89 Hawai'i 91, Roxas v. Marcos, 20606

Citation969 P.2d 1209,89 Hawaii 91
Decision Date17 November 1998
Docket NumberNo. 20606,20606
Parties89 Hawai'i 91 Roger ROXAS and The Golden Budha Corporation, a foreign corporation, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, v. Ferdinand E. MARCOS and Imelda Marcos, Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees.
CourtSupreme Court of Hawai'i

Lex Smith, Bert T. Kobayashi, Jr. (of Kobayashi, Sugita & Goda), on the briefs, for defendant-appellant/cross-appellee.

On the briefs: Imelda Marcos, and Stephen R. Johnson (Law Office of Linn & Neville of Oklahoma City, OK), appearing Pro Hac Vice.

On the briefs: Ward D. Jones and Alexander T. MacLaren (of Chuck Jones and MacLaren) for plaintiffs-appellees/cross-appellants.

On the briefs: The Estate of Roger Roxas and The Golden Budha Corporation, and Daniel C. Cathcart (Law Office of Magana, Cathcart & McCarthy of Los Angeles, CA),appearing Pro Hac Vice.

Before MOON, C.J., LEVINSON and NAKAYAMA, JJ., TOWN, Circuit Court Judge, in place of KLEIN, J., Recused, and WEIL, Circuit Court Judge, in place of RAMIL, J., Recused.


The defendant-appellant/cross-appellee Imelda Marcos (Imelda), in her alleged capacity as personal representative of the Estate (the Marcos Estate) of former Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos (Ferdinand), appeals from that portion of the amended judgment of the first circuit court entered in favor of the plaintiffs-appellees/cross-appellants the Estate of Rogelio (aka Roger) Domingo Roxas (the Roxas Estate) and the Golden Budha Corporation (GBC) (collectively, the plaintiffs-appellees) and against the Marcos Estate. The plaintiffs-appellees cross-appeal from: (1) that portion of the amended judgment (a) entered in favor of Imelda, in her individual capacity, and against the plaintiffs-appellees and (b) ordering the Marcos Estate to pay damages for conversion in the amount of $22,001,405,000.00; (2) the circuit court's order granting in part and denying in part the plaintiffs-appellees' motion for an award of prejudgment interest; and (3) the circuit court's order granting in part and denying in part the plaintiffs-appellees' motion to alter the judgment.

Imelda argues that the circuit court erred in: (1) amending the judgment to substitute Imelda as the personal representative of the Marcos Estate and entering judgment against her in that capacity; (2) denying Imelda's motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict, argued on the grounds that (a) the Roxas Estate's claims against the Marcos Estate were barred by (i) the statute of limitations, (ii) the "act of state" doctrine, (iii) the "head of state" doctrine, and (iv) lack of personal jurisdiction, and (b) there was insufficient evidence to support the Roxas Estate's claims for (i) conversion, (ii) false imprisonment, and (iii) damages; (3) failing to give preclusive effect to the opinion of a Philippines trial court regarding the authenticity of the "golden" buddha; and (4) admitting hearsay evidence under the "co-conspirators exception" of Hawai'i Rules of Evidence (HRE) Rule 803(a)(2)(C) (1993). 1

Imelda's points of error (2)(a)(i), (2)(a)(ii), (2)(a)(iii), (2)(a)(iv), (2)(b)(i), (2)(b)(ii), (3), and (4) are without merit. With regard to her first point of error, we hold that Imelda's purported "substitution" as "personal representative" of the Marcos Estate was ineffective to bind the Marcos Estate but that her conduct during these proceedings judicially estops her from denying personal liability to the extent of her interest, as an heir, in the Marcos Estate. We further hold that Imelda is correct that the evidence, adduced at trial, of the value of the thousands of gold bars allegedly contained in unopened boxes discovered by Roxas and converted by Ferdinand was too speculative to support an award of damages. Accordingly, we reverse that portion of the circuit court's amended judgment concerning damages for conversion.

In their cross-appeal, the plaintiffs-appellees argue that the circuit court erred in: (1) ruling, as a matter of law, that conversion of property is a condition precedent to the imposition of a constructive trust and the commission of a fraudulent conveyance with respect to the property; (2) instructing the jury that the proper measure of damages for the conversion of the gold bars and the golden buddha was the value of the bars at the time of conversion rather than the highest value of the gold between the time of the conversion and the time of trial; and (3) failing to award prejudgment interest to the Roxas Estate and awarding inadequate prejudgment interest to GBC.

With regard to the plaintiffs-appellees' first point of error, we agree that conversion is not, pursuant to Philippine law, a condition precedent to liability based on a theory of constructive trust and that the circuit court erred in so ruling. Accordingly, we vacate the portion of the amended judgment entered in Imelda's favor on GBC's claim based on constructive trust and remand for further proceedings before the circuit court sitting in equity. On the other hand, we hold that the circuit court correctly ruled that the jury's verdict in this case precluded a finding of liability against Imelda for fraudulent conveyances.

With regard to the plaintiffs-appellees' second point of error, we hold that the circuit court erred in its instructions regarding the value to be assigned to the converted property, although we adopt a rule different than that advocated by the plaintiffs-appellees. Accordingly, we remand for a new trial on the limited question of the proper valuation of the converted property.

Finally, we hold that the circuit court abused its discretion in failing to award prejudgment interest to GBC with respect to the damages resulting from the conversion of Roxas's property. Therefore, we remand the matter for the entry of an award of prejudgment interest in GBC's favor with respect to the converted property.

A. Factual Background 2
1. Discovery of the treasure

Roxas worked as a locksmith in Baguio City, the Philippines. He was also an amateur coin collector and treasure hunter. In 1961, Roxas met a man named Fuchugami in Baguio City, who claimed that his father had been in the Japanese army and had drawn a map identifying the location of the legendary "Yamashita Treasure." The treasure purportedly consisted of booty, which had been plundered from various Southeast Asian countries, during World War II, by Japanese troops under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita and which was allegedly buried in the Philippines during the final battle for the islands in order to keep it out of the hands of the Americans.

At around the same time, Roxas met Eusebio Ocubo, who claimed to have served as General Yamashita's interpreter during World War II. Ocubo advised Roxas that, during the war, he had been taken to some tunnels controlled by General Yamashita, in order to retrieve silver to pay for food for the Japanese troops. There, he observed boxes of various sizes that contained gold and silver. Shortly thereafter, he also observed a golden buddha statue, which was kept at a convent near the tunnels.

Armed with Fuchugami's description of his father's maps and Ocubo's representations, Roxas organized a group of partners and laborers to search for the treasure and obtained a permit for the purpose from Judge Pio Marcos, a relative of Ferdinand. Judge Marcos informed Roxas that, in accordance with Philippine law, a thirty-percent share of any discovered treasure would have to be paid to the government.

Sometime in 1970, Roxas's group began digging on state lands near the Baguio General Hospital. After approximately seven months of searching and digging "24 hours a day," the group broke into a system of underground tunnels.

Inside the tunnels, the group found wiring, radios, bayonets, rifles, and a human skeleton wearing a Japanese army uniform. After several weeks spent digging and exploring within the tunnels, Roxas's group discovered a ten-foot thick concrete enclosure in the floor of the tunnel. On January 24, 1971, the group broke through the enclosure. Inside, Roxas discovered a gold-colored buddha statue, which he estimated to be about three feet in height. The statue was extremely heavy; it required ten men to transport it to the surface using a chain block hoist, ropes, and rolling logs. Although he never weighed the statue, Roxas estimated its weight to be 1,000 kilograms, or one metric ton. Roxas directed his laborers to transport the statue to his home and place it in a closet.

Roxas also found a large pile of boxes underneath the concrete enclosure, approximately fifty feet from where the buddha statue had been discovered. He returned the next day and opened one small box, which contained twenty-four one-inch by two-and-one-half-inch bars of gold. Roxas estimated that the boxes were, on average, approximately the size of a case of beer and that they were stacked five or six feet high, over an area six feet wide and thirty feet long. Roxas did not open any of the other boxes.

Several weeks later, Roxas returned to blast the tunnel closed, planning to sell the buddha statue in order to obtain funds for an operation to remove the remaining treasure. Before blasting the tunnel closed, Roxas removed the twenty-four bars of gold, as well as some samurai swords, bayonets, and other artifacts. Roxas twice attempted to report his find to Judge Marcos, but was unsuccessful in contacting him.

During the following weeks, Roxas sold seven of the gold bars and sought a buyer for the golden buddha. Roxas testified that Kenneth Cheatham, the representative of one prospective buyer, drilled a small hole under the arm of the buddha and assayed the metal. The test revealed the statue to be solid twenty-two carat gold. 3 Roxas also testified that a second prospective buyer, Luis Mendoza, also tested the metal of the statue, using nitric acid, and concluded...

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