Today in Philippine History, April 5, 1973, the Golden Buddha was seized by unidentified government agents

Wednesday April 04, 2012 ()

   Golden Buddha
   ( From the book Japanese and United States Plunder and intrigue by Rodney Stich )
(From the factual background of the Roger Roxas and the Golden Budha Corporation, a foreign corporation, plaintiffs-appellees/cross-appellants, v. Ferdinand E. Marcos and Imelda Marcos, defendants-appellants/cross-appellees, no. 20606 appeal from the first circuit court, Supreme Court of Hawaii, (civ. No. 88-0522-02), November 17, 1998.)

On April 5, 1973, the so-called Golden Buddha owned by Rogelio Roxas of Baguio City was seized by unidentified government agents.

Roxas worked as a locksmith in Baguio City. He was also an amateur coin collector and treasure hunter. In 1961, Roxas met a man named Fuchugami in Baguio City, who claimed that his father had been in the Japanese army and had drawn a map identifying the location of the legendary "Yamashita Treasure."

The treasure purportedly consisted of booty, which had been plundered from various Southeast Asian countries, during World War II, by Japanese troops under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita and which was allegedly buried in the Philippines during the final battle for the islands in order to keep it out of the hands of the Americans.

At around the same time, Roxas met Eusebio Ocubo, who claimed to have served as General Yamashita's interpreter during World War II. Ocubo advised Roxas that, during the war, he had been taken to some tunnels controlled by General Yamashita, in order to retrieve silver to pay for food for the Japanese troops. There, he observed boxes of various sizes that contained gold and silver. Shortly thereafter, he also observed a golden buddha statue, which was kept at a convent near the tunnels.

Today in Philippine History, April 5, 1973, the Golden Buddha was seized by unidentified government agents

Armed with Fuchugami's description of his father's maps and Ocubo's representations, Roxas organized a group of partners and laborers to search for the treasure and obtained a permit for the purpose from Judge Pio Marcos, a relative of Ferdinand. Judge Marcos informed Roxas that, in accordance with Philippine law, a thirty-percent share of any discovered treasure would have to be paid to the government.

Sometime in 1970, Roxas's group began digging on state lands near the Baguio General Hospital. After approximately seven months of searching and digging "24 hours a day," the group broke into a system of underground tunnels.

Inside the tunnels, the group found wiring, radios, bayonets, rifles, and a human skeleton wearing a Japanese army uniform. After several weeks spent digging and exploring within the tunnels, Roxas's group discovered a ten-foot thick concrete enclosure in the floor of the tunnel.

On January 24, 1971, the group broke through the enclosure. Inside, Roxas discovered a gold-colored buddha statue, which he estimated to be about three feet in height. The statue was extremely heavy; it required ten men to transport it to the surface using a chain block hoist, ropes, and rolling logs. Although he never weighed the statue, Roxas estimated its weight to be 1,000 kilograms, or one metric ton. Roxas directed his laborers to transport the statue to his home and place it in a closet.

Roxas also found a large pile of boxes underneath the concrete enclosure, approximately fifty feet from where the buddha statue had been discovered. He returned the next day and opened one small box, which contained twenty-four one-inch by two-and-one-half-inch bars of gold. Roxas estimated that the boxes were, on average, approximately the size of a case of beer and that they were stacked five or six feet high, over an area six feet wide and thirty feet long. Roxas did not open any of the other boxes.

Several weeks later, Roxas returned to blast the tunnel closed, planning to sell the buddha statue in order to obtain funds for an operation to remove the remaining treasure. Before blasting the tunnel closed, Roxas removed the twenty-four bars of gold, as well as some samurai swords, bayonets, and other artifacts. Roxas twice attempted to report his find to Judge Marcos, but was unsuccessful in contacting him.

During the following weeks, Roxas sold seven of the gold bars and sought a buyer for the golden buddha. Roxas testified that Kenneth Cheatham, the representative of one prospective buyer, drilled a small hole under the arm of the buddha and assayed the metal. The test revealed the statue to be solid twenty-two carat gold. Roxas also testified that a second prospective buyer, Luis Mendoza, also tested the metal of the statue, using nitric acid, and concluded that it was "more than 20 carats."

On April 1, 1971, Roxas showed the buddha to a third prospective buyer, Joe Oihara, who was accompanied by another individual, Romeo Amansec. Oihara told Roxas that he was staying at the home of Ferdinand's mother, Josefa Edralin Marcos. Oihara examined the buddha at length, performed another assay, and also closely scrutinized the designs on the statue. He indicated an interest in buying the buddha, promising to return in several days with a partial payment of one million pesos. Rendered suspicious by Oihara's long scrutiny of the buddha, Roxas undertook his own examination and discovered that the head was removable. Inside, he found "more than two hand[s]ful" of what he surmised to be uncut diamonds. He placed the diamonds in his closet near the buddha and replaced the head.

The raid on Roxas's house

On April 5, 1971, at 2:30 am, men purporting to be from the Criminal Investigation Service (CIS) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), two Philippine national security agencies, knocked on Roxas's door, claiming to have a search warrant. When Roxas failed to respond, the men broke two of Roxas's front windows and pointed the barrels of their rifles inside. They informed Roxas that if he did not open the door within three minutes he would be shot.

Roxas opened the door, and eight men wearing military uniforms entered the house, accompanied by Oihara. They briefly displayed a document that they claimed was a search warrant. Before they snatched it away, Roxas was able to determine that it contained language regarding a "violation of [a] Central Bank regulation and illegal possession of firearms" and that it was signed by Judge Marcos. The men beat Roxas's brother with their rifles and ordered Roxas's family and his two bodyguards to lie down on the floor. When they left, they took the buddha, the diamonds, the remaining seventeen bars of gold, the samurai swords, a piggy bank belonging to Roxas's children, and his wife's coin collection.

Roxas reported the raid to the media and the local police. Subsequently, he went to Judge Marcos's home. Roxas asked Judge Marcos why he had signed the search warrant. Judge Marcos responded that he had had no choice because "the principe" ("the prince") had ordered the confiscation. When Roxas asked who "the principe" was, Judge Marcos responded that it was Ferdinand. Judge Marcos also advised Roxas that it was Oihara's companion, Amansec, who had initially applied for the search warrant, claiming to have seen a gun in Roxas's house. Judge Marcos appeared angry that Roxas had reported the case to the police and the media and stated that, as a result, the CIS and the NBI would likely kill Roxas. Roxas interpreted Judge Marcos's remarks as a threat; nevertheless, on April 7, 1971, Roxas returned to the police station and signed a complaint.

Roxas and his family traveled to Cabantuan City to enlist the aid of Provincial Governor Joson, who provided Roxas with four bodyguards. Roxas then went into hiding in Cabantuan City. Soon thereafter, on April 19, 1971, the military deposited a buddha statue with the City Court in Baguio City.

While he was in Cabantuan City, Roxas was approached by Rosario Uy and Anita Igna. They offered Roxas three million pesos to publicly affirm that the buddha statue held by the court was the same one that he had found. They also told him that they represented Ferdinand's mother. Roxas refused the offer. Later, Uy reached him by telephone and renewed the offer, assuring Roxas that he need not be afraid to accept because Ferdinand would be the one paying him. Roxas again refused.

Roxas's story began to appear regularly in the newspapers, radio, and television and to attract the attention of opposition politicians. Roxas met with a number of politicians, as well as with Philippine Secretary of Justice Vicente Abad Santos. Roxas told the Secretary his story, and the Secretary promised to guarantee Roxas's safety for a trip to Baguio City to identify the buddha in the City Court.

On April 29, 1971, Roxas traveled to the courthouse in Baguio City, accompanied by his bodyguards, two prosecutors from the Justice Department, a lawyer whom Roxas had hired, and a number of reporters and cameramen. Upon examination of the statue, Roxas concluded that it was not the same buddha that he had discovered because:

  • its color was different;
  • it had different facial features;
  • the head was not detachable; and
  • there was no hole under the arm where the original buddha had been drilled.

On camera, Roxas announced his conclusion to those present. Roxas then brought the group to his house, where he showed them the damage caused by the raiding party and the closet where he had stored the buddha. Roxas later received an invitation to testify before the Philippine senate about the events; he did so on May 4, 1971.

Arrest and torture

On May 18, 1971, Roxas was arrested in Cabantuan City by three men in civilian clothing. Roxas testified that the men told him "to go with them to make a negotiation with the President." They also reassured him, "Don't be afraid. We are under Malacanang -- you know, we are under Malacanang agent. We can make a negotiation to the President, and nothing more." The men took him to the home of Colonel Ponciano Gonzales.

There, an individual identified as Colonel Olivas punched Roxas in the stomach five times. When Roxas asked him why he was being beaten, Colonel Olivas responded, "You're mentioning the name of the President[.]" One of the men then said, "We must report to the President that Rogelio Roxas is in our custody." Colonel Olivas placed a telephone call, during which he appeared to Roxas to be speaking to Ferdinand, because he addressed the other party as "Mr. President."

Subsequently, Roxas was taken to the constabulary headquarters in San Fernando, Pampanga. Once there, a number of soldiers led him to a dark room, where he was shown a picture of his wife and children and told that he must cooperate if he wanted to see them again. The soldiers ordered Roxas to "pinpoint those senators, that they pay me to implicate the name of the president." Roxas refused to sign such a statement, and the soldiers responded by shocking him with wires attached to a large battery. The soldiers also interrogated Roxas about the location of the remaining treasure; however, he refused to divulge this information. The soldiers continued to shock him for several hours and, on one occasion, burned him with cigarettes.

Roxas was then taken to the residence of a judge, where he was directed to sign an affidavit. However, because of the torture he had endured, he was unable to clasp his hand around the pen, and, therefore, could not sign. The soldiers then transported Roxas to a hotel in Angeles City. There, he was questioned again about the location of the treasure. When he refused to respond, he was beaten with a rubber mallet until he passed out. After the beatings, he noticed a great deal of damage to his right eye and ear, neither of which ever fully healed.

Roxas was kept in a room at the hotel for two weeks, during which time he was repeatedly ordered to sign yet another affidavit. This affidavit averred that the raid in his house had been performed "in a peaceful manner" and that the members of the raiding party had possessed no automatic weapons as had been reported in the press. When Roxas finally signed the affidavit, he was brought back to the city court in Baguio City and ordered to point at the buddha statue while being photographed and to identify gold bars as those taken from his home.

That night, Roxas picked the lock on the window of his room and escaped. After finding refuge at his sister's home, Roxas contacted a senator and was again asked to testify before the senate, which he did on June 30, 1971. In his deposition in the instant case, Roxas testified that, during the June 30, 1971 hearing, he told the senators about being tortured.

After the senate hearing, Roxas returned to Baguio City. Once there, he received a letter from Cesar Dumlao, a finance officer at the Malacanang, requesting a meeting on behalf of Ferdinand. Roxas met with Dumlao and was shown a letter, which indicated that Ferdinand was offering to pay him five million pesos. Roxas was instructed to return the next day; however, he did not report back because he became frightened.

One week after his return to Baguio City, Roxas was arrested for failing to appear at a hearing on an illegal weapons charge that had been pending against him since January 28, 1971. He was brought before a judge, who ordered him incarcerated as a result of his default.

On August 21, 1971, Senator Osmena sent an attorney to bail Roxas out of jail. Roxas traveled with the attorney to Manila to meet with Senator Osmena. Senator Osmena asked Roxas to speak at a political rally that evening. Roxas agreed, but he was unable to speak because the rally was bombed before he could start. Roxas ran away and went into hiding for almost one year.

When Roxas finally returned to his Baguio City home in July 1972, he was immediately arrested by two men, who represented to him that they were from the CIS. These men took Roxas to a naval base in the province of Zambales, where he was confined in the stockade. While there, Roxas was questioned by Provincial Commander Rodolfo Patalinghod about his discovery of the golden buddha.

On September 21, 1972, Ferdinand declared martial law in the Philippines; the order remained in effect until 1983. After the declaration, General Fabian Ver visited Roxas in his cell. General Ver admitted that he had been among the raiding party at Roxas's house. He also told Roxas that there had been "an order to kill [Roxas] by the military," but that the order had been canceled when it was discovered that Roxas was a member of the Church of Christ. He advised Roxas to keep quiet about his case, in light of the fact that martial law had been declared.

In January 1973, Roxas was transferred to a prison camp in Baguio City and tried on the charges of possession of an illegal firearm and unlawfully firing a revolver into the air. He was convicted of both counts by the Third Branch of the City Court of Baguio and sentenced, in connection with the first charge, to an "indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from One (1) year and One (1) day as minimum to Four (4) years as maximum" and, in connection with the second, to a fine. Judgment was entered on January 31, 1973. During his incarceration, Roxas was beaten and questioned about the location of the treasure on two occasions by a man known as Colonel Gemoto -- who identified himself as a member of the "Task Force Restoration" -- accompanied by representatives of the CIS.

Military excavations

Roxas was released from prison on November 19, 1974. When he arrived home the next day, he noticed soldiers standing outside tents near the Baguio General Hospital. Sometime in December 1974, some soldiers visited Roxas in his shop and told him that they were members of the Task Force Restoration, which was conducting excavations behind the hospital. They listed their address in Roxas's logbook (which was never produced at trial) as Malacanang Palace. The soldiers asked him to come with them to help with the excavation; he refused. Roxas passed by the site in 1976 and saw that the excavations were still ongoing.

In October 1976, Roxas and his family moved to a Visayan City, where they stayed for the next ten years without further incident relating to the Yamashita treasure.

Juan Quijon (Juan) and his son, Romulo Quijon (Romulo), corroborated Roxas's testimony regarding the excavations. Juan had worked as a nursing attendant at Baguio General Hospital from 1945 to 1988. He noticed a number of soldiers involved in excavation behind the hospital between 1974 and 1975.

Over a one-week period, Juan observed men carrying large wooden boxes out of a tunnel and placing them in trucks. Each box was carried by at least four -- and sometimes six -- men. The soldiers' uniforms bore the initials "PSC," and the trucks had the letters "PMA" painted on them. Juan also observed men removing some steel boxes with the aid of a winch. The soldiers left in August 1975.

Romulo testified that he worked as a cook for the soldiers performing excavations behind the hospital in 1974. Romulo testified that the "PSC" on the soldiers' uniforms stood for "Presidential Security Command," and the "PMA" painted on the trucks stood for "Philippine Military Academy." The soldiers employed civilians to perform most of the digging. Romulo saw these civilians pushing and pulling boxes out of a hole and loading them into trucks. The boxes appeared to be old and in poor condition. Some fell apart while being carried, and gold-colored bars fell out onto the ground. Romulo observed approximately ten boxes per day being loaded into trucks over a period of one year. He testified that the soldiers were "very strict" about keeping the public out of the area and that armed guards were posted at the trucks during the loading.

Laundering and sale of the gold

Robert Curtis, an American owner of a mining and refining business in Sparks, Nevada, testified that, in late 1974, he received a number of telephone calls from Norman Kirst, an associate of Ferdinand, inviting him to travel to the Philippines to meet the president. Kirst stated that Ferdinand wanted Curtis's company to resmelt some gold bars and change the "hallmarks." Ferdinand also wanted Curtis to change the chemical composition of the gold while resmelting it so that its origin would not be identifiable. Curtis initially refused the invitation, but finally relented and traveled to the Philippines to meet with Ferdinand.

When he arrived, Curtis met with a number of Ferdinand's aides and generals, including General Ver. He also met with Colonel Lachica, who was "Imelda Marcos' personal security and went with her wherever she went." Colonel Lachica took part in the conversations about resmelting and "rehallmarking and purifying the gold[.]" Finally, after approximately ten days, he met with Ferdinand, Olof Jonsson (another American, see infra), General Ver, and Kirst.

Ferdinand told Curtis that he had recovered an enormous amount of gold from the Yamashita treasure, which he had found at various sites, and that he needed help because the "International World Court had . . . passed a ruling that any . . . World War II treasures that were recovered would revert back to the countries from . . . whence they were taken." Ferdinand told him that he had so much gold that selling it could have a large effect on the world economy or even "start World War III".

Curtis also testified that General Ver had brought him to a basement room in the Marcoses' Miravelles summer palace, where the gold bars were kept. Curtis entered a room "about roughly 40 by 40," stacked to the ceiling with bars of gold. He estimated the ceiling to be ten feet high. Two or three four-foot wide aisles ran through the stacks of gold. The bars were in a standard seventy-five kilogram size. He noticed that the bars had "[o]riental markings" on them. Later, Ferdinand showed Curtis a solid gold buddha statue with a removable head, which Curtis identified from the pictures taken at Roxas's house as the same buddha that Roxas had discovered.

On cross-examination, Curtis testified that his study of the Yamashita treasure had suggested that the treasure contained eighteen buddhas and was distributed among 172 sites. He also testified that Ferdinand had told him that the gold that Curtis had seen had come from a site in the Luzon region. Moreover, in 1975, while Curtis was working with Ferdinand, another site was discovered in the town of Teresa, and more gold was retrieved.

Curtis and others began the work of designing and building a refinery in the Philippines to fulfill Ferdinand's requests. However, on July 5, 1975, General Ver took him to a military cemetery at Fort Bonafacio, walked him to a freshly-dug hole, and put a gun to his head, saying "[W]e're good friends but[,] I'm sorry, I have to do this." Curtis was able to talk General Ver out of shooting him and then quickly left the Philippines. He did not return to the Philippines as long as Ferdinand remained in power.

Olof Jonsson also testified that he had seen stacks of gold bars. Jonsson testified that he had first traveled to the Philippines at the invitation of a colonel stationed at Clark Air Force Base. He was brought there to use his powers as a psychic to locate gold that the colonel believed to be buried there. Jonsson described his psychic powers as including telekinesis, clairvoyance, telepathy, and the power to dematerialize objects with his mind.

While he was in the Philippines, Jonsson was asked to meet Ferdinand. He was brought to Ferdinand's office in the Malacanang Palace. Ferdinand invited Jonsson to stay at a guest house on the palace grounds. After several weeks, Jonsson left the Philippines, but he returned in 1975 with Curtis when the latter had traveled to the Philippines in order to discuss resmelting gold with Ferdinand. On this occasion, Jonsson met again with Ferdinand and General Ver. General Ver showed him a basement room in the guest house outside Malacanang Palace and another room in the summer palace, both filled with gold. He was also shown a golden buddha in the summer palace that was too heavy for him to move. Jonsson described the basement room in the guest cottage as being approximately twenty feet wide, forty feet long, and twelve feet high. He estimated the room in the summer palace as measuring "probably 40 feet by 25 or something" and twelve feet in height. Both rooms were filled with two-foot-long bars of gold stacked to the ceiling. Jonsson testified that it was possible that the bars were four inches wide and four inches thick, but that he could not recall exactly.

A number of witnesses also testified regarding Ferdinand's alleged attempts to sell his gold surreptitiously. Two Australian citizens, Michael O'Brien and John Doel, testified that they were partners in an Australian real estate venture. In 1983, O'Brien and Doel were seeking capital to finance their project. The partners met a Malaysian, Andrew Tan Beng Chong (Tan), who asked the partners to serve as brokers for the sale of ten thousand metric tons of gold in exchange for commissions on the sale. When O'Brien asked Tan the identity of the owner of such a large amount of gold, Tan stated only that the gold was available and could not be sold by regular means because of the source. O'Brien and Doel agreed to assist and created a company, designated "Remington," to carry out the transactions. The partners found buyers for the gold, and Doel subsequently traveled to the Philippines on April 20, 1983 at Tan's instruction. Doel met with Colonel Eike Manois, who claimed to represent the principal seller in the transaction but refused to disclose the seller's identity. At a subsequent meeting, however, a man identified as "Doming" Clemente, an associate of the colonel's, told Doel that Ferdinand was the owner of the gold. Clemente also stated that Imelda was aware of the transaction, but that Ferdinand was handling the details.

During the time that Doel and O'Brien were working on completing the transaction, Clemente relayed an offer from Ferdinand to sell Doel a one-ton golden buddha that Ferdinand had obtained in Baguio City. Doel refused the offer. Clemente also told Doel that the gold bars, which were the object of their transaction, had been "war booty items" and had been "buried in tunnels behind the hospital at Baguio City."

O'Brien also traveled to the Philippines. At one point, when he expressed doubt as to the existence of so much gold, he was blindfolded and taken to a warehouse. Inside the warehouse was a stack of approximately three hundred to four hundred boxes, each the size of a six-pack of beer. O'Brien opened one and observed that it contained three crudely smelted gold bars, which he described as being pitted "like an orange peel." He tried to lift several other boxes and found them too heavy to move. The partners were successful in having the parties sign contracts for the sale of the gold, but, as of July 1983, only a portion of the contracts were executed to their knowledge.

Norman Dacus, a retired American police officer, testified that he lived in the Philippines between August 1983 and April 1985. Dacus had relocated there because he had been recruited by a friend, Joseph Zbin, to become his partner "in brokering gold for [President] Marcos[.]" Dacus met with O'Brien and Clemente with respect to arranging gold transactions. He also met with Ferdinand, General Ver, and other army officers. Dacus was involved in "educating" Ferdinand about "how gold has a fingerprint on it and how you can tell which gold comes from which country." Ferdinand advised him that the first increments of gold he planned to sell were in ten-kilogram ingots, bearing the stamp of the Central Bank. At a subsequent meeting, Ferdinand stated that some of the gold was in metric ton blocks. On one occasion, Dacus was shown what he estimated to be one hundred metric tons of gold, located in a vault at the Coconut Planter's Bank. Later, Dacus was flown to Ilocas Norte and taken to a shrine constructed for Ferdinand. Inside, he observed an approximately four-foot tall, gold-colored buddha statue and what he estimated to be three hundred to five hundred metric tons of gold comprised of twenty-five kilogram ingots.

Based on portions of the testimony of Robert Curtis, Olof Jonsson, Michael O'Brien, and Norman Dacus, Nelson Colton, a long-time gold trader and manager in the gold refining industry, rendered an opinion regarding the value of the gold that the witnesses had allegedly observed. Colton estimated the volume and value of the gold described by the various witnesses in terms of the price of gold on the world market on various dates, including the time of the alleged conversion and in 1980, when gold was at its highest world price subsequent to the alleged conversion.

Move to Hawaii

On February 25, 1986, after they were removed from power by a popular revolution, the United States government transported Ferdinand and Imelda to Hawai`i. Soon thereafter, Roxas contacted a childhood friend, Felix Dacanay, who had become a Georgia resident, to help him press his claims against the Marcoses. On June 3, 1986, Roxas assigned all of his rights to the Yamashita treasure to GBC, which Dacanay had incorporated in Georgia, in exchange for a minority holding of non-voting shares.

Richard Hirschfield, an American attorney, testified that he met the Marcoses in Hawai`i in 1986 or 1987. Ferdinand hired him to arrange for an eighteen million dollar loan from Al-Fassi, a member of the Saudi royal family. Marcos offered to secure the loan with gold bullion, of which he claimed to possess tons. He told Hirschfield that he "had access to this Yamashita Treasure from the General of the Japanese War." Hirschfield also testified that either Ferdinand or Imelda told him that they had taken a golden buddha from the person who discovered the treasure and replaced it with a brass buddha.


  1. Philippine News Agency archives
  2. ROGER ROXAS and THE GOLDEN BUDHA CORPORATION, a foreign corporation, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, v. FERDINAND E. MARCOS and IMELDA MARCOS, Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees, SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF HAWAI`I
  3. Photo credit: Japanese and United States Plunder and intrigue, Rodney Stich


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