THE CLAIM of former first lady Imelda Marcos that her family had 4,000 tons of gold confirms the long-told story that her husband, former President Ferdinand Marcos, had something to do with the disappearance of the Golden Buddha in Baguio City 27 years ago.

In fact, Ms Marcos's admission that came out in an aborted series of articles in the Inquirer last year, has ruffled anew bitter memories of the
heirs of Buddha finder Rogelio Roxas.

''The statue could have been melted and perhaps formed into bars,'' Henry Roxas, Rogelio's eldest son, told the Inquirer. ''We could not help but think that part of the Marcos wealth came from the Buddha.''

In April 1971, government soldiers swooped down on Roxas's house at Aurora Hill in Baguio and forcibly took the Golden Buddha, which the treasure hunter said he found in a tunnel near the Baguio General Hospital.

The statue, which Rogelio described as made of pure gold with precious gems stuffed in its hollow torso, has never been seen since.

Marcos denied having a hand in the statue's disappearance but the locksmith-turned-treasure hunter had always claimed the men who seized the Buddha were acting on orders of the former strongman.

Roxas died under mysterious circumstances in 1993, a few years after Golden Buddha Corp. based in Atlanta, Georgia, was formed.

The company was supposed to continue Roxas's legal claims over the statue against the estate of the Marcoses, who were then forced into exile in Hawaii after a people's uprising in 1986.

Henry Roxas said the
Golden Buddha weighed one ton. ''The statue was taken from our house together with the 17 gold bars. That's why with Imelda's revelations, we should not be blamed if we will believe that part of her claims actually came from my father.''

Marcos had been reported to have found gold treasures amassed by the Japanese Imperial Army headed by the late Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita during World War II.

''And so was the Buddha,'' Henry said. ''My father led an expedition to search for the statue after a Japanese oldtimer tipped him of the statue's whereabouts.''

Last month, Ms Marcos admitted to the Inquirer that her husband successfully increased his gold hoard from 1,000 to 4,000 tons in the 1970s.

She said her husband used their wealth to build roads, bridges, hospitals and schools for the benefit of the majority of Filipinos.

Too fantastic

Many people scoffed at the volume of gold Ms Marcos and her husband had, saying the claim was too fantastic.

Henry said he also believed that. But he insisted the Marcoses really had gold and part of it should be owned by the Roxas family.

He rued the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that reversed a decision of the Hawaii district court awarding $22 billion in damages to GBC in 1996. The Hawaii district court ruling was considered one of the largest damage awards in history.

In a decision in November last year, the Hawaii Supreme Court found the evidence against the Marcoses too speculative to support Roxas's claim of discovering the fabled statue and its seizure from him in 1971.

''We were hoping that our fortune would change with the decision in 1996. The reversal has shocked us,'' Henry said.

Henry said his family was still interested in bringing home what he described was a replica of the Golden Buddha now in the custody of the regional trial court here.

The statue was already ordered released by Judge Antonio Reyes in May 1996 to Henry and his uncle, Jose Roxas, in trust for the estate of Rogelio.

Despite Reyes's order, the controversial statue remained with the court since Henry and Jose had been at odds after Jose, a locksmith from Olongapo City, dismissed all tales on the Golden Buddha as a hoax.

''I would like to take the statue home. But this does not mean that I am renouncing what my father really found. Since the Golden Buddha is no longer around, the statue in court would serve as a remembrance of my father's treasure hunting days.''

He knows though that his uncle would stand in his way.

Lawyer Delilah Muñoz, clerk of court, said that as long as no one could present the legal right to claim the statue, it will remain in the court's vault, the statue's home since 1971.

''Even if the statue will rot, rust or fade, it will stay in the vault,'' she said.
Marcos Wealth Brings Bitter Memories To Buddha Finder Heir
By Delmar Carino (Baguio City)
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