Potentially sensitive documents detailing the business operations of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and his associates have been discovered on a military plane that carried their possessions to Hawaii, government sources said yesterday.
Senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III, met at the White House yesterday to discuss handling of the records and large amounts of Philippine currency, U.S. dollars and gold jewelry found on the plane.
The meeting resulted in a shift in the U.S. approach to the Marcos possessions.
Earlier this week, officials said the administration would follow U.S. law in admitting Marcos to Hawaii, but yesterday they said they would abide also by Philippine and international law. This opened the possibility of lengthy legal battles over the money and other possessions taken out of the Philippines.
Marcos and his entourage of nearly 90 people, including former armed forces chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver, and their possessions were brought from Manila on two U.S. military C141 transport planes. It is not certain which plane carried the records.
President Reagan provided the assistance as part of the arrangement for Marcos to flee the Philippines last Tuesday and receive "safe haven" in the United States.
A senior official said that the possessions probably will be tied up in courtroom battles for some time and that the administration sought to avoid having to make decisions about their distribution. The official said the administration wanted to ensure that these decisions would be handled by courts and that the possessions would not be turned over unilaterally to Marcos and his associates.
"If there are any disputes or claims, they will be handled in accordance with U.S., Filipino and international law, as appropriate," a White House spokesman said.
Sources said the business documents could be potentially significant because they could figure in various investigations into alleged kickbacks to Philippine military officials who handled U.S. aid.
Attorney General Edwin Meese III said yesterday in Dallas that Marcos apparently has violated no U.S. laws on entering the country.
"At this stage, it appears . . . that all the requirements of the law -- the reporting of the property being brought into the country by Mr. Marcos and the other Customs requirements -- are being observed," he said.
However, Philippine law bars transfer of the Philippine peso from the country. Administration sources said the Marcos group's possessions included 22 crates of pesos worth almost $1.2 million and boxes of gold jewelry. The containers bore no name tags, and Customs Service spokesman Dennis Murphy said the material is being catalogued. "At the appropriate time, there will be a disclosure with respect to the categories of property consistent with any legal requirement of confidentiality," he said.
A Justice Department spokesman said any effort to freeze the assets or return them to the Philippines must be initiated by the Manila government. U.S. action under existing law requires a presidential declaration of a national emergency, "and that isn't going to happen," he said.
The new Philippine government has hired the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit, New York-based human rights legal group, to help in taking action. "As dictators fall, the United States should not be a haven for their ill-begotten gains," Morton Stavis, center founder, told reporters in New York.
Bonifacio H. Gillego, a former military intelligence officer and now New York representative of a new Philippine government commission on recovery of misappropriated property, told reporters that independent research groups estimate the Marcoses' U.S. holdings may be worth as much as $6 billion.
Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asian and Pacific affairs, said he was drafting legislation to give Manila and other governments legal standing to file suit in U.S. federal courts to recover assets. Foreign governments now can sue only in state courts.
Solarz held hearings in December that he said proved that Marcos and his wife Imelda own $350 million in New York real estate. Reporters who have toured a luxury townhouse at 1315 E. 66th St. in Manhattan said they saw giant Ming-style vases, gold bathroom fixtures, an 18th-century harpsichord, Oriental carpets and blank spaces on the walls above labels for art works by Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Brueghel the Younger.
Legislation was introduced in the California state legislature asking tax officials to identify Marcos property there. Published reports have indicated that it may be worth $10 million or more.
State Department and Agency for International Development officials said months may pass before they have a clear idea of the new Philippine government's aid requirements and how U.S. aid can interact with that of other nations and international lending agencies to be of maximum help.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said, "Before getting into huge dollar sums, we ought to circle around for a while and get into some good conversations with new President Corazon Aquino and her advisers. We ought not to be out there trying to govern the Philippines in the next few days."
AID administrator M. Peter McPherson told Congress Thursday that about $800 million in U.S. and World Bank funds might be quickly available as aid to the Philippines.
However, State Department officials said yesterday that McPherson was referring to funds available to the Marcos government. The change in leaders means that the money cannot be disbursed until consultations with Aquino about its use.