For Ferdinand and Imelda, the end came not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a thump. It was the sound of bags full of jewelry and boxes full of currency being thrown onto an airplane. Greed was their grand finale.
Money, money, money, money. Greed may not be the worst of Marcos' sins in the hearts of the Filipinos -- they take brutality more seriously -- but it is regarded in America with all the fascination and disgust we reserve for the upper crust and the bottom line.
Since the despot has been deposed, the reader-grabber in the American press, the talk-show special on American radio, has been Marcos and money. How much he had, stole or spent. How much he should keep, how much the Philippines should get back.
It was no state secret that the Marcos family had been trying to keep up with the Romanovs and the Bourbons, not to mention the Duvaliers. In 1984, the First Couple reported a joint income of $47,000, but not even the most astute investor could have parlayed their IRA into the $6 billion estimates of their worth.
So no one had to break into the palace to figure out that they could afford six wide-screen television sets, a bunch of stereos and French perfume by the gallon. You didn't need the real estate contract to know that Marcos was into Manhattan skyscrapers.
But it took that exit scene to give us the full picture. Not only had we supported Marcos but we helped him get out with a fortune intact, and en route the guy was sleazy enough to pick our pockets.
Marcos left home with 22 crates of goods, including $1.2 million in crisp new Philippine pesos -- a pretty hefty exit tax. American troops loaded his loot onto the getaway plane and American pilots took off for Hawaii. Then, in the brief layover at Guam, his entourage stoped long enough to walk into the Anderson Air Force commissary, buy $12,256.69 worth of goods and say, "Charge it."
Is it any wonder that the mayor of Honolulu is refusing to pay city police to protect Marcos. He's got to protect the people from Marcos.
The question now is what we are going to do with those 22 crates of goods and bills impounded by the customs service in Hawaii, not to mention the $350 million in New York real estate. In Hawaii, some want him to buy the little "Gilligan's Island" that's up for sale and make it into his own Elba. At least it would keep Imelda out of the boutiques.
My first impulse is to turn over the Marcos real estate as a rebate to American taxpayers. We've given the Marcos government about $2.5 billion in direct aid since 1962, and $245 million in 1985 alone. This would complete the circle.
But there's more behind our obsession with Marcos' money than the desire for revenge, or endless curiosity about the rich and the self-destructive nature of greed. Behind the outrage is the implicit belief that no government is a private enterprise run for the rulers.
This thoroughly traditional notion of government of, by and for the people is what brings down corrupt officials in our own country. But when American governments go overseas looking for friends, we leave many of our ideals at home. We insist -- in the name of pragmatism or realpolitik -- that we have to lower our standards and accept behavior in "their" leaders that we would often reject in our own.
Corruption in the Third World is often forgiven as "their" way of life, bribery described as "their" way of doing business and repression as part of "their" culture. When these governments are overthrown by people espousing our ideals, Americans are often the most surprised.
We have a belated chance here to follow the instinct of our outrage and that of the Filipino people. We may have to swallow the $12,000 "charge account" from Guam, but we can at least send the crates of pesos back to Manila and untangle as much of the Marcos fortune as possible for a home return.
In the process, of course, we must leave Marcos with a little something appropriate, his salary as president of the Philippines: $5,700 a year. If that isn't enough, somebody can send him the book he left behind in the palace. It's called, "A Self-Learning Course in Goat Raising."