I have been privileged with a review e-copy of an extraordinary book recently released by UP Diliman’s Third World Studies Center. Many books have been written on the Marcoses’ plunder and the atrocities committed by their conjugal autocracy. “Marcos Lies” is the most sprawling volume to ever come out that sets the facts straight under an era of severe disinformation the Marcoses have willfully curated to embellish their return to power.
The three writers of “Marcos Lies” – Joel F. Ariate Jr., Miguel Paolo P. Reyes, Larah Vinda del Mundo, are no ordinary researchers of UP TWSC. For more than six years, they combed untapped and underexplored research resources for the book – recently digitized records of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), to what they call a “mountain of Marcos apologia produced by the National Media Production Center,” the state propaganda apparatus of the Marcos dictatorship from the 1970s to the 1980s.
What sets their work apart from the rest is their aim to equip future generations on how to read through Marcos deceptions. “We provide details on how institutions and individuals were corrupted by the Marcoses to ensure that the lies they have made would not easily unravel.” Moreover, and quite uniquely, they have established a website – diktadura.upd.edu.ph – that enables readers to consult the sources and repositories they have used for the book.
Ferdinand Marcos the father began his political ascent through deception. And that is why the book’s 31 chapters begin with the celebrated Julio Nalundasan murder case that Marcos used as his foundational rise to power. The Nalundasan case, the authors now posit, typified how a Marcos lie was valorized as truth and for the lie to remain unchallenged. That is the same fiction playbook Ferdinand Marcos the son now employs in his recapture of power.
The book’s Part 1 (Lying to the Top) also deals with the truth regarding Marcos’s fake war medals. The entire hocus-pocus is laid out before the reader, fact checking all available resources such as US archival records, periodicals, Philippine government sources, and Marcos’s own claims in the self-serving biopic “Iginuhit ng Tadhana.”
There is a chapter on Josefa Edralin Marcos, the dictator’s mother, and her own war claims that, like her son’s, was equally fraudulent. In fact, both mother’s and son’s war claims contradicted each other on many details. As early as 1967, Josefa appeared to have participated in the Marcos kleptocracy by buying properties in Florida. She was also in various business interests in logging, sugar, shipping, food processing and – according to a declassified US embassy cable – chromite mining. And we thought she was just a frail old woman and innocent bystander in the Marcos dictatorship, content with her Presidential Merit Medal that her own son had awarded to her in 1966 for her participation in the 1937 women’s suffrage movement (even that appears to be a fantasy).
A chapter tells how a 1969 US embassy telegram to the US State Department declares a summary of Marcos corruption saying that “Marcos and his wife have gone to considerable lengths to enrich their personal base” using US funding for the Philippine Civic Action Group (PHILCAG) which sent military personnel to Vietnam. The Marcos couple siphoned some of the money to their bank accounts in Chase Manhattan Bank and in Switzerland, based on PCGG documents recovered from Malacañang.
The book’s Part 2 (Lying in State) has eleven chapters dealing with various issues of contemporary interests: Imee Marcos’s lies, the Philippine General Hospital, the issue of the 13th month pay, Masagana 99 (an Imee spin that was echoed by the likes of Larry Gadon, the Tulfo brothers, and Rigoberto Tiglao), Imee’s fake graduation from the UP College of Law, Bongbong’s failed education credentials (based on Philippine diplomatic cables), and a chapter on the death of Ninoy Aquino. This is the part that deals with recent historical distortions that the Marcoses have forwarded as part of the fictional propaganda they have foisted on the public imagination.
A fascinating part is the chapter entitled “Who Is Your Hero” Survey That Angered Imelda Marcos. On November 26, 1978, the Panorama magazine, a Sunday supplement of the Bulletin Today, disappeared from the newsstands. More than 300,000 copies were ordered recalled from circulation “because of printing defects,” the Bulletin said.
There was no printing defect. On the night of November 25, the military raided the Bulletin’s printing press. An article written by Chelo Banal and edited by Letty Jimenez Magsanoc angered Imelda. The article was about a random poll among students of eight Metro Manila colleges and universities that asked who their heroes were. That weekend was to be National Heroes Day. As it turned out, Ninoy Aquino rated higher than Imelda Marcos. She ordered that copies be impounded and burned. Interestingly, the other heroes who came out in the survey were Ferdinand Marcos, Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jose Maria Sison, Juan Ponce Enrile, Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, parents, teachers, Jacques Cousteau, Charlie’s Angels, Bionic Woman and some political detainees. But Imelda would have none of it if she fared lower than Ninoy. For her, it was absolute adulation or censorship.
Part 3 (Lie Low, Lie Back, Lie and Lie Again) has ten chapters about Marcos’s last election campaign, Marcos the misogynist, the Duterte-Marcos connection, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, among others.
This section opens with a chapter on Can A Putrid President Be Kept A Secret?, one of the biggest state secrets in the entire Marcos reign – his state of health. That delicate issue was also a matter of propaganda. The book is a treasure trove of photos from periodicals and books of the period. One shows a photo from the 1978 annual report of the Philippine National Railways showing Marcos, not inspecting the rails, but shirtless to display his physique. Today that reminds us of another shirtless despot, Vladimir Putin, the idol of Rodrigo Duterte.
Imelda dismissed all scuttlebutt of the dictator’s failing health as coming from his opponents who were like “vultures feeding on rumors.” In truth, the dictator had failing kidneys because of lupus erythematosus and necessitated two kidney transplant operations. Imelda insisted: “I should be the best barometer of the President’s health, especially since I am quite devoted and intensely in love with my husband.”
The authors aver the essential role Imelda played as the conjugal half of the dictatorship: “In Imelda, he found another important asset: a partner who could lie as well as he can.”
The three authors debated on what title to give the book. “Marcos Lies” was initially regarded as blunt. “We reexamined the bulk of what we had written for more than six years — now compiled with complete sources and expanded, better stated, and/or updated here — it became clear that such candor was necessary.”
The authors were of the tightly held framework that the Marcoses saw their lies as intertwined with our daily lives, “all seemingly in the service of furthering a bizarre belief: that the presidency or leadership of the Philippines is a Marcos birthright.”
“The Filipino people have been lied to. Lies must be recorded and explained.” We do not stop at detection. That is the reason for being of this piece of magnificent scholarship.
Kudos UP Diliman Third World Studies Center and the Ariate-Reyes-del Mundo research triumvirate.