The Reagan administration yesterday wrestled with how much information to share with the new Philippine government regarding possessions brought to the United States by deposed president Ferdinand Marcos, as U.S. customs agents completed cataloguing the items, flown to Hawaii aboard two Air Force transports.
While indicating that the administration intended to be "as cooperative as possible" with the government of Corazon Aquino, U.S. government spokesmen said they were worried about violating Marcos' right to privacy.
"There are a lot of privacy considerations there," said Dennis Murphy, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service. "What we are dealing with here is, what is releasable under the law?"
But in Manila, Jovito Salonga, head of a government commission investigating what is being called the "ill-gotten wealth" of Marcos and his family, including major investments in the United States, said that U.S. authorities had promised to cooperate with him.
Washington Post foreign correspondent William Branigin reported that sources on the commission said they have documentary evidence that the Marcos fortune is worth between $5 billion and $10 billion. Salonga also said he had received U.S. assurances of cooperation in a meeting yesterday with special envoy Philip C. Habib.
"I think they [the Americans] are prepared to cooperate in every legal way," Salonga told a news conference after the panel's first meeting. Aquino established the panel in part to recover any wealth acquired illegally by Marcos, his wife, Imelda, their friends and relatives.
The State Department confirmed yesterday that among the Filipinos who arrived with Marcos in Hawaii were coconut magnate Eduardo Coluangco and his family, and Jose Benitez, an aide to Imelda Marcos. Coluangco is among those Marcos associates whose U.S. investments are under scrutiny in Manila.
The Marcos entourage included numerous household servants, security guards and medical assistants, department officials added.
The legal wrangling in this country increasingly appeared to pose a political dilemma for the White House, which was eager to appear cooperative with the new government in Manila, but did not want to renege on its pledge to allow Marcos, a longtime U.S. ally, to leave the Philippines and seek sanctuary in this country "with dignity."
Customs officials have agreed under a court arrangement to supply the Central Bank of the Philippines by Friday with an inventory of the 22 crates of Philippine pesos Marcos took with him when he fled Manila last week. A customs spokesman said that the list will be turned over as scheduled, but discussions are continuing here over whether to release details about the rest of the cargo.
That cargo is said to consist of jewelry, artwork and clothing -- as well as documents detailing business transactions -- and the Aquino government has asked for a complete listing in order to determine if any of it belongs back in Manila.
Aquino wrote U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth asking that the Reagan administration officially take charge of all the Marcos possessions until her government can prepare court challenges, according to Aquino lawyers in this country.
A State Department spokesman here said yesterday he had no knowledge of the Aquino request. But in Hawaii, the Marcoses' home-in-exile, a lawyer for the Aquino government said that two State Department officials who arrived there yesterday informed him that the administration was giving high priority to Aquino's request.
"The diplomatic negotiations are active between two friendly countries and we don't want those to break down," said Mark Bernstein, the Aquino lawyer in Hawaii. It was for that reason, he said, that he had not been authorized to file any lawsuits against the United States demanding access to the goods.
While the Marcoses and their entourage remained secluded at Honolulu's Hickam Air Force Base, their possessions remained in the hands of customs agents, technically not "impounded" but simply "detained," according to a spokesman, while agents await guidance from the White House.
The Aquino forces are hoping that the documents known to be among the Marcos possessions will provide the "smoking gun" directly linking the ex-president and his wife to real estate holdings in New York, California and around the world.
It has been alleged that the Marcoses amassed a fortune and large holdings overseas by operating through byzantine layers of middlemen, offshore corporations and shadowy bankers and brokers.
In another development yesterday, banking sources in Manhattan confirmed that the State Banking Department is investigating a small amount of funds missing from the New York branch of the Philippine National Bank.