Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Newsletter — Issue #33 Marcos in retrospect
Today is the birth anniversary of The Great Dictator who’s enjoying a posthumous rehabilitation primarily through online revisionism. The generations that disowned him have come to discover new generations cultivated to admire him. This newsletter is a lineup of readings on what this says about us.
A two-part reflection on Marcos’ life, and the chapters it can be divided into, from 2007.
You can listen to it, or read it!
Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Podcast: Episode 10 Marcos in Retrospect by Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Podcast • A podcast on Anchor — anchor.fm
This audio long read is a recording of my two-part series, “Marcos in retrospect,” which came out in my Philippine Daily Inquirer column on September 17 and 20, 2007. September 11, the birth anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos, kicks in an annual opportunity to reflect on his life and time, followed, as it is, by the (real) anniversary of Martial Law, September 23, and his death anniversary on September 28.
Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 17, 2007 and September 20, 2007
A reflection, on the centennial of his birth, on his life story being the incarnation, in many ways, of his generation’s resentments: his success was considered a validation of a particular Filipino way of thinking and doing.
Together, these three stories provide insights, to my mind, on Marcos’ secret of success and why he did what he did — and how he was able to do it. He knew the difference between what people preached, and what they did. His oratory remained high-minded while he systematically analyzed every institution and every major figure in those institutions, to see not only what made them tick, but to determine what were their flaws. He mastered the methods of acquiring power — the fine speech, combined with the ruthless management of resources and people that mattered — and built the us-against-them bases of support that rewarded loyalty. He was ambitious, but he was patient; he was ruthless, but calm; he was systematic, but also, daring. He kept cool knowing revenge is a dish best served cold.
How Marcos’s foes concede half the battle to Marcos before even engaging, by accepting the foundation of all his lies: the so-called anniversary of Martial Law.
This explains the Enrile assassination gambit: Something had to be done to make people forget the snowballing news of martial law; it provided cover for postponed plans to be put in operation at last. This was Sept. 22, and it was late at night on Sept. 22 that the military fanned out to close down communications and the media, shut down the airports/ports, and decapitate the opposition and other groups by arresting media, civil society, and political personages. The only armed resistance briefly came from the Iglesia ni Cristo, when its radio station was shut down.
Then Marcos raised the ante by invoking powers that exceeded the general understanding of martial law: He took lawmaking power upon himself, for example (usurping Congress’ lawmaking power), and declared his acts as beyond the review of the courts. He waited to see what people would do. Which was: nothing. So on the evening of Sept. 23 Marcos told the country of martial law, by lying, of course (this is not a coup, he said; yes, but only because the word for self-coup still had to be invented). Marcos himself seemed surprised, then delighted, crowing in his diary on Sept. 25, “nothing succeeds like success!”
Which is why to recognize Sept. 21 is to revise time itself, to uphold Marcos’ revising time and memory itself with his legal, moral, political fictions. I remember this because when interviewing people active in 1972, it actually took a lot of repeated questioning to make them remember that on Sept. 21, 1972, life was still normal. They themselves, even if anti-Marcos, had been brainwashed by Marcos. They would sometimes be surprised to remember that they actually saw Marcos on TV on Sept. 23. That is the power of propaganda personified.
An exploration of how Martial Law was as much about Marcos summoning and addressing the fear and loathing of the generation of parents to which he belonged, as it was about larger delusions.
To the Father Ferriols, Cruzes, and President Marcoses of this world, the scenes of chaos outside the Ateneo, and even more so down the road in Diliman, were not merely untidy, or chaotic, they were a the signs of family life being besieged, with parents poised to lose the battle. Something had to be done. Was it any surprise that the year before, even as the Diliman Commune was taking place in 1971, “As students barricaded the campus and broadcast a recording of the President’s postcoital croonings to Dovie Beams, some residents in the area banded together and hunted down the radical students in the defense of order and their property rights.”
The long-haired hippies had to be put in their place. With force, if necessary.
This yearning for order reminds me of a comment a friend recently made, about changes in his neighborhood since the new administration began. “I can sleep soundly at night, now,” he said, “because noisy kids don’t go around at night anymore.”
According to this way of thinking, the curfew for kids observed in some barangays today, is an instrument of freedom — for the middle-aged, who want to sleep soundly at night.
And so it must have seemed, too, in 1972, when martial law was imposed on a population that was conformist, obedient, cautious by instinct, anyway. What parents could not do, the State now promised to undertake.
An insight into our strangely naive faith in documents like constitutions, when what gives life — or guarantees death — for such things, is human behavior. A case in point was how Marcos intimidated the Supreme Court.
Even after Marcos got away with martial law, he remained nervous about the Supreme Court. On September 24, he summoned Justices Claudio Teehangkee, Antonio Barredo, Felix Macasiar and Felix Antonio to a meeting. They insisted he should submit the legality of martial law to the Supreme Court for review. Marcos replied that if necessary, he would proclaim a revolutionary government. You can sense Marcos’ glee in recounting the response of the Justices: “They insisted we retain a color of constitutionality for everything that we do.” That evening, Marcos issued his first Presidential Decree: reorganizing the entire government. The next day, the 25th, Marcos met two more Justices of the Supreme Court: Fred Ruiz Castro and Salvador Esguerra and told them “there must be no conflict between the two separate departments of Justice and Executive for it would be embarrassing to both.” They agreed. By September 25, Marcos could crow in his diary, “It is indeed gratifying that everyone now finds or discovers I am some kind of a hero! There is nothing as successful as success!”
How Cargo Cults provide an insight into the motivations and dreams of Marcos Loyalists.
Cause and effect. Gold glitters in the news starting in August, and pyramiding gains a new lease on life in September — armed with a brochure as propaganda for the rehabilitation of the Marcoses. The pamphlet issued in 2016 originated in 2004 and part of its contents made it into Solicitor-General Jose Calida’s submission to the Supreme Court defending the burial of the late dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had to disassociate his clan from the scammers in UPLB, but the propaganda had been spread. Manna from Marcos had proven itself a powerful motivator of faith and greed.
Imelda Marcos of deuterium fame had known this all along. Gold as the foundation of their fortune was a tale told by Marcos even before martial law. It continues to be the bedrock of their claims to a legitimate fortune. There are two flavors to this story. The first is that the young Ferdinand as a humble lawyer started trading in gold.
An insight into the armed forces being the institutional bastion for Marcos revisionism. And how Marcos engineered the demotion of his predecessors.
Here, a memory comes to mind. When I was a kid, I remember my father telling me that the proposed National Pantheon (which was supposed to be built where the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas Mint is now located along East Avenue, Quezon City) was finally ready to push through, but Victoria Quirino Gonzales (daughter of President Quirino) mentioned it to Pitoy Moreno who in turn mentioned it to Madame Imelda Romualdez Marcos — whereupon the project died (Ruby Gonzales Meyer, daughter of Vicky Quirino, alas doesn’t recall the incident when I checked). The story is significant only in that it suggests critics of the Marcoses believed they weren’t keen on their predecessors — we forget that during the dictatorship, the portraits of past presidents were all reframed, to make them smaller than the Great Dictator’s; after EDSA they were reframed again, to bring them back to their original sizes (you can still see the marks where they’d been folded to make them smaller) — and that the pantheon plan never took off.
To be fair to the Great Dictator, one has to take into account we are a nation that has long been wonderful at enacting laws and deplorable when it comes to executing them. We know for a fact that in his last week in office, President Quirino set aside a parcel of land along East Avenue, Quezon City, for the National Pantheon on December 23, 1953 but that seems to be the last time any president issued an order on the matter.
The proposed National Pantheon may have never gotten off the ground simply because the Manila North Cemetery was already fulfilling the function. Quezon (1946), Roxas (1948), Magsaysay (1957), and Osmeña (1961) were all originally buried in the Manila North Cemetery because it was the most prominent government-owned cemetery and thus our civilian leaders were logically buried there. The Mausoleum of the Veterans of the Philippine Revolution, the Boy Scouts Memorial (the ones killed in a plane crash in 1963 were buried there) and statesmen such as Claro M. Recto, Quintin Paredes, and others interred there, too. Other presidents were buried in the Manila South Cemetery (Quirino in 1956) or in their home provinces (Laurel in Batangas in 1959, Aguinaldo in Kawit in 1964).
And we know for a fact that less than a year later, President Magsaysay renamed the Republic Memorial Cemetery as the Libingan ng mga Bayani — for soldiers. It may well be, that by the time Garcia died in 1971, the decision had been made to turn the Libingan essentially into a national pantheon — but it is crystal-clear that the Libingan ng mga Bayani was a different place entirely from the pantheon envisioned by Congress in 1948.
The other side of this story is the tale of the Marcos medals.
In summary, we can see that Marcos never received any war medal in the field: his awards were received postwar. We can also conclude that his claims to these medals were based solely on requests supported by affidavits filed after the war, detailing exploits that were questioned and not accepted by American military authorities. The United States refused to comment on the validity of the awards they allegedly conferred on Marcos.
What we do have complete records of are Marcos’s Philippine awards the vast bulk of which were awarded in increasing volume the further, in time and space, Marcos was from the actual battlefield, all this culminating in Marcos awarding himself the Philippine Legion of Honor in 1972 and a second Distinguished Conduct Star in 1983.
How the Marcos Restoration was anchored on the Marcos Rehabilitation and how the gambit ultimately failed, when BBM lost the crucial counterpart of inevitability, which was, invincibility.
Nearly a generation separates two Imelda documentaries: Diaz’s, which turned her into a reality-show celebrity, and Greenfield’s, which aimed to chronicle the reality show’s dud-fated effort to spawn a spinoff. In focusing on the ageing antics of Marcos loyalists and the stern, but greying, outrage of the Marcos’ victims, both ignored the larger audience for whom the Marcoses may remain a box-office draw, but still, a niche market. The last few minutes of Greenfield’s documentary comes too close to exposing this: Imelda is tired, older than old; an old campaigner, she instinctively croons and warbles when the spotlight’s on her; but the zest is gone from her eyes, and instead, revealed, for the first time, is the realization she is, finally, a has-been. A stage mother whose baby couldn’t cut it.
I have been following that story since 2005. Here is the first article I wrote about it. Here is the second story I wrote about it, in 2006. Another look at the topic, in 2009. And more recently, in 2017.