Exiled Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, seeking protection against political enemies controlling the government in Manila, has begun investigating ways to quickly become an American citizen, a Filipino-American community leader said today.
Francisco Ugale, one of Marcos' leading supporters here, said Marcos has asked Honolulu attorney James A. Stanton to research his eligibility for U.S. citizenship under a 40-year-old law giving preference -- without the usual long waiting period -- to Filipinos who fought with U.S. forces against the Japanese.
"The idea is, if the government of President [Corazon] Aquino wants to give him some problems, he would be better able to protect himself as a U.S. citizen," said Ugale, who said Stanton told him of the Marcos request. Another attorney familiar with Stanton said Marcos may be more interested in political asylum than citizenship.
Stanton, chairman of the Hawaiian chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he could not comment on his clients and would not confirm or deny the report. He said he did not think a quick grant of U.S. citizenship would protect a recent Filipino immigrant from customs restrictions, such as those possibly affecting millions of dollars in cash and luxury items Marcos and 88 others are attempting to bring into the country.
State Department officials cautioned that Marcos would gain no added protection under American law, although Philippine law may be more lenient toward foreigners.
Meanwhile, the Aquino government today revoked the passports of Marcos and his entourage here. Notice was served in a letter to U.S. immigration officials from Philippine consul general Raul Rabe in Honolulu.
Rabe asked U.S. officials to surrender any passports from the Marcos party and said he would notify airlines and local authorities that no members of the party have valid passports. The order will complicate attempts by any member of the Marcos party, now in seclusion at Hickam Air Force base in Hawaii, to travel out of the United States.
Some officials had speculated that Marcos would seek to leave the United States in hopes of dodging congressional and court inquiries into his holdings. A New York state judge yesterday authorized attorneys for the new Philippine government to take depositions from Marcos and his wife Imelda as part of its effort to seize valuable New York properties linked to the couple.
Those attorneys today expressed growing frustration over difficulties in gaining access to key documents detailing the Marcos family's business transactions. U.S. government officials have said they will give the Aquino government a "fairly full accounting" of property aboard the plane, but they have not made clear that this includes the documents.
"We're increasingly concerned about the lack of U.S. action on the documents," said David Lerner, spokesman for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the Aquino government. "There's really no excuse for their continuing complicity with Marcos on this."
U.S. officials said that they are wrestling with U.S., Philippine and international laws in the handling of the documents, and are likely to turn the question of their custody over to a court.
Administration officials said yesterday that the documents -- which comprise a "paper trail" of the Marcos family wealth and how it was amassed -- have been reproduced, and could legally be used in any criminal or civil prosecutions that arise in this country.
The officials said that an inventory of the documents was to be turned over to the Justice Department. Some officials raised the possibility that the papers contain evidence of crimes, adding that, if that is the case, Justice will be put in charge of investigating.
In a court case in Hawaii, the United States on Friday is to give the Philippine Central Bank an accounting of the currency brought here by the Marcos entourage -- an estimated $1 million in freshly minted pesos. Attorneys representing Aquino said she also has formally requested a catalogue of all items aboard the two planes that evacuated the Marcos party and its possessions, including valuables and the documents.
The inventory has taken longer to compile than was expected, according to officials, because Customs officers have had to tabulate millions of pesos, recording the serial numbers, bill by bill. They also are writing detailed descriptions of each document, the officials said.
In another development, Customs officials said the Marcoses approached them through lawyers to begin the formal process of entering the United States by declaring their possessions.
A spokesman said both the Marcoses and Aquino will be given a description of the contents of the plane, from which to claim what they believe is theirs. Any disputes likely will go to court, officials said.
California officials, meanwhile, revealed that 37 pieces of property in Los Angeles and San Diego counties are held by a Marcos friend, Dovie Beams de Villagran, and Marcos' sister, Fortuna Marcos Barba.