The glimpse of a possible Picasso in the home of Imelda Marcos seen during a visit by her son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, after his election win has set off a flurry of speculation in the Philippines, where the family that once plundered billions is set to return to power.
Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator, won a landslide victory in Monday’s presidential election, an outcome that has appalled those who survived his father’s regime.
Images released by the family showed Marcos Jr visiting the home of his mother, Imelda, who had displayed Picasso’s Femme Couchée VI (Reclining Woman VI), or a replica, above the sofa.
It is unclear if the painting, one of eight targeted for seizure by anti-corruption authorities in 2014, is genuine, but the unexpected appearance of the nude in blues and greens reclining on an orange and yellow bed has added to fears the family will use its now-increased power to brazenly further stifle efforts to recover ill-gotten wealth.
Marcos Sr presided over rife human rights abuses during his 20-year rule, including the arrest, torture and killings of his opponent, and used his power to plunder as much as $10bn until he was deposed in 1986. The family squirrelled away the funds in overseas bank accounts and real estate, and splashed out on jewellery, artworks and designer clothes. Imelda, the dynasty’s matriarch, became infamous for her enormous shoe collection – a symbol of the family’s excess and greed.
The family and its backers have since rebranded the Marcos name, with disinformation about Marcos Sr’s rule spread widely online.
Ruben Carranza, a former commissioner for the presidential commission on good government (PCGG), which was set up to investigate and recover ill-gotten wealth, said it was unclear if the painting was a genuine Picasso.
“Mrs Marcos has had a habit of buying fake paintings, as well as lending fake paintings for display,” Carranza said.
But he added: “The fact that she’s now displaying it just shows not just the duplicity of Mrs Marcos – but that she has to display the duplicity and the extravagance that she thinks she’s displaying for Filipinos to see … That says something even worse.”
He added: “It shows this really, absolutely uncaring attitude for Filipinos. They’ve not only now been led to believe that [the Marcoses] have gold. Now, they’re leading them to believe, again, that they have so much wealth that they can just display it whenever they please,” said Carranza.
For years, there has been speculation online that the Marcoses have huge sums of gold, which was given to Marcos Sr by a wealthy family as payment for acting as their lawyer. According to the story, the gold would be shared with the people if the family regained power.
Marcos Jr has either downplayed or denied the abuses that occurred in the Phlippines under his father. As president, he would have the power to appoint the commissioners of the PCGG, granting him huge influence over the body that was set up to recover the family’s wealth.
The PCGG has reportedly retrieved about $5bn, while a further $2.4bn was bogged down in litigation, and more remains missing, according to recent reports.
The Picasso was supposed to have been seized by the government in 2014, but a former commissioner on good government, Andres Bautista, told the Rappler news site co-founded by the Nobel peace prize winner Maria Ressa that he believed the item was a fake.
“Personally I know that what we seized was a fake. It was a tarpaulin so it’s still with them,” he told the site.
The Marcos family continues to face dozens of court cases over their plundered wealth. Imelda is appealing against a 2018 criminal conviction on seven corruption charges.
Marcos Jr’s spokesperson, Vic Rodriguez, did not respond when asked during a press conference to clarify whether the artwork on display in the Marcos home was genuine.