Imelda Marcos’s nephew funds Harvard’s new Tagalog language course

Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives Martin Romualdez. Facebook photo


By Cristina DC Pastor
A nephew of Imelda Marcos and the late Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., has given a “generous gift” to Harvard University to fund its new Tagalog language course, according to sources connected to Harvard University.

The university, through a Harvard spokesman, declined to disclose the donor’s identity. The FilAm was informed that Harvard does not discuss the terms or specifics of individual gifts.

A Harvard Asia Center newsletter recently highlighted the “generous gift” that enabled the university to hire Tagalog instructor Lady Aileen Orsal, yet did not name the donor.

But Harvard students and alumni who attended a dinner last April in honor of Imelda’s nephew, Martin Romualdez, a prominent Philippine politician and first cousin of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., say they were clearly told that Romualdez was the donor but were asked by organizers of the dinner that this not be revealed to others.

The dinner was hosted by Geraldine Acuña-Sunshine, a Harvard alumna of Filipino descent and a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers. Sunshine did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

At the dinner, according to guests, James Robson, an official of the Harvard University Asia Center, gave a speech thanking Romualdez. 

A Harvard alumnus who was present at the dinner confirmed what transpired during the dinner. About 20 to 30 people attended and some of them were told that Romualdez made a $1 million donation to fund the Filipino language course.

“Yes, the Speaker was the donor,” the alumnus, who declined to be named, told The FilAm. “And we were told not to share this information. I found that very suspicious. If you are doing something without any nefarious intent, then why make it so secretive?”

Top photo: Former first lady Imelda Marcos; younger brother Benjamin ‘Kokoy’ Romualdez
Lower photo: Speaker Martin Romualdez and cousin President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Facebook photos

Martin Romualdez is the Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives. 

When asked for comment on the donation, Romualdez’s office sent The FilAm a press release from last April that confirmed the dinner gathering but did not comment on the donation. Romualdez had also spoken at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government during the same trip. A Romualdez spokesperson told The FilAm that they had nothing else to add.

“The teaching of Tagalog at Harvard University is a source of great national pride,” Romualdez said at the dinner, according to his press release.

Martin Romualdez is the youngest son of the late Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, Imelda Marcos’s younger brother. The Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG), established after the ouster of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. in 1986, has recovered assets worth over $3 billion  that it claims were illegally obtained by the Marcos family. According to the PCGG, Martin’s father Benjamin was a conduit for Marcos to acquire substantial shares in a major electric company (Meralco) using “sinister strategies and underhanded maneuvers.”

“There are also outstanding civil cases against the Romualdez family related to the family’s assets in banking, mining, Meralco (electricity), and newspaper publishing,” said Ruben Carranza, a New York-based lawyer and a former commissioner of the PCGG.

“There is obviously something wrong if it is true that Harvard accepts donations from families of dictators who are corrupt, whether for teaching Filipino or any other course,” Carranza told The FilAm.

Martin Romualdez himself has long been considered one of the Philippines’ wealthiest political leaders, according to his own disclosures to the government, with substantial holdings in Philippine media companies.

While the Philippine donation to Harvard has caused barely a ripple, with no other news reporting on it so far, a previous donation to another Boston-area university at the height of the Marcos martial law regime was met with public criticism and wide media coverage.

In 1981, the Philippine government tried to donate money – also $1 million – to endow an academic chair at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to be named the Ferdinand E. Marcos Chair for East Asian and Pacific Studies. The pledge for the donation was withdrawn after critical editorials and reporting in U.S. newspapers. As reported in the Harvard Crimson, citing sources at the Fletcher School, “Marcos withdrew the funds because he was dissatisfied with his treatment by both Tufts and the U.S. government.”  

UPDATE:  After being posted on the Inquirer.Net, this article was deactivated by order of the owners, who are related to House Speaker Martin Romualdez.

Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: