MORE than three decades after Ferdinand Marcos’ strongman rule ended in 1986, we still do not have an objective, fact- and document-based history of that crucial period of our history.
That adage that it is the victors in a political or military conflict who write history in this case is so true. What we mostly have are ferociously partisan accounts of the Yellows and the Reds, and of US writers who wanted to cash in on the sudden interest that had emerged in America in the supposedly dramatic fall of a dictator.
This black-and-white narrative has been so successfully disseminated because media has been dominated for three decades by such Yellow newspapers as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Star as well as the giant broadcast network ABS-CBN Corp., which has brainwashed Filipinos with that false narrative.
Worse, Marcos’ widow Imelda and their children have done little to counter the Yellows and Reds’ portrayal of the Marcos era.
The congressmen who recently passed a bill declaring a holiday in Ilocos Norte to commemorate the strongman therefore had all the right to do so, since with not enough historical research, their assessment of the Marcos years is just as good (or really unimportant) as that of the Red and Yellows.
The Cojuangco-Aquino oligarchic clan could just as well muster enough votes in Congress to declare November 27, the birthday of Benigno Aquino Jr., as a holiday in Tarlac, and we can’t really question that.
We can only protest such a move if we can incontrovertibly show with historical study that he betrayed the country by leaking Marcos’ plans to wrench Sabah from the Malaysians in 1968 by spreading the fake news of the “Jabidah massacre.”
That 197 representatives voted for the bill and only nine against, mostly representatives of the Red party-lists, should alert us all that there is something deeply wrong in the current dominant narrative of the chattering classes that the Marcos era was a dark age for Filipinos.
Why should we unquestionably embrace the narrative of the Communist Party, which has been struggling to overthrow the democratic system? Or that of the Yellows, whose oligarchs were toppled by Marcos in 1972, and of course want vengeance?
The hard-core Yellow PDI in its editorial claimed that the lawmakers merely followed the orders of President Duterte — allegedly because “he is indebted to the Marcoses” — is totally absurd, a classic case of denialism, the refusal to accept reality that explanations are concocted that are so ludicrous.
A columnist there Ambeth Ocampo, whom I had admired as a popularizer of the value of history, wrote in his column: “The pro-Marcos narrative continually foisted on us, especially in social media, is nothing but barefaced lies and half-truths.”
But Ocampo, a historian by academic discipline and occupation, has never written a single article that can pass as a historical investigation of any aspect of the Marcos era.
Ocampo’s field of study, and the source for his many columns, has been the turn-of-the-century revolutionary period (Rizal mainly). His cup of tea is researching and reporting historical trivia such as what Aguinaldo usually ate for breakfast or what numbers Rizal chose in the Madrid lotteries. Ocampo is as unqualified to judge the Marcos years as, say, the PDI’s US-based entertainment writer Ruben Nepales on Philippine politics.
My complaint against Ocampo is my condemnation of our present-day Filipino historians. Our historians have reneged on their very important duty of writing an history of the Marcos years, based on objective facts and actual documents, and reviewed by their peers.
The Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines have been ranting nonstop against Marcos. But their history faculty have done very, very little — if at all — in undertaking historical research on the Marcos era. They prefer such obscure topics as the “Impact of floods in Manila and Singapore, 1945-1980s” or “Spirit Beliefs, Murder, and Religious Change among Eighteenth-Century Aeta and Ilongot.” The Ateneo historians, for some reason, seem to be more interested in Japanese medieval history.
Most of the Filipino chattering classes’ view of the Marcos period is based on two types of books,
First, are those by anti-Marcos partisans or political players, and by former or current members of the Communist Party, whose rallying cry — and the main reason for its growth — has been its central message that Marcos was a ruthless dictator who was a grave abuser of human rights.
The Yellows and Reds have intensified such propaganda to propagate the false claim that Duterte is the political reincarnation of Marcos.
In the former genre are books like the 768-paged Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos by Primitivo Mijares, who was one of Marcos’ main propagandists and a member of his inner circle, until he fled to the US and wrote what he portrayed as an insider’s view.
To bolster allegations that Marcos had Mijares killed, Steve Psinakis, an anti-Marcos critic married into the Lopez family that owns ABS-CBN, wrote in his memoir: “The US justice department’s investigation revealed that after his February 1975 defection, Mijares did in fact extort money from Marcos by feeding him imaginary information for which Marcos was ignorant enough to pay considerable sums. While Mijares was still receiving money from Marcos, he was at the same time lambasting Marcos in the US press, causing the Marcos regime irreparable damage.” You judge.
Then there’s Philippine Star columnist Carmen Pedrosa’s The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos published in January 1987. Pedrosa’s interest in Imelda actually started in 1969, when having so much time after leaving the Manila Chronicle as a feature writer when she got married, she wrote The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos.
It was not really an anti-Imelda nor anti-Marcos book but, as she herself described it, “a beautiful story, a Cinderella, rags-to-riches story which any normal person would have been proud to share.”
Imelda, however, was in a fit over it as she didn’t want the public to know she was the “poor cousin” of the landed Romualdez clan. As a result, Pedrosa claimed she and her husband, a Lopez executive, feared Imelda’s wrath, which they thought could have cost them their lives and decided to go on self-exile in London when martial law was declared.
They joined the anti-Marcos movement there and in the US, sacrificing their upper-class comforts when they were in Manila. Pedrosa managed to quickly publish another book in 1987 just a year after Marcos’ fall, titled The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos. I admire Pedrosa and enjoyed her books. But could she have been objective?
If Mar Roxas had won in 2016, an extremely badly written book by a loony, financed by the Liberal Party who merely cut and pasted the Yellows and Reds’ accounts would have been distributed as textbooks by the education department, institutionalizing the Yellows’ one-sided portrayal of the Marcos years.
The second genre of anti-Marcos books are by American ideology-driven writers who wanted to popularize globally what they interpreted here as a morality play of a democratic movement toppling a dictatorship peacefully. Indeed, their books were so successful that the EDSA peaceful revolution was replicated in the so-called “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe that led to the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Many of the American anti-Marcos books, however, were penned by writers skilled in quickly churning out books that could be easy best-sellers, which in the US with its huge reading market would easily generate millions of dollars for the author. The best example of this genre is Marcos Dynasty, which the author Sterling Seagrave managed to publish from a zero base of information on the country just two years after the dictator’s fall.
When Americans’ interest in Marcos waned, Seagrave would quickly turn his attention to China and Japan about which Americans became more interested in than in Marcos, through such books as Lords of the Rim: The Invisible Empire of the Overseas Chinese and The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan’s Imperial Family.
Just in recent years though, there have been attempts to portray a more objective account of the Marcos years.
One is the book by economist Gerardo Sicat, Cesar Virata: Life and Times. Subtitled Through Four Decades of Philippine History, it paints a more favorable view of the Marcos period. While that would be understandable since Sicat was Marcos’ economic planning secretary, he does back up his claims with facts.
Another is a chapter in a journal by UP political scientist Teresa Encarnacion Tadem, “The Rise and Fall of Virata’s Network: Technocracy and the Politics of Economic Decision Making in the Philippines.”
Both works provide a different, more complex portrayal of the Marcos era: It wasn’t just a greedy dictatorship. Its economic policies were crafted and executed by a US-educated technocratic network, who sincerely believed that the Philippines with what would later be called neoliberal economics would develop the country.
Reality is much more complex than the Yellows’ fairy tales and the Reds’ propaganda narratives. The Marcos years weren’t completely black nor totally white.
I have refuted the allegations of massive human rights violations during the martial law era in my columns and in my book Debunked.
That the Marcos couple, using the names William Saunders and Jane Ryan, had wealth stashed in Swiss bank accounts — opened before martial law — is incontestable. Where else would the Swiss banks get the $627 million the Swiss Federal Supreme Court ordered turned over to the Philippines in 1989?
But its magnitude (the $627 million includes interest for 19 years), its source (Imelda claims from Marcos lucrative corporate law practice and even Yamashita gold) are still to be assessed by historical research.
The claim that the Marcoses stole $5 to $10 billion during their rule was made by the Guinness Book of Records in April 1986 — when the victorious Yellows were fanning hate against them — to make that popular allegation that his was the “Greatest Robbery of a Government.”
But Guinness didn’t explain at all where it got that figure, only that it “was believed to be $5-$10 billion.” I don’t think any historian would want to cite Guinness as his source.
We have to understand the Marcos era using the rigorous standards of historical research if we are to move forward as a nation.