcos gold.
Interestingly, the quantity of gold that members of
the 16th Infantry battalion say they recovered over a
22 year period closely parallels the quantity
mentioned in the Trilateral Commission letter to
THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER
THEY were just in their early 20s in
September 1972 when first recruited into the reactivated 16th
Infantry Battalion, with the "mysterious'' task of
digging tons of gold and gemstones for President Ferdinand
Twenty-five years later, the soldiers now
in their 40s and 50s have surfaced to file a claim in
California and Zurich against the Marcos estate for their
labors from 1973 to the second quarter of 1985 when they
dug--what to their estimate--were 60,000 tons of gold and
other precious metals and gemstones. They have written a joint
affidavit signed by at least 96 of the original diggers.
Roberto B. Caoile, 45, the group's
spokesperson, said their members number more than 115. They
are still looking for other comrades--members of the 51st Army
Engineering Brigade and the AFP Logistics Command who helped
them in the diggings, classified as "top secret'' by
Marcos and Ver.
The soldiers, some of them retired, others
still in active service, represent the Forgotten Claimants of
Yamashita--World War II Treasures Versus Marcos Estate
They were part of the Task Force
Restoration, organized by Armed Forces Chief of Staff Fabian
Ver, whose main task was to conduct "massive diggings and
excavations'' under the cover of fighting the communist
insurgency in the countryside during the martial law years.
"These are not mere legendary
fantasies out of Arabian nights as claimed by ignorant,
unknowledgeable or pseudo-pretenders/impostors who ought to
deceive, conceal, cover, camouflage and confuse the real truth
about this matter for their very own personal pursuits and
vested interests alone,'' sates the soldiers' affidavit.
This was apparently a shot at an earlier
statement of Magtanggol Gunigundo, chair of the Presidential
Commission on Good Government who had denied the existence of
the Marcos gold hoard.
They said the statements of Ferdinand
"Bongbong'' Marcos Jr., denying the Marcos gold, were
also "pure lies, deception and greediness to conceal,
cover and camouflage the selfishness of the Marcoses.''
"We were there. We dug the gold. Why
would they deny this now?'' Caoile said.
The soldiers' group said it is only
"appropriate'' that the Marcoses pay the human rights
victims a specific amount based on the just and fair
computation of each victim's "factual predicament during
Marcos' rule.'' The human rights claimants had been awarded a
$2-billion judgment against the Marcos estate.
But the soldiers said they, too, should be
given their just share for digging the gold and other
"We want the truth to come out and we
want to be recognized for our role in digging the gold. This
has been kept from the public far too long,'' Caoile said.
Theirs is a story that may be considered
the missing link in the mystery of the Marcos gold. According
to the soldiers, the Marcos generals and officers close to the
late president knew about the operation, including President
Ramos who was in the so-called "Rolex 12'' circle and was
chief of the Philippine Constabulary.
Ver's elite Presidential Guard Battalion
watched and guarded the young soldiers with hawk-like
attention while they conducted the digging operations at
night, claimed Reynaldo Dominguez, one of the "gold
soldiers'' in Task Force Restoration, who recently retired
with the rank of second lieutenant.
During the day, they slept or did their
"standard'' work of "restoration'' or infrastructure
development and other "field operations.''
They did not question their orders,
Dominguez said. When they were sent on "field training''
they obeyed to serve the country.
Dominguez and Caoile were among those newly
recruited in the reactivated 16th Infantry Battalion which was
one of the first troops sent to the "digging fields'' in
1972. Caoile was then only 20; Dominguez, 25.
Throughout the 13 years that the members of
the Task Force Restoration did their work, only some 30
treasure sites out of 172 were dug up, they claimed. The rest
where members of the Japanese Imperial Army buried their
looted treasures from some 10 countries as identified by
Marcos and Ver with the help of "some Japanese men,'' who
had the maps, were untouched or may have been dug up by
"those in the know.''
The young men, some 300 of them, who became
members of the reactivated 16th Infantry Battalion, were
recruited in September 1972. On Oct. 16, 1972, they took oath
as new recruits with the rank of "private,'' of the
battalion under the 2nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine
Army in Camp Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal. Lt. Col. Javier was their
battalion commander. Their group was under then Col. Ramon L.
Cannu, commanding officer of the 2nd Infantry
Their first digging operation was in March
1973 near Lake Caliraya in Lumban, Laguna, according to the
"Sometime on early morning of the
first week of March 1973, we were secretly tasked to provide
manpower for digging operations and security to a huge part of
the infamous and legendary Yamashita WWII treasures consisting
of gold bars and gemstones buried by Japanese soldiers within
the plateau in the vicinity of Lake Caliraya Resort, in
Cavinti, Laguna,'' their affidavit states.
Their unit stayed in the area up to the
last week of April 1973, but a platoon-sized detachment
remained to "ward off New People's Army elements
They started the preliminary work--setting
up steel sheets around the area and constructing the akeshift
field barracks--and then dug the area as instructed.
Ver's PGB and high-ranking officers
inspected the construction of the makeshift field barracks and
the "pounding of long flat steel bars which served as
perimeter fence at the treasure site about to be dug up . .
Dominguez, who was in the first group,
recalled how they prepared to dig a hole in the ground 30 feet
wide and 35 feet deep, as instructed by their superior
officers. Their stay of several months extended to a year.
They were even told to make offerings--pigs
or chickens which were killed at the site to appease "enkantos''
who were supposedly guarding the treasures. Otherwise, they
could encounter severe difficulty at the digging site. The
ground would mysteriously swell with water or some of their
things would get lost. Even the soldiers themselves were told
to have no "dark intentions'' and to be "pure in
heart'' so they could accomplish their objective, Dominguez
President Marcos himself came to visit them
at the site whenever there was a glimpse of success. He also
made "random visits'' aboard a helicopter during the
diggings, they said.
"During these operations, members of
our unit saw four Japanese nationals together with
ex-president Ferdinand E. Marcos, Generals Fabian Ver and
Ramon Cannu, Lt. Colonels Lachica and Javier D. Carbonnel, and
Capt. Renato Jamora and some members of the elite Presidential
Guard Battalion,'' the soldiers' sworn statement says.
But it was only on the evening of April 27,
1973, at around 11 p.m., that the "treasure digging
activity finally reached its objective.''
They had been using two bulldozers, two
backhoe "Kato'' and a heavy-duty crane when they struck
something, the first of the group's find.
"Several steel cylindrical drums
measuring approximately three feet long and 1.5 feet in
diameter, and an undetermined number of rectangular copper
boxes (three feet long, one foot wide and two feet high)
entombed in several thick concrete vaults were unearthed at an
estimated depth of 35 to 40 feet,'' they claim in their joint
One of the concrete vaults was accidentally
hit by the Kato backhoe while the vaults were being dug up.
Until that time, the soldiers didn't know what they were sent
down there to dig.
Because of repeated strikes, the teeth of
the backhoe broke the body of the vault, hitting a steel drum
inside it. The soldiers saw "heavy yellow metal gold
which gleamed amidst the floodlights concentrated on the big
digging area.'' One of the bars which they saw was a foot
long, three inches wide and almost two inches thick.
After more than 30 minutes, three
helicopters arrived. Two Huey military-type helicopters came
escorting a presidential chopper ferrying Marcos, Ver, Cannu,
Felix and some PGB close-in security personnel. They came to
inspect the treasure find. Marcos could not contain his
excitement, the soldiers said.
"When the ex-PFM saw the successful
operation, he was very much elated and very happy with the
group numbering about 60 soldiers who were there at that time.
The others (soldiers) were away manning the second and third
layer perimeter security of the digging area,'' their
Marcos allegedly told them in
will all share in everything that's here but you have to wait
for the right time.
The concrete vaults (approximately six feet
long, five feet wide and five feet high) were lifted one by
one through the use of a heavy crane and were placed aboard
three six by six military trucks which were on a 24-hour
stand-by near the battalion headquarters command post at the
"Before the former President and (his)
party left the place, we overheard him instructing General Ver
apparently on where to transport and hide the gold bars which
(task) was carried out by PGB elements,'' the soldiers' sworn
"Sometime in the fourth week of April
1973, we were pulled out from the area, but a platoon-sized
detachment was left and stayed there for almost a year after
the site was further improved as new tourist spot into what is
called now as Japanese Shrine Sunken Garden,'' they said.
After the digging at Lake Caliraya in
Laguna, the other company elements of the reactivated 16th
Infantry Battalion were utilized to provide the same security
detail services and conduct treasure digging operations
separately in the areas of Montalban, Antipolo, Baras and
Teresa all in Rizal province from 1974 to 1981. This led to
the activation of the "Task Force Restoration'' under Lt.
Col. Porferio Gemoto sometime in 1977 and 1978.
To justify the continuous service of these
soldiers in the treasure-digging operations, some company
elements of the 16th Infantry Battalion were placed under the
operational control of the Presidential Security Command in
Malacañ ;ang with provisional headquarters at an old
incinerator plant located in front of Muñ ;oz, Edsa,
Quezon City, the soldiers' affidavit said.
Task Force Restoration had then extended
its operations to the Intramuros-Manila Cathedral area near
where the Palacio del Gobernador was built.
Discovery of tunnels
In 1972, before the diggings happened,
Marcos' men discovered a vast tunnel "within the Pasig
River'' along what is now the Napindan flood control project,
underground tunnels from the Fort Bonifacio military
reservation up to Villamor Air Base and Bicutan-Taguig via
Fort Bonifacio Army General Hospital.
These secret tunnels preceded all the other
treasure hunting and digging operations. The soldiers said the
gold discoveries made by Marcos, as well as their operations,
were the real reasons why he started his strongman rule
"in the guise of a threatening rebellion by the alleged
newly revitalized CPP/NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines,
New People's Army) and Muslim secessionism in Mindanao.''
In fact, Marcos allegedly had to create the
conditions for this to justify martial law and allow the
secret diggings done by newly recruited soldiers sent to the
countryside allegedly for "field training.''
Diggers tell of 60,000 tons of treasure
THERE was a different group who dug,
another group in charge of transporting the boxes containing
the treasures, and another group who took care of securing
these before they were transported outside the country. This
is according to Roberto Caoile, spokesperson of the Forgotten
Claimants of Yamashita-World War II Treasures Versus Marcos
The trucks which transported the crates of
gold bars and other treasures were large six by six trucks
heavily covered and boarded up, Caoile said. Some of the WW II
gold bars were coated in black hardened tar and asphalt to
``discourage innocent finders during these treasure-hunting
operations,'' Caoile said.
The gold bars dug by the soldiers were
stored in the vaults of the old Central Bank in Intramuros.
Later, in the mid-1970s, Marcos ``ordered the construction of
a new and modern coin and gold minting and refining plant of
the Central Bank along East Avenue in Diliman, Quezon City.''
According to the soldiers, this was to
``further accommodate voluminous bulk of Yamashita gold bars
and bullions for remelting''-_to change their original forms
and markings which included the countries where the gold came
There were orders from Marcos to erase the
marks from the gold bars which the soldiers had dug up, Caoile
said. This was to prevent the government of the countries
which the Japanese had looted from discovering these. At that
time in the '70s, only 30 years after the last World War,
these countries still had the right to ask for the return of
The different gold bars which the soldiers
dug up had inscriptions such as ``Cambodia'' with five star
markings; ``Sumatra'' with four stars; ``Burma'' with three
stars, and other marks identical to the countries of their
The Cambodia gold bars weighed 6.3
kilograms each; the Sumatra gold bars weighed 6.2 kg each; and
the Burma bars weighed around 6 kg each.
Upon orders from Marcos, the original size
and weight of the gold bars were modified to make it appear
that these did not come from the Japanese treasure loot; thus,
the need to remelt these at the Central Bank, the soldiers
The soldiers' affidavit says ``crates by
crates'' of gold bars were shipped out of the country via the
Manila International Airport (now the Ninoy Aquino
International Airport) using C-130 military aircraft after
martial law was proclaimed. This was witnessed by perimeter
security personnel of the airport.
``During those years of diggings and
excavations, frequent electric power brownouts occurred (in)
the Greater Manila area intentionally done to cover up the
series of transport of gold bars from treasure sites to the
Central Bank or secret warehouse vaults pre-designated by ex-PFM
thru General Ver,'' a document prepared by the new claimant
group of soldiers says.
The group said even before martial rule in
1972, Marcos had already successfully excavated gold bullions
and gemstones at the Manila Railroad Company (MRRCO, now PNR)
yard complex at Tutuban terminal. This was at the start of his
first term as president from 1965 to 1969.
He started treasure digging when elected
president in 1965 but could not finish it in four years; thus
the need to employ soldiers to continue the work under Task
Force Restoration when he was reelected, the forgotten
60,000 metric tons
The soldiers claimed that in all, they
excavated and retrieved more than 60,000 metric tons of gold
bars, bullions, and other precious metals such as palladium,
platinum, chrome, nickel, zinc and little babbitt bars. There
were precious gems such as diamonds, both cut and uncut.
Among the ``major'' treasure sites which
the soldiers, who now formed the ``Forgotten Claimants of
Yamashita,'' had dug up were in Caliraya in Cavinti-Lumban,
Laguna; Baras and Teresa in Rizal province; Montalban caves in
Montalban, Rizal; Montalban Mascat; Sitio Mayagay, Sampaloc in
Tanay, Rizal; Fort Bonifacio Tunnel; Fort Bonifacio hospital;
the area of the Manpower and Youth building; Bastion de San
Lorenzo in Fort Santiago; Muņoz in Nueva Ecija; Balok bridge,
also in Nueva Ecija; site of the Central Luzon State
University statue in Muņoz; Sta. Fe in Nueva Vizcaya; Campo 4
in San Jose, Nueva Vizcaya; and San Mateo in Rizal province.
According to them, the Japanese army units
had subdivided the treasures they brought into the country and
buried them in places classified as major and minor treasure
sites. The Japanese allegedly used the Manila Railroad Co. to
transport the treasures.
Major or minor treasure sites depended on
the ``suitability, concealment, permanency and location of
man-made, built-up areas, mountainous and/ or rolling hills,
terrain with creeks, rivers, dams, big acacia, mango,
camachile or duhat trees that serve as references for future
retrieval of said treasure deposits,'' the soldiers' said.
This excludes the four, six, eight or more
pieces of gold bars usually found underneath big acacia or
mango trees where they had been stashed by low-ranking
Japanese soldiers while their superior officers were not
In some of the major treasure sites, the
soldiers even found skeletons still wearing their tattered
uniforms and helmets, and with their swords beside them.
In Fort Santiago alone, there were more
than 100 boxes of treasures which the soldiers found buried
under the old torture chamber, Bastion de San Lorenzo, which
is just near the Pasig River.
The gold treasures were buried at or below
sea level where the ground temperature is cooler to prevent
Too poor to file
Their lawyer, Benjamin Rosario, said the
soldiers have all the right to file a claims suit against the
Marcoses because they had a ``direct hand and knowledge about
the treasure digging activities of the Marcoses.'' In fact,
they directly participated in these activities.
Most of the soldiers are poor. Not much has
changed since they were young recruits digging for gold. Much
as they wanted to file a suit directly to the Zurich tribunal
as instructed by Swiss Ambassador Kurt Hoechner, they could
not do so because of the monumental lawyer's fees they have to
A Swiss lawyer's asking price is 500 to 600
francs per hour. ``Where will we get the money?'' said the
group's spokesperson, Caoile. They have already written
Hoechner, about their plight and their plan to file a suit in
Swiss envoy regrets
On April 29, 1996, they sent most of their
vital documents to Hoechner to seek help from the Swiss
Embassy in filing their claim.
On Sept. 5, 1996, Hoechner wrote back: ``I
regret to inform you that the Swiss Embassy is not in a
position to forward those documents to a court in Zurich.
Indeed, the Embassy cannot be considered as legal place of
service for a civil suit pending before a Swiss court. You are
obliged to serve these papers by other means directly to the
Tribunal in Zurich.''
Hoechner said that as far as the so-called
``Marcos case'' is concerned, the Swiss government is limited
to the request for judicial assistance in criminal matters
under the pertinent Swiss law made by the Philippine
government through the PCGG.
``The Swiss Embassy in Manila has no role
in these proceedings. A discussion with the private claimants
on this matter can therefore not take place and would be to no
avail,'' he added.
When they wrote the US District Court in
California, they were given an option for a ``pauper trial''
since they had no money. There was a list of lawyers to choose
from. But the old ``gold soldiers'' were apprehensive about a
``pauper trial'' since, according to them, they would ``lose
In late 1995, around December, they wrote
Credit Suisse and Swiss Banking Corp., two of the Swiss banks
which hold the frozen $500 million Marcos accounts. They did
not receive any answer. Shortly after that, the two Swiss
banks initiated a mediation with the Philippine government and
the lawyers of the 10,000 human rights victims to settle the
conflicting claims on the Marcos deposits. This came to
nothing as no settlement was agreed upon without the Marcoses'
``The banks probably got scared with the
appearance of a new claimant group which knew a lot about the
Marcos treasures,'' Caoile said.
``The more than 100 major treasure sites of
Mr. Marcos including minor ones could not just be excavated by
himself alone without utilizing the trusted, loyal and
confidential services of a big number of diggers composed of
the Task Force Restoration members,'' their document states.
Even in President Ramos' time, there have been secret
diggings, they add.
Caoile said Marcoses and other government
officials including President Ramos would ``never talk about
the gold.'' ``Instead, they will deny and torture the minds
and belief of the people by telling them that these Marcos
gold is nothing but a mere hoax, fiction, fantasies of a
fertile and speculative mind,'' he said.
``They do not want to expose the truth
about the Marcos gold because they are expecting to benefit
out of it in collaboration and connivance with foreign
conspirators both here and abroad,'' he added.
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