12 October 2007 (The Inquirer) – Could Philippine antiquities by sold off illegally on eBay? Very recently, the Greco Shipwreck Artifact Auction was a 2,500 lot auction consisting of various Asian antiquities supposedly found in the waters of Southeast Asia. The name behind the seller rings very familiar to one Philip Greco, who, if you search this site was mired in some controversy in 2005 when he got into some trouble with the Malaysian government over antiquities shipping. The article never establishes if the Greco in the eBay auction is the same Greco who got into trouble with Malaysia. SEAArch does not condone the selling of antiquities by treasure hunters.
Is Greco still selling off our heritage?
By Joeber Bersales
Today, the on-line auction firm eBay will wrap up the auction of an intriguing collection of what are labeled as Philippine jars placed during the past seven days by California-based Auctions by the Bay, an antiquities shop in the United States. (Go to the eBay website, www.eBay.com, type â€œPhilippinesâ€ on the left-most blank window and scroll down the menu marked â€œAll Categoriesâ€ immediately next to it. Stop at â€œAntiquitiesâ€ and click the â€œSearchâ€ button. If you read this in time, you might still view some of the items that have not been bid out yet.)
These items are part of a large collection called the â€œGreco Shipwreck Artifact Auctionâ€ that include priceless funerary urns and white wares from the Sung and Yuan dynasties (11th to 14th century), blue and white wares from the Ming (15th to 17th century) and Qing (late 17th to early 20th century) dynasties, as well as numerous ceramics from Thai and Vietnamese kilns contemporaneous with the Ming and Qing dynasties. Not only are ceramic wares being auctioned off, bronze items, labeled â€œHan-likeâ€ figures of animals, are also included, probably 12th century copies of early Neolithic bronze decorative arts in China. There is even a wooden â€œlusongâ€ (mortar, no pestle) erroneously labeled â€œPhilippine Tribal Wooden Drum Standâ€!
The presence of nearly 50 Philippine items out of the 2,449 on the auction block today and the auction title bearing the name â€œGrecoâ€ brings to mind the 2003 Guernseyâ€™s auction of some of the 10,000 pieces (worth an estimated $50 million) of Chinese ceramics and Philippine earthenware that was aborted after protests from the Philippine government. Phil Greco alleged that he had all the permits to excavate in the Philippines. The National Museum went to the Department of Foreign Affairs and presented the case to stop the auction on the grounds that the items were illegally obtained since only the National Museum was authorized to issue permits to excavate and explore anywhere in the Philippines.
Seeing â€œGrecoâ€ items on eBay, I immediately texted colleagues and friends in the National Museum to alert them about it. The reply was that Greco had apparently declared bankruptcy and was never prosecuted. In a 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times, Greco mentioned how he was able to get the artifacts from shipwrecks in the Philippines, under the noses of Philippine government officials. He allegedly hired 14 or so Filipino divers (probably using crude instruments like air compressors) to get to the shipwrecks, some as deep as 180 feet deep. He even boasted making millionaires out of these divers as payment for their services. The rest, of course, as the say, is history. Guernsey scuttled the auctions and the items remained in storage.
Nothing much has been heard from these items again. Greco attempted once to take about 1,000 excavated ceramics out of the Philippines but got caught by Customs and National Museum Officials. This part of the collection is probably with the National Museum now. After the failed Guernsey auction in 2003, Greco reportedly left for Malaysia under the so-called â€œMalaysia, My Second Homeâ€ program for expatriates. He is also reported to have offered many of the artifacts for sale to the Malaysian Government, which refused due to the sensitive nature of the finds and because these were not from Malaysian sites anyway.
What appalls me most about the Greco saga is what he was quoted as saying in the same LA Times article when asked if his exploits would inadvertently bring in more treasure hunters to the Philippines. His alleged reply: â€œLet â€˜em go. I welcome them 100 percent. Iâ€™ll even help them,â€ he says. â€œThere are so many places you can do it.â€ He could have added: â€œCebu is one of them!â€