The brothers’ luck of Benjamin and Alfredo Romualdez

Ruben Carranza is one of our post-Edsa rebuilders who played an indispensable part in the recovery of the vast Marcos stolen loot worldwide. From 2001 to 2004 he was commissioner in charge of litigations and investigations in the Presidential Commission on Good Government. Carranza also aided the case of the human rights victims of the Marcos regime litigated in the US under its Alien Torts Claims Act.

Every now and then, from his current perch as senior expert for programs in the International Center for Transitional Justice in the US, Carranza privileges his social media followers with a treasure trove of information on how the Marcoses bled the country dry using the state’s various coffers. It is part of his unending activism to hold the Marcoses to account for their economic crimes.

More salacious than the recent bizarre logo of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation was why the dictator Marcos created the Pagcor in the first place. The story of Pagcor is nothing but how Marcos monopolized gambling.

The story begins after the declaration of martial law in 1972. The dictator declared that all casinos were crime-ridden. Using his unbridled dictatorial powers, he created the Pagcor in 1977. The dictator’s goal was to “centralize” all casinos and other major forms of gambling under him. The “all,” however, did not include jai alai. The Basque game, which featured betting by spectators, was awarded only to a Romualdez.

There was more. The conjugal dictators then inaugurated a “floating casino” on a ship docked at Manila Bay. Those of us who lived through that age can still recall the sight of that all-white ship that was lighted on evenings. Built in Norway in 1975 at a cost of about $4 million, the 5,000-ton vessel named the “Philippine Tourist” had 68 gaming tables for roulette, blackjack and baccarat, plus 110 slot machines.

The ship was “owned” by Imelda’s brothers Benjamin and Alfredo Romualdez. The conjugal dictators themselves inaugurated the ship with their son Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

An estimated 2,200 gamblers boarded the ship daily, most of them of Chinese ancestry. One paid $400 annually to board the vessel, $700 if they wished special VIP privileges. Later, the “Philippine Tourist” was moved to the harbor of Cebu City when a new 10,000-ton gambling ship of Northern Lines, Inc. lorded it over Manila Bay. Marcos classmate Roberto Benedicto controlled the new shipping line. The new floating casino had 80 gaming tables and 150 slot machines.

The Benedicto-owned Traders Royal Bank controlled the shipping company’s gross revenues. Benedicto-owned companies provided for all the ship’s crew and janitorial services. There has never been a public accounting because no financial statements were ever submitted by the Benedicto firms as required by Philippine laws.

What do you think was the purpose of awarding some of the gambling franchises to Benedicto and the Romualdezes? Each time we say the Marcoses were plunderers, let us not forget that everyone in that family – the dictator’s siblings, and the siblings of his conjugal half, were plunderers too, not to mention classmates. It was a plunder free-for-all.

There were four casinos that were centralized under Pagcor (Zamboanga, Cebu, Manila, Baguio). Remember that this was the age long before the informatively porous borders of the cyberworld age, but the Washington Post’s research, to the consternation of the Marcoses, had reported before the world that: “In Manila alone, the gambling industry grosses at least $220 million a year, with about $110 million of that going back to the gamblers as winnings and about $30 million going to the government for public works projects.”

“What happens to the remaining $80 million is a mystery, and perhaps a growing source of tension in Marcos’ martial law government.”

As for the jai alai company under the Romualdezes, it paid back about $28.5 million to gamblers and $13 million to the government in 1977. That left $15 million in company hands that has not been publicly accounted for. Where do you think did it go?

It has been talked about that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will field his own first cousin Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, the Speaker of the House, to run for president in 2028. It is a possibility that is not remote. The Marcos playbook is restoration of the family at whatever cost. Another family member in Malacañang in 2028 will be a powerful statement to the world that the Marcoses are no longer the pariahs they once were, that the Philippines has fully embraced the Marcoses back, that one Marcos after another in power is now the norm.

Except that, another Marcos family member in power exposes us each day to the plunder that they have enriched themselves in power for, at our expense. And for that, we must bow down in shame before the world. We have debased ourselves.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.