Both foreign and local THs (treasure hunters) have the common interest of searching hidden valuable treasures in the Philippines. Typical foreign TH nationals who often visits the country are the Japanese, Koreans, Americans, British, Canadians, Germans and Chinese.
Due to their interest with the treasures, some of them have even acquired their permanent residency. As for the locals, almost every Filipinos are already aware about the existence of valuable treasures hidden on their land due to recent multiple reports of findings by archaeologists, THs and some fortunate individuals.
Hidden treasures in the Philippines are categorized into 3 general types:
1. Japanese Treasures (Yamashita Treasure)
2. Spanish Treasures (Spaniards)
3. Philippine National Treasures (Ancient Cultural Artifacts)
Japanese Treasures Hidden in the Philippines
The majority of THs in the Philippines are after the hidden Japanese treasures due to the markings and maps left behind by the JIA (Japanese Imperial Army) as very helpful clues. By interpreting these clues correctly, it increases their chances to find and recover the precious buried deposits.
According to the Philippine History, the largest recovered Yamashita treasure found were uncovered by Ferdinand Marcos and Roger Rogelio Roxas.
Some of you might ask, “How did these Japanese treasures ended up in the Philippines?”
The event actually took place back in World War 2 when Philippines fell under the occupation of the Japanese empire. Aside from the Philippines, many other Asian countries were also occupied by the JIA such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, China and India. Due to their success in invading these foreign lands, “Field Marshall Count Terauchi” (in-charge of all JIA in the southeast Pacific area) ordered all of his high-ranking military officials to loot their respective occupied territories. So as a result, they literally looted billions worth of gold, statues and antiques.
Since all navigational routes back to Japan were heavily guarded by American patrolling vessels, it was way too risky for them to transport their war-loots into their main land so they devised a clever plan. The first part of their plan was to ship all their war-loots in the Philippines and bury them across its different regions which they had succeeded.
They carried the second part of their plan when the 2nd World War finally ended. Their main goal was to win over the trusts and hopes of all Filipino people.
In 1943, the Japanese even went to the extent of setting up a “Philippine Republic” under the presidency of Judge Jose Laurel. Later, they granted them their independence in the hope that Filipinos will consider them as their “heroes”. If this happens, the Filipinos might allow them to settle up their military bases in the country for the “protection” of both the Filipino people and the Philippine archipelago. And as a possible outcome, they could remain in the Philippines while at the same time, excavate their stolen war loots in WW2. It was an ingenious plan but unfortunately, it failed because in October 1944, the Americans unexpectedly invaded the Philippines.
The Infamous Japanese Imperial Army General
Going back from the time when the JIA occupied the Philippines in WW2, “General Yamashita Tomoyuki” (also known as, “The Tiger of Malaya”) was the assigned supreme commander of the JIA in the Philippines. Thus, he was responsible for the largest hidden treasure loots in the country. This explains why most THs refer to these hidden deposits as either “Yamashita’s Treasure” or “Tiger’s Gold”.
When “American General Mac Arthur” came back on his second offensive attack in the Philippines, the Allied Forces (combined Filipino and American military troops) penetrated the JIA’s tough defenses. Perhaps they were able to do so because General Yamashita and most of his men were quite busy hiding and securing all treasures in their possession.
The JIA often dug complicated tunnels which could reach down to a hundred feet deep from the ground. At the very end of the tunnel, the “storage chamber” can be found where the deposits are most likely kept. Another common method used by the JIA was they genuinely hid their treasures inside bodies of large rocks or trees by using unknown type of chemicals. Despite the different clever methods they used, majority of their treasure sites are equip with dangerous booby traps. This helps prevent their treasures from being recovered by other unsuspecting individuals especially their enemies.
In order for the JIA to recover their buried hidden treasures, they drawn maps of the burial sites complete with detailed set of instructions. However, the texts they used was a 2,000 year-old Japanese script known as “Kungi”. This ancient script was no longer used in Japan for the past 150 years that only few Japanese scholars today can interpret. Aside from the maps, the JIA also left markings that they engraved on surfaces of rocks, trees and concretes particularly near the location of the deposited sites. They often used combined symbols of animal figures and some Kungi texts as well.
At the end of WW2, General Yamashita and his staff surrendered on September 2, 1945. Due to “war-crimes” that he and his men committed, the American Military Tribunal in Manila sentenced him to his death. Until the time of his death, he never disclosed any locations of their buried treasures. On February 23, 1946, the Japanese general was hanged which ended his life.
Today, only few of the hidden Yamashita treasures are discovered out from the “172 documented burial sites”. On the land, there are 138 deposit sites while there are only 34 on water areas. In addition to this numbers, there are also numerous undocumented burial sites hidden by dishonest Japanese officers and their soldiers.
The Yamashita treasure discovered by “Roger Rogelio Roxas” which was allegedly confiscated by the late Philippine president “Ferdinand E. Marcos” was just one among the major deposits. Other recoveries made by successful THs and some fortunate individuals mostly consists of small deposits only.
Overall, most of the Japanese or Yamashita treasures buried in the Philippines remains undiscovered.
Spanish Treasures Hidden in the Philippines
“Spaniards” ruled and colonized the Philippines for 333 years (1565 to 1898). Under this long period of the Spanish regime, they brought many of their valuable wealth particularly silver and gold coins in the country.
The most controversial Spanish lost treasures were those carried by the “Manila Galleon” trade ships that got wrecked somewhere in the pacific. At first, these large fleets embarked on their long and dangerous journey from Acapulco, Mexico to Manila, Philippines. Interestingly, these ships carried cargoes of undocumented amount of gold and silver coins.
Upon reaching the Philippine shore, they unloaded these precious currencies in exchange of valuables items from the Southeast Asia and China. These valuable items includes the Ming and Ching dynasty porcelain, gold, jade, ivory, pearls, gems and many different kinds of precious artifacts.
After several months of travelling back to Mexico, only “two of the Manila Galleon ships” made it on their final destination. This planned voyage was supposed to take only “4 months” but it turned out that it took them almost a year to complete their journey. Most of the sailors died from hunger and diseases while others got drowned along with their own ships.
Blamed for the shipwrecks of the Manila Galleon ships are the rough condition of the seas, small islands, coral reefs and bad weather surrounding the Philippine Archipelago. According to historical records, “26 of these trade ships” sunk due to these natural causes.
Philippine Revolution against the Spaniards
In August 1896, a “Philippine Revolution” began led by “Andres Bonifacio”. Other famed Filipino revolutionary leaders were “Mariano Alvarez” and “Emilio Aguinaldo”. Due to this revolt, the Spanish authorities were driven into panic. Thus, they end up hiding their treasures to avoid confiscation.
Since the Spaniards influenced most of the Filipino people with their own Catholic religion, they know for a fact that Catholic churches were the safest place for them to hide their treasures. Due to this reason, no one would surely ever attempt to excavate such sacred place. In fact, even during the time when the Americans modernized the country, they never renovated or demolished any of them.
Other than the churches, the Spaniards also buried their treasures on places like caves, tunnels, trees and rocks just like the JIA. Although, they used their own unique set of Spanish treasure codes in marking their deposited sites.
Philippine National Treasures
Some Filipino and foreign Archaeologists in the Philippines already excavated a lot of interesting artifacts left behind by their early ancestors. The majority of these treasures were found inside caves which they obviously used as their shelters, graveyards or gathering place for their rituals.
Common relics found by Archaeologists are potteries, skeletal remains, tools made out of stones and manually carved images of their deities. Through studies of these remnants of the past, Archaeologists are able to uncover interesting information about the early ways of life by the ancient Filipino people. This proves that Filipinos have their very own unique cultures that got lost due to the influence of other foreign cultures who invaded the land.
Recovering cultural ancient artifacts is actually very important to Archaeologists because it allows them to add or make necessary corrections into the country’s historical records. Due to such importance, the Philippine Government has already implemented a law that all treasures categorized as “Philippine National Treasures” (PNT) must be surrendered or acquired by the State for scientific study purposes.
As for the Spanish and Yamashita treasures, they are “not considered” as PNT because they do not originally belong from the country. Thus, THs going after these treasures are safe from this law.
Treasure Hunting Laws in the Philippines
According to “Philippine Realtors”, here are the following rules of the law when it comes to any recovered hidden treasures in the Philippines:
1. Any hidden treasure found belongs to the owner of the land, building or property where the item has been found.
This law clearly states that the owner of the “land, building or property” also legally owns any hidden or buried treasures within its premises. Due to this rule of the law, most THs often ask permission from the owner. If he or she agreed, a “Written Agreement” will be signed by both parties. Contained on this signed agreement are the “granted permission of the THs to excavate” and the “percentage of shares” between the owner of the property and the group of THs.
2. When a certain person had uncovered treasure from another person’s property, State or subdivisions by “chance”. One-half of the treasure can be given to the finder. But if the finder is a trespasser, no reward or share will be given.
This rule means that if you accidentally discovered any hidden treasure on someone else’s property, you are entitled to receive one-half of the valuable items. Most common incidents of this case are carpenters or construction workers who ends up uncovering treasure deposits while working on the structure’s foundation.
In addition to this rule are the “trespassers”. Some THs actually goes to the extent of intentionally trespassing someone’s property due to the common reason that either the owner forbids them to excavate his land or they simply do not want to share the treasure to others. Unfortunately, if the owner caught them, he has the right to confiscate any items that the THs have recovered without giving them any amount of share. Other than that, they could go straight to jail for “trespassing violation”.
3. Any treasures found can be acquired by the State at their just price especially when it is for the purpose of science or arts.
As already discussed above, not all valuable treasures found in the Philippines belonged to the Spaniards and JIA. There are also ancient relics which are valuable artifacts that holds priceless pieces of information about the early culture of the Filipinos. Thus, if it happens that you discovered one of them then its best advised to donate the item to the Philippine Archaeological Sciences for study purposes.
4. All hidden treasures such as money, jewelries and other precious objects do not have any lawful ownership.
Any authorities such as the government or military officials “do not have the right to claim as the owner of any discovered treasures”, but not unless he or she is the one who found it. However, some authorities abuse their power by confiscating treasures discovered by public individuals. So sad but true.
Foreign Treasure Hunters in the Philippines
Just a few years ago, foreign THs were allowed to conduct THing (treasure hunting) in the Philippines. But on December 26, 2007, “Environmental Secretary Lito Atienza” implemented a new regulation that “prohibits all foreign THs from participating to any kind of THing activities” in the country. Only Filipino citizens are now allowed but they are off-limits to all sites with “cultural values”. These sites includes old churches, natural parks, caves and all Archaeological/Heritage sites.
Despite of this new regulation against foreign THs, many of them are still doing it but in “full secrecy”. Most of them are “financiers” who hires and employ Filipino workers as their diggers and cover-up. Thus, it won’t be easy for the authorities to catch them on their prohibited operations. But if they got caught, their punishment is either an “immediate deportation” or “banned from entering the Philippines” ever again.
Moreover, treasure hunting in the Philippines is a “serious type of activity”. Some amount of money are involved which are mostly spent on foods, tools and transportation. And to achieve success, THs must have the right “knowledge and experience” to the treasures they seek.