Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Saga of Golden Buddha won’t simply fade away

Inquirer Northern Luzon : Saga of Golden Buddha won’t simply fade away

By Delmar Cario

THIRTY-FIVE YEARS after it was found in a tunnel near a hospital in Baguio City, the Golden Buddha and the controversy it has generated simply refuse to fade away.

Its discovery promised wealth and fame for its finder, the late Rogelio Roxas, a locksmith-turned-treasure hunter, but the legal and family squabbles that followed spoiled what could have been a life of fortune for his family.

The recent decision of a US court that human rights victims of the late President Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorial regime should share in the damages that the Roxas heirs could get has opened old wounds, both legal and personal.

Golden Buddha Corp. (GBC), which Roxas and his foreign partners established in 1986, is locked in a multimillion-dollar damage suit against the Marcos estate in US soil.

Marcos was believed to have masterminded the Golden Buddha’s seizure from Roxas’ house in Aurora Hill in Baguio City on April 5, 1971.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled last week that the 9,539 human rights victims under Marcos’ rule were entitled to partake of between $35 million to $40 million in damage compensation to Roxas’ heirs.

Not a setback

Roxas’ son Henry and brother Danilo did not consider the ruling a setback but wished that the cases GBC filed against the Marcoses would be resolved soon.

“I will leave it to our lawyer on what to do with the decision. My father suffered much because of the Buddha and I hope justice would soon be given to us,” Henry, 38, said.

Lawyer Daniel Cathcart of the Magana, Cathcart and MacCarthy law firm based in San Francisco, California, is representing GBC and Roxas’ heirs in the civil suit against the Marcos estate.

“As long as our claims [are] finally recognized and we will be compensated properly, we do not mind sharing with the human rights victims,” Danilo said.

The Inquirer interviewed Henry and Danilo separately on Monday and Tuesday, as both have not spoken for more than a year. Henry said he and his uncle could not see eye to eye on the Golden Buddha issue.

But Judge Antonio Reyes of the Baguio Regional Trial Court admitted that the US court ruling was in conflict with a decision he issued on May 30, 1996.

Reyes then declared that the bronze-plated statuette in the court’s custody in Baguio was the same item that Rogelio found in 1971.

“The US court’s decision appears to imply that the Golden Buddha existed and I really do not know how the conclusion was arrived at and what [pieces of] evidence were presented,” he said.

Recalling the proceedings before his court, Reyes said there was an admission that Rogelio’s find was not really gold.

“The mere fact that a petition was filed in court to claim the bronze statuette was an indication that indeed no Golden Buddha existed,” he said.

Reyes was very emphatic: “The government has vast resources under its control and surely it could have found the Golden Buddha it if really existed.”

Told that the real statuette was allegedly melted into gold bars and became part of the Marcoses’ hidden wealth abroad, Reyes said: “That’s only a theory since no hard evidence had been shown. It is speculative.”

He said the conflict brought about by the US court decision could affect rules on international law but stressed that court decisions were “territorial,” meaning decisions are only enforceable in the country where the decision was issued.

He surmised though that the US ruling could have merely categorized Rogelio in the class of human rights victims and that it had nothing to do with the existence of the Golden Buddha.

The statuette in the court’s custody was surrendered by lawmen days after Rogelio complained that his Golden Buddha had been seized.

Rogelio, who died in 1993, claimed that the statuette that was returned was a replica.

Detachable head

It did not have a detachable head and a hollow torso unlike the Buddha he found in 1971, he said.

The Buddha was made of gold and its torso contained pieces of jewelry, Rogelio said of his statuette believed to be part of the war booty of Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the acknowledged “Tiger of Malaya.”

The statuette gained new interest in 1995 when Jose Roxas, Rogelio’s eldest brother and a locksmith in Olongapo City, petitioned the court to release the statuette to him as a memento of Rogelio’s treasure hunting days.

But Jose, 71, earned the ire of his siblings and nephews Henry and brother Gervic, when he declared in court that Rogelio never found a Golden Buddha.

Jose, who had been accused of conspiring with former First Lady Imelda Marcos to spread the yarn on the statuette, is still disputing with Henry and Gervic the right to bring home the Golden Buddha now in the Baguio court’s custody.

No comments: