Mayor Richard Gordon is still looking for the hospital beds, air conditioners and car radios that were stolen from his city during the 28 months after he was removed from office by the government of President Corazon Aquino.
He also can't figure out how the man appointed to succeed him managed to spend $5,000 to renovate the mayor's office when "the only thing they did was move a bathroom door and put a mirror on the ceiling."Or what to do with the counterfeit IBM computer bought for $12,000. Or how dozens of electric power pole capacitors donated by the U.S. government were detached and carted away. Or why three city dump trucks were sold for scrap. Or who would have bothered to strip the solid waste management facility of its conveyor belts, tubes, piping, light bulbs and toilet facilities.
When he left office, the city of 150,000 adjacent to the U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay had a $1.5 million trust fund. Now it is $300,000 in debt.
"It's embarrassing," Gordon says. "They really cannibalized this place."
Overwhelmingly re-elected last November, Gordon was among thousands of Marcos-era public officials replaced after the 1986 revolution in order to cleanse the country of its dictatorial taint. His horror stories of theft and corruption during his absence are confirmed by U.S. officials, who have provided millions in aid to Angeles.
The interim mayor, Teddy Macapagal, a close political associate of Aquino's late husband, could not be reached for comment.
"I think this happened throughout the Philippines," says Gordon, a leader of an opposition political party. "It's why I grieve for my country. This was happening during Marcos' time. Is there no end to this?"
The Philippines' endemic corruption is considered one of the great crucibles of the Aquino administration, a test of the president's ability to begin correcting the nation's most serious problems.
Although Marcos remains the personification of Philippine corruption, accused of stealing more than $10 billion during his 20-year presidency, he neither institutionalized nor initiated the practice, just centralized it under his control.
Aquino's personal honesty and rectitude seem beyond question; it is one of the things that gave Filipinos hope that the normal way of doing business would change after she took office.
But below the level of president and some other top officials, the country's bureaucracy is again degenerating into a maze of outstretched hands, deep pockets and back room deals.
Although corruption is also a way of life in other Asian countries, the particularly disorganized style of current Philippine practices has been driving away badly needed foreign investment.
"In Thailand and Taiwan the corrupt systems work well," says one Taiwanese businessman who decided not to set up an asparagus processing plant in Manila despite the availability of cheaper labor. "In those other countries, you pay off tax and customs people New Year's Day and the deal is good for the whole year. Here, every day is New Year's Day."
Aquino herself tends to turn a deaf ear to complaints from friends, the country's bishops council and political allies who gently chide her about stories of corruption, particularly involving relatives.
Aquino demands concrete proof before she will act, a rare commodity in a country where a complex system of favors and fear of retribution ensure that few witnesses step forward.
But though the amount stolen by Marcos may have been greater, the effect of the corruption is worse now that the former president is no longer there to manage it from the top.