Ferdinand Marcos: Iron Butterfly
THE EMBARRASSMENT CAUSED to her by the Dovie Beams affair gave Imelda a weapon to extract unprecedented concessions from her husband. One of Ferdinand’s biggest plums had to be given away. Her branch of the Romualdez family suddenly gained control of the Benguet gold and copper mines, which Ferdinand had been painstakingly acquiring for himself. It is known from the accounts of Dovie Beams that early in the affair — early in Ferdinand’s first term in office — he was involved in an elaborate intrigue with Potenciano Ilusorio to gain control of Benguet, the biggest mining company in the Philippines and the second-richest gold mine in U.S. hands. For many years the majority ownership was held by New York’s Charles and Herbert Allen. Over the years, Ferdinand gained majority ownership, but after the Dovie scandal, his interest in Benguet fell into the hands of a company fronting for Imelda and Kokoy.
Prior to the broadcast of Dovie’s tapes, Imelda had no choice but to ignore Ferdinand’s philandering. Infidelity is one of the realities of a marriage in a country where divorce is not possible. But there were certain rules. One was that the philandering man had to seem detached and in control. Ferdinand’s detachment was destroyed when the tapes were broadcast. Imelda’s fury demonstrated itself in several strange ways. Over the years, she would pull out nude pictures of Dovie and show these angrily to startled friends. She also kept in her bedroom a detailed dossier which claimed that Dovie’s amorous adventures were “mere hallucinations.” She still had the dossier with her sixteen years later when she landed in Honolulu exile in 1986.
Gossip had it that after Dovie there was no question who was boss in Malacanang. Filipinos joked: “What happens if death takes the chief from our midst? Then the president would have to run the whole thing himself.” In other ways, Dovie liberated Imelda. She gained a free hand in pushing her pet projects in the Philippines. She began globetrotting as the Philippines’ new ambassador extraordinaire. Her foreign policy statements were short on substance, but were loudly acclaimed by the pro-Imelda media, creating the impression that Philippine foreign policy was no longer following the American lead. Others in Manila did not take her seriously. Cracked one editor, had “Mrs. Marcos gone to Disneyland to explore the possibilities of diplomatic relations with Donald Duck … people would not have been surprised.”
When Imelda visited China in September 1974, with Bong-Bong in tow, Mao greeted her by saying, “My dear little girl, I like you because you get such bad press from the Western journalists.” Her only achievement during the trip was to drag the ailing Mao before Filipino news cameras, revealing how feeble he had become, which had been kept carefully hidden until then. Imelda said it was Madame Mao, Chiang Ching, who made her visit a success. The two ladies had so much in common, Imelda said. “First ladies are very lonely.”
“Orientals are more total beings,” she added, and their encounter had been between two “total persons.” She was very impressed with Chiang Ching’s China: “So dedicated. So one-track mind.” At such moments there was a disarming freshness and vivacity about her, as if she had never grown up.
In Moscow, she was entertained by the Politburo, chatted with Premier Kosygin, and visited Lenin’s tomb. Then she was off to see Pope Paul VI in Rome. The Philippine Senate asked if next time the First Lady would mind getting congressional approval before negotiating with Communist states.
These Socialist flirtations were all part of a bluff to cause members of the U.S. Congress to pony up more aid money. The CIA observed that her trips to Cuba and the Middle East were noteworthy only for publicity. They were portrayed in the press as negotiating efforts to ensure oil supplies to Manila and to relieve Arab concerns about the fate of Philippine Muslims. “Such tangible results as these visits produced,” said a CIA analyst, “were usually negotiated in advance by the responsible government agencies, leaving the publicity for her … Her enthusiasm for third world and communist causes can be explained by the fact that the relationships are new and she does not have to share the spotlight. These enthusiasms also fit well with her growing anti-American bias.” Imelda’s own recollections of the trips seem to reinforce this. In a debriefing for the CIA after her trip to Libya, she was asked if Khadafy had made a pass at her, and she implied, coyly, that she had had an affair with him. However, to friends, she confided that Khadafy was gay, saying, “All you have to do is rub his leg.”
The social event of the 1970s was the Shah of Iran’s party in the ancient ruins of Persepolis, to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire. The guest list included all manner of royalty along with the rich and famous. It was the kind of party Imelda dreamed of throwing after the Marcos dynasty was firmly established. As she descended from her aircraft, her military aide raised a dainty cream lace parasol. She and fifteen-year-old daughter Imee were met by the Shah’s younger brother, who escorted them to a carpeted platform with gold pillars at the corners, then down a red carpet to a black Cadillac and off through the desert to pavilions where the Shah and his empress awaited surrounded by six hundred members of the Imperial Guard. It was between lashings of Caspian caviar that Imelda became intimate friends with the Italian socialite Cristina Ford, wife of Henry Ford II. They seemed inseparable, and shared the same tent throughout. Rumors about a torrid lesbian affair began to circulate in the jetset.
Next came the coronation and wedding of Nepal’s King Birendra. Imelda commandeered four PAL airliners and took Cristina Ford and six hairdressers. When all Katmandu had to offer was Indian food, Imelda sent a plane back to Manila to bring delicacies more to her liking. King Birendra was upstaged by the spectacle of Imelda Marcos finding ways at every function to place herself next to Prince Charles. Other guests included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Lord Mountbatten, and the Crown Princes of Japan and Laos. To accommodate her new friend Cristina, Imelda ordered a member of her Filipino entourage to move out of their hotel, the Soaltee Oberoi. Then the two ladies made the rounds of all the best parties.
Henry Ford II, by then involved with a new woman, Kathy Du Ross, had been encouraging Cristina to make as many foreign excursions as she wished, much as Ferdinand encouraged Imelda. But as this Ford marriage came to the breaking point, he apparently began to resent the amount of time she was spending with Imelda. He began to suspect that they were lesbians. Cristina denied the charge, but rumors continued to circulate. After the divorce, the ladies got their revenge, after a fashion.
Ford Motor Company stockholders brought suit against Henry Ford, charging him with taking a $2 million bribe from the Marcoses in return for building a sheet-metal stamping plant on property owned by the Romualdez family in Bataan. The Ford plant was in Mariveles, across the bay from Manila, where Ferdinand had created an “Export Processing Zone” on a Taiwanese model. By 1980, the Bataan EPZ had attracted fifty-seven foreign enterprises, many of them runaways from the rising cost of labor in South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. In court papers filed in Manhattan, the dissidents claimed that Imelda gave $2 million personally to Ford in return for his agreement to set up the plant. Cristina denied reports that she was helping Roy Cohn, lawyer for the dissident shareholders. Eventually the suit was dropped when Ford settled out of court.
It was many years before Imelda herself finally addressed the lesbian rumors in public. During an interview with a Manila paper, she said: “When Cristina Ford used to come here, everybody would say I was a lesbian … One time, we were with Placido Domingo, the singer, and there were about 12 women at one round table, and all of them did not want to touch me with a ten-foot pole because I was such a queen of lesbians.” Despite her denials, there was still speculation in 1986 when the magazine Vanity Fair headlined part of an interview: “Rumors persist about Mrs. Marcos’ supposed romantic attachment to a member of the Ford clan.”
Filipinos had their own doubts about the First Lady’s private life, which contributed to the rumors. The well-publicized love affairs of President Marcos indicated that all was not well in Malacanang Palace. Palace security men said the First Lady led her own life, but could not have had love affairs with outsiders (meaning men) because she was always under their close scrutiny. On the other hand, she was spending a great deal of time and money on beauty contestants, taking groups of them for holidays at her beach house in Leyte or to the presidential beach retreat facing Corregidor in Bataan. She spared nothing to make them happy; once she sent two Philippine Air Force C-130 aircraft to Australia to bring back cargoes of clean white sand to dress the beach up for a bevy of beauty queens, and had Australian seashells sprinkled around for them to find.
The government-controlled press could only report that the First Lady was dining and dancing the night away with various androgynous celebrities. Next to Cristina, her dearest friend was the actor George Hamilton. Hamilton bought Charlie Chaplin’s old mansion in Beverly Hills in 1982 with $1.2 million said to have been provided by Imelda. The house, an ersatz Tuscan villa built in 1923, was refurbished at Imelda’s request by a Filipino architect. Hamilton subsequently used the house as collateral for a five-year $4 million loan from a Netherlands Antilles offshore company, Calno Holdings, presumed to be one of the Marcos offshore companies. The loan was negotiated by an assistant of crony Antonio Floirendo who often fronted for Imelda. Eventually Hamilton sold the house to the daughter of another Marcos ally, Saudi Arabian arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi, for $6 million. Inevitably, onlookers speculated that with so much money changing hands there might be more to the Hamilton friendship.
San Francisco Examiner correspondent Phil Bronstein was the closest there was available to an expert source. He bore a strong resemblance to Imelda’s old flame, the dark and swarthy medical student Justo Zibala. She seemed interested in younger men, and Bronstein was young enough to be her son. “After a year of trying,” he said, “Marcos finally gave me an interview [and] portions of it were shown on television.” Imelda saw it and liked the way Bronstein looked. She asked for her own interview with him. “That interview lasted from 11:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M.,” recalled Bronstein. A week later, one of her aides called him to set up a dinner date with the First Lady.
Imelda had an elegant Manila restaurant closed on a busy Thursday night. Besides waiters, the only other man present was her favorite piano player. The lights were low. They talked about the gossip of the day (Khadafy was gay, so was the Shah, the antic sex lives of various Philippine cabinet members). Trying to get something out of the interview, Bronstein asked about her wealth. She opened her purse and showed him it was empty. As the hour grew late, she asked the pianist to play a song she had just written for her husband. Looking longingly into his eyes, she sang, “I love you beyond reason …”
Despite the rumors, there was no real evidence that Imelda was ever seriously interested in anyone but herself. She needed constant reassurance. She was obsessed by a need for recognition, for the stage, modeling, movies, and beauty contests. Once in the palace, she was constantly being painted, photographed, sculpted, in exotic costumes and settings ranging from da Vinci Madonna to Botticelli Venus. She was surrounded by sycophants.
A prime example of one of her courtiers was Roman “Jun” Cruz. His entry into her charmed circle was described in detail by his companion of nearly a decade, Barbara Gonzalez. “I watched Jun [pronounced “June”] turn from a bright, ambitious, brilliant man of integrity into a universally touted Imelda protégé,” said Gonzalez. “It was like watching a prince turn into a frog.” Palace spokesman Primitivo Mijares said Cruz became the “principal tong collector [bagman] of the First Lady.”
Jun was the son of the judge who had found Ferdinand guilty of the Nalundasan murder. His older brother, J. V. Cruz, had been Magsaysay’s press secretary and a Lansdale boy. J. V. caught Imelda’s fancy and became a frequent guest at her parties. This close association gave him access to privileged information, and he occasionally picked up stock tips that he passed on to his brother. One time J. V. passed on a tip advising Jun to sell short, but a last-minute move by a Marcos crony reversed the situation and Jun was suddenly $500,000 in debt. Feeling responsible, J. V. got his kid brother a post in the Ministry of Finance, where a few under-the-table deals soon solved his financial problems.
In 1971, Jun was appointed general manager of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), one of the biggest financial institutions in the Philippines, with funds derived from the pension payments of all government employees. The GSIS also is a major lending institution. Imelda had visited the Houston Medical Center and wanted one just like it. To build it she turned to the GSIS for loans. “Jun,” said Gonzalez “[made] possible everything she wanted.” The original Heart Center budget was $5 million; the finished project cost $50 million. “Our telephones rang incessantly from the day Imelda gave her go signal for the Heart Center construction,” Gonzalez said. “Her private secretary wanted to make sure a personal friend got the plumbing contract … Every relative … wanted a piece of the action. We were wooed by contractors, interior decorators, hospital-equipment manufacturers.
“By the end of the Heart Center project we had built a palatial home on a country property and we had three more Mercedes-Benzes in our garage — a red one from the contractor, a green one that we picked out in Germany from the hospital equipment suppliers, and a white one from Jun’s stockbroker. Now there was no turning back. Jun had become a full-fledged protégé. There was nothing on his horizon but wealth and power, the achievement of everything he suddenly realized he wanted.”
Imelda eventually gave Cruz control of the lucrative renovation of the Manila Hotel. In return he helped Imelda wrest the ownership of Philippine Air Lines from Benigno Toda. For years, Imelda had freely commandeered aircraft from Philippine Air Lines, sometimes taking an extra jumbo jet just for her luggage. Later, to ease the strain of globetrotting, she ordered her own plane, complete with built-in shower and gold bathroom fixtures. Unwisely, Toda had sent a bill of several million dollars to Malacanang for Imelda’s international junkets. Imelda responded by seizing his company. Cruz was set to become the director of the airline. He and Barbara Gonzales began appearing at hotel openings, on television shows and magazine covers. Imelda apparently became jealous when she discovered that his girlfriend was very pretty and cultivated. Gonzalez told the story this way: “Very early [one] morning Jun was asked to meet the First Lady on the presidential yacht … Imelda took him to task [about openly keeping a mistress]. She claimed that the president was not only displeased, he was aghast.” Imelda insinuated that Cruz might not get the Philippine Air Lines job because of his involvement with another woman. The Cruz-Gonzalez relationship broke under the strain. Gonzalez left the country and Cruz became the head of the airline.
In the jetset, it became chic to pop in on Imelda at Malacanang Palace. It was said that if she liked you, she showered you with pearls, and you could keep everything in the closets. Among her favorites was the pianist Van Cliburn, with whom she had hour-long international phone conversations. She bought three grand pianos for him to play at her townhouse in New York. In 1977, Van Cliburn, Margot Fonteyn, and Rudolf Nureyev were flown to Manila to perform for delegates to “Human Rights Week.”
Imelda threw parties that were legendary for their tackiness, and preserved them all on videotape. On a typical night in New York, in a black-lit disco in her own building, the First Lady crooned “If You Loved Me” to the rotund arms merchant Khashoggi, and boogied the night away. Bong-Bong led the clan in stirring renditions of “We Are the World.” During one party, Imelda played a piano duet with Richard Nixon.
Her private discos were littered with gaudy pillows embroidered with slogans such as “Good Girls Go to Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere,” “Nouveau Riche Is Better Than No Riche at All,” “You’re Twisted, Warped, Depraved, Wicked, Perverted, Sick, and Rotten to the Core — I Like That in a Person,” and “To Be Rich Is No Longer a Sin — It’s a Miracle.”
Her spending habits caused a sensation. She became a collector — of houses, apartments, buildings, jewelry, lingerie, paintings, and whatever else caught her eye. Among her friends in the art world was Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum and Hammer Galleries on New York’s East Side. He came to her rescue in October 1976 when she desperately needed art to fill a new museum in Manila in time for an international conference. In appreciation, Imelda spent $4.61 million on seventy-seven paintings from Hammer’s gallery.
She always insisted on a discount so some galleries automatically raised their prices 25 percent when they learned she was coming and then gave a discount of 15 percent. In all she spent $40 million in art galleries, a lot of it on worthless items or fakes. Gallery owners said she could have had it all for just $20 million if she had been well advised.
Between 1975 and 1981 she was the most influential jewelry buyer in the world. A night person by nature, she asked jewelry store managers to open for showings at 4:00 A.M. Her bodyguards paid for the gems with thousand-dollar bills they pulled out of paper bags. Her retinue would return from these 4:00 A.M. shopping sprees to a brunch of filet mignon, fresh vegetables, Dom Pérignon, strawberries, Courvoisier, and Godiva chocolates. Imelda would entertain lady friends by dumping the contents of large jewelry boxes on the floor, beaming happily while her guests tried them on. When she was bored with the latest offerings of Bulgari, Bucellati, and Harry Winston, she bought “historical” pieces, paying Harry Winston $5.5 million for the “Idol’s Eye” — a gem that supposedly inspired Steven Spielberg’s movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
When she visited New York, Mayor Koch sent her roses and she was photographed bussing U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. It was suspected that Imelda was the mystery donor of Waldheim’s official residence. She often stayed at the Waldorf Towers (for $1,700 a night), tipped bellboys $100, and ordered $1,000 worth of flowers a day. In Rome she stayed at the Excelsior or the Grand, at $1,400 a night for her suite; her entourage required another twenty-five rooms. She was hard to dodge. After the 1980 U.S. presidential election, she bribed a hotel elevator operator to arrange a “chance” meeting with Nancy and Ronald Reagan, who had been ducking her.
Ferdinand eventually gave Imelda her own account at the Veterans’ Bank, “Intelligence Account Number Two,” and primed it with $1.5 million from government funds to pay for her junkets to New York, Kenya, Iraq, and Cancun.
Correspondents visiting Manila began to joke about the lunacies of Caligula and Messalina, or Adolf Hitler and Cinderella. The circus was in town to stay.
Take Imelda’s 1982 International Film Festival. When it came to a diamond-studded end after twelve days of relentless triviality, it was estimated that $100 million had been spent, much of it on a huge Parthenon-style film center. Early in the construction, while Imelda was out of town, Ferdinand ordered work halted. When she returned, he backed down. The idea had come to her in a mystical vision in June 1980, to create an Asian answer to Cannes, next door to her Cultural Center. So much of the construction money was siphoned off by her claque that structural engineering was neglected. Two months before the festival was to open, two floors of the center collapsed, taking a number of workers with it. Officially, eight laborers died — the real figure was said to be over thirty. Not to delay construction, it was alleged that the bodies were left in situ and concrete was poured over them. This distressed the superstitious, so Imelda reportedly had the center exorcised.
Many of the stars she invited did not show up. Those who did included George Hamilton, Sylvester Stallone, Jeremy Irons, Brooke Shields, Peter O’Toole, and Franco Nero. Brooke Shields stayed with her mother in the Tagalog suite of the Coconut Palace, a guest mansion Imelda built entirely out of coconut products where Cristina Ford was often in residence. (Imelda wanted Pope John Paul II to stay there during his 1981 visit to Manila, but he refused and she had to be content with Brooke Shields and Van Cliburn.) In her visionary fashion, Imelda projected that the film festival would attract 4,500 celebrities, and would earn $52 million. In the end the Central Bank had to cough up $4 million just for operating expenses. The highlight of the gala came when everyone was invited to a party at old Fort Santiago, where they washed down lechon with Dom Pérignon, while Ferdinand and Imelda presided from their throne-chairs.
The Second International Film Festival was a bigger fiasco. This time Imelda underwrote festival costs by showing pornographic movies. Strict government censorship laws were relaxed temporarily to allow thirteen X-rated films to be shown at local theaters. Crowds of the faithful turned out to watch explicit scenes of fornication on the giant screen culminating in simultaneous orgasm.
When the cardinal of Manila, Jaime Sin, attacked the showing of the sex films, Imelda responded enigmatically: “Truly, pornography is all in the mind and the heart.” Sin had the last word, remarking that one of the fringe benefits of being a priest was that “one does not have to argue with a woman [wife].” Asked what would he think if Imelda were to succeed her husband as president, Sin groaned, “Where will this country go with this kind of leader?”
Imelda and Ferdinand were becoming objects of public ridicule at a time when he was trying hard to win the press to his side. It was not only students and radicals who were after them.
Following the student siege, Ferdinand invited Manila publishers to lunch and asked for their cooperation and support. With his track record, few were prepared to cooperate. But he saw himself as the injured party. At a National Press Club dinner, he complained bitterly, “You elect a president, award him the mantle of authority, make him the symbol of sovereignty of the people, and after that you shoot him down with every weapon you have.” This completely ignored the fact that most members of the Press Club thought he had stolen his re-election.
The Manila press was often described as the freest in Asia; certainly it was the most unruly. Traditionally, Filipino politicians felt it necessary to own, or influence, at least one major news outlet, while attacking the journals of rivals as irresponsible. Ferdinand had only a few allies in the press and no newspaper of his own.
In March 1970 the regime made its own publishing debut with Government Report, a weekly distributed free by the Office of the President. Its first issue carried the headline: “Can Publishers Foment Disorders?” and went on to say that “the national press can no longer be trusted,” and therefore, the government had to tell its own story.
When he tried to silence the Lopez clan, which controlled the Manila Chronicle and a multimedia network through the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, they declared war. The Chronicle labeled Ferdinand’s New Society a system that enabled the rich and poor “to seek their livelihood from garbage piles.” Days later, Vice President Fernando Lopez resigned from his cabinet post as secretary of agriculture and natural resources. President Marcos accepted the resignation with a letter denouncing the Lopez family as “a pressure group intent upon the destruction of my development program.”
The Lopez-Marcos feud had many roots, not least among them the widespread assumption that the vice president’s brother, Eugenio, was secretly encouraging Dovie Beams. Few people felt any sympathy with the Lopez side of the quarrel. During the years 1950-86, some $30 billion was taken out of the Philippines, only part of it by the Marcoses; the Lopezes were credited with inspiring this flight of capital. They set the standards by which the elite did such things. Concluded journalist Tom Buckley, “No one much likes the Lopezes.”
When Fernando Lopez agreed to be Ferdinand’s vice president, his clan expected concessions and put forward proposals for a lubricating-oil factory, a petrochemical complex, the purchase of Caltex Philippines, and the use of reclaimed areas of Laguna Bay for an industrial complex. Whatever Imelda had promised Lopez, Ferdinand turned down the projects on the grounds that they would concentrate too much power in Lopez hands. He gave the Manila Electric Company, the largest user of fuel oil in the country, a smaller rate increase than the Lopezes expected, and increased fuel prices. Jeepney drivers were worst hit and went on strike. Ferdinand sent in troops who killed three people and hurt scores of others.
The Lopezes struck back when Ferdinand was about to make a televised speech backing down from his fuel price increases. A total blackout struck the Manila area and adjacent provinces, delaying his speech two hours. Electricity for the TV station was being supplied by Meralco. Ferdinand raged, but the Lopezes shrugged that it was all because a truck had run into a power line somewhere.
The Lopez media said Ferdinand had brought the country to a point where people thought only of “revolt or revolution, of assassination as a solution, of large-scale arson as a warning of things to come, of violent mass action.” The Lopezes charged that “the development [of the Philippines] to an industrial and self-sufficient society can never be accomplished … by cronies,” that the impoverishment of the islands was due to the “insatiable appetite of gangs of high officials who have been rendered sleepless by their greed.” This was cutting close to the bone, and people wondered how long Ferdinand would take it.
The Chronicle published cartoons in which a teacher asked his class, “Who is the richest man in Asia today?” “Who gets all those kickbacks from government loans?” Others accused Ferdinand of having a vast collection of diamonds; of being the biggest shadow stockholder in various corporations; of acquiring landholding around the country and lavish estates all over the world; and of having “by conservative estimate,” $160 million in Swiss banks.
As if to make up for all the bad blood, the Lopezes invited the First Lady to a grand party at a hacienda in Bacoled City owned by one of their followers, Negros Governor Alfredo Montelibano Jr. It was all a cruel trick. Many of her enemies were also present. During the party, the owner of the hacienda invited a group of male guests to a back room. There they discovered to their immense delight that he had installed a one-way mirror just for the occasion, which allowed them to see into the ladies’ room. A camera was ready. They were barely able to contain themselves when who should appear in the ladies’ room but First Lady Imelda Marcos, who proceeded to take a pee in front of them all. The camera clicked away, and prints were made for all the men present. (One print was treasured by Ninoy Aquino and kept in his wallet until just before the day he died.)
Imelda was informed immediately by one of the ladies, and was speechless with rage. There are those who attribute the fall of the Lopezes to this one sophomoric prank. Fernando Lopez was Imelda’s chief political rival at this point, and the time for a showdown had come.
President Marcos was nearing the end of his second term. He could not run for another unless the constitution was amended. When Vice President Lopez announced his intention to run for president in 1973, the big question was whether Ferdinand planned to rig things so he could have a third term. A Constitutional Convention was about to begin, and everyone was anxious to see whether he would attempt to manipulate its outcome. One alternative, to keep power in the family, was to have Imelda run for president in his place as the new champion of the Nacionalista party. As early as 1971, Time magazine noted that “Imelda is being built up as a possible candidate to succeed him.” The Far Eastern Economic Review went even further, declaring: “If Mrs. Marcos wants the job … no one can beat her.” The convention was to consider whether to maintain the presidential system, which would permit him to become prime minister with Imelda or someone else as a figurehead president. It was known that the First Lady favored continuing the presidential system, so that she could be more than just a figurehead.
It was not certain that Ferdinand wanted Imelda in either role. One minute he announced: “I have no intention of allowing her to enter politics.” The next he told correspondent Henry Kamm of The New York Times that he was thinking of fielding Imelda against Ninoy Aquino, whom he called a “Communist supporter.” Ferdinand said, “If all else fails, then probably the First Lady would have to come in.” Observed a Manila journalist, “Anybody in possession of his wits can see the grand scheme of deception that has been foisted on the Filipino people … Even Miss Imee Marcos contributed to the denial farce thus: ‘That’s a mad rumor [her mother’s candidacy]. One politician in the family is enough.’” The Philippines, added Graphic magazine, “might yet see the likes of a Marcos dynasty.”
Efforts to intimidate delegates began. On August 16, 1971, a bomb exploded in a men’s room at the Constitutional Convention. Less than a week later, on August 21, two grenades were thrown at a Liberal party rally of ten thousand people in Manila’s Plaza Miranda. Ten were killed and sixty-six wounded. Among the wounded were all eight of the party’s senatorial candidates — Senator Sergio Osmeña, Jr.; his nephew, Representative John Osmeña; Senator Genaro Magsaysay, brother of the late president; Senator Gerardo Roxas, son of President Roxas; and Senator Jovito Salonga. The only member of the Liberal leadership who escaped injury, because he arrived late, was Senator Aquino.
Blaming the attack on Communist terrorists, President Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus and jailed a number of leftists. Senator Jose Diokno charged that “the military or men trained by the military, threw [the] hand grenades.” Palace insiders eventually confirmed it was all a set-up, carried out by Ver’s agents. According to Primitivo Mijares, chief press spokesman for Marcos at the time, orders for the bombing came from the Presidential Security Command, which made all the arrangements with the grenade throwers, including the payoff. Mijares discussed the bombing immediately afterward with members of the Command, and was told that the men who threw the grenades were murdered when they tried to collect their fee, apparently standard procedure for Ver.
Public sympathy for the wounded Liberals was so widespread that they won an overwhelming victory in the November 1971 congressional elections, taking six of the eight senatorial seats contested. Encouraged by the Liberal victory, delegates at the Constitutional Convention bravely put forth a proposal to ban Ferdinand Marcos and all members of his family from ever holding the position of head of state, no matter what form of administration was finally chosen. Ferdinand and Imelda were not pleased. To make sure the measure was defeated, delegate Eduardo Quintero of Leyte, a former ambassador to Japan, was called to Malacanang Palace and presented by Imelda with eighteen envelopes containing a total of 400,000 pesos. The envelopes were distributed to key convention delegates on the understanding that they would vote against the Ban Marcos clause. Quintero then suffered a twinge of conscience and revealed to the press his role in the bribes. In reprisal, his home was raided by the National Bureau of Investigation and he was charged with perjury, graft, and corrupt practices — for daring to link the First Lady to bribery. The Ban Marcos clause was defeated. (Quintero took up voluntary exile in the United States, where he died shortly before Imelda and Ferdinand departed Malacanang Palace for the last time.)
In what many observers concluded was nothing more than a callous appeal for public sympathy, Malacanang suddenly announced that the First Lady was pregnant and in danger of a miscarriage. Blame was laid on “increasing innuendoes unflattering to the president and Mrs. Marcos in connection with the payola scandal.” Malacanang then announced that the baby had been lost. Critics groused that the only miscarriage had been of justice. The palace struck back with a heavily photographed funeral for the “lost child,” in the Romualdez family plot in Leyte. There Ferdinand and Imelda buried a white box tied in ribbon under a slab marked: “To our unborn child, with whom so many of our dreams died — Ferdinand and Imelda.”
The bereaved parents once more denied any political ambitions. “I have no intention of running in 1973,” swore Ferdinand. “The First Lady, too, has no intention of running in 1973.” Two weeks later Imelda resumed her high-speed existence, roaring out to visit her mother’s hometown in Bulacan, preceded by twenty-four army trucks loaded with rice and medicine. Said her ardent supporter, Immigration Commissioner Reyes: “Some day, historians [will] record this occasion as the day that launched Mrs. Marcos’s candidacy for president.”
A rash of new explosions rocked Manila. President Marcos and his new defense minister, his personal lawyer Juan Ponce Enrile, blamed “subversives,” and the Constabulary claimed it had obtained a copy of a “blueprint for revolution” by the Communist party. However, American intelligence officials observed that the bombings were actually the work of the regime’s paramilitary unit, “the Monkees.”
Ferdinand soon proved that when his enemies closed in on him he was a close student of Lyndon Johnson’s Tonkin Gulf maneuver. That summer of 1972, the fishing trawler M/V Karagatan went aground off the northeast coast of Luzon and was boarded by the military, who reported to headquarters that they found nothing suspicious, only some food supplies. The crew had vanished. Ferdinand made a great issue over the Karagatan, claiming it was running guns to the Communists. He sent troops to scour the jungles, and planes to strafe deserted hilltops. According to Malacanang, the trawler had aboard 3,500 M-15 rifles, 30 rocket launchers, and 160,000 rounds of ammunition — completely contradicting the original military report. The palace claimed that the boat was a “foreign vessel,” which had sailed from Japan on its sinister mission. A guerrilla force known as the New People’s Army (NPA), modeled on Maoist dogma, was operating in the countryside. The palace initially had said the NPA consisted of only one hundred men. A few days after the Karagatan flap began, the Constabulary inflated the number ten times to get two hundred NPA regulars and eight hundred part-time guerrillas.
Journalists confirmed that the gunrunning shipment was a sham. The real owner of the trawler was the Karagatan Fishing Corporation, with offices in Manila. Before running aground, the trawler had stopped at ports in Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, and Fuga Island — the smuggling haven where the Marcoses frequently vacationed — and apparently had been engaged in nothing more sinister than cigarette smuggling for an Ilocano syndicate.
Senator Aquino disclosed that President Marcos had secretly purchased three thousand guns from Eastern Europe with the apparent intention of planting them where they could be discovered by the Constabulary as NPA “caches.”
The NPA was hardly a serious threat. In a nation of 50 million people, even a thousand full-time guerrillas, backed by ten thousand part-time supporters, were scarcely a grave danger. In secret intelligence reports, the CIA concluded year after year that the NPA was not a formidable threat and had received little, if any, foreign assistance.
But if Ferdinand needed a Communist menace, he could manufacture it. Martial law was on its way. To foment hysteria, Ferdinand was telling people that the defense establishment needed more authority to meet the “imminent danger” of Communist subversion. On September 13, 1972, Senator Aquino revealed that President Marcos had prepared Plan Sagittarius to put Greater Manila and most of central Luzon under military control. The palace denounced Aquino’s account as sheer fabrication.
Ferdinand was meeting regularly with twelve top military advisers (eventually known as the “Rolex 12” because he gave each of them a gold Rolex wristwatch). There were two civilians in the group: Defense Minister Enrile and Tarlac governor Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. This Cojuangco was continually at war with the rest of his clan and despised his cousin Cory’s husband, Senator Aquino. He was temporarily in uniform as a colonel in a special unit of the Constabulary reported to be directing the bomb attacks of the paramilitary Monkees. The regular military men among the “Rolex 12” were chief-of-staff General Romeo Espino, General Rafael Zagala, and General Ignacio Paz, all army; General Fidel Ramos, General Tomas Diaz, and Colonel Romeo Gatan of the Constabulary; General Jose Rancudo of the air force, Admiral Hilario Ruiz of the navy, General Fabian Ver of NISA, and General Alfredo Montoya of METROCOM.
What really alarmed Ferdinand was information that his harshest critic, Senator Aquino, had met secretly with NPA leader Jose Maria Sison, alias Amado Guerrero, or at least with one of Sison’s top lieutenants, Julius Fortuna. The meeting was by all accounts inconclusive and harmless, but the very fact that it had happened provided Ferdinand an excuse to charge that the opposition was considering an alliance with Communists. Although he did not accuse Aquino of treason, Ferdinand did accuse him of consorting with enemies of the state. (During the same period, Imelda was conferring with both Chinese and Russian politburos, without authorization of the Philippine legislature.) The same day, September 17, Ferdinand signed a martial law decree. He waited a few days to issue it because, as he later put it, “I wanted time to commune with God and await His signal.”
The U.S. government knew martial law was going to be declared in the Philippines long before it happened, and that Marcos was creating a false crisis in order to void the constitution and seize dictatorial power. President Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Ambassador Byroade all gave their explicit approval. Ferdinand held a number of meetings with U.S. Embassy officials, and saw Ambassador Byroade for two hours. He then telephoned the White House, and President Nixon gave “his personal blessing.” Primitivo Mijares revealed as early as 1976 that he was told by Imelda Marcos Ferdinand made an overseas call to President Nixon a few days before he declared martial law; Imelda said Nixon told Marcos to “go ahead with his plans.” Mijares said Byroade and Kissinger actually had copies of the full martial law declaration days before it was promulgated. In his conversations with Nixon and Byroade, Ferdinand apparently agreed that in return for America’s support, he would not let anything interfere with U.S. investments. Mijares made these revelations at a time when attacking Ferdinand Marcos was not fashionable in America, and they were soon forgotten.
Apparently one of the conditions for U.S. support was that Ferdinand had to give prominent leaders of the opposition a chance to leave the country first. A messenger from Malacanang went to each of them on September 18. While Senator Aquino felt it necessary to remain behind, other politicians took the tip and left Manila hurriedly. Sergio Osmeña, Jr., went to America, as did Eugenio Lopez, brother of the vice president. Raul Manglapus suddenly departed for a U.S. “speaking tour” on September 21.
The following day, bombs exploded in Quezon City Hall where the Constitutional Convention was still meeting. Somebody blew up a police car while the policemen were off having lunch. Bombs exploded in department stores, city halls, and schools, at night when the buildings were empty. It was like Chinese New Year with loud fireworks and paper dragons. There was a rash of kidnappings of the families of wealthy Chinese, including the wife and son of Antonio Roxas-Chua. The victims were released after large ransoms were paid. The kidnappings, like the bombings, were blamed on subversives and the New People’s Army. However there were no arrests and there was no flurry of activity on the part of the police or the Defense Ministry. There seemed to be a deliberate campaign to spread hysteria and to prime the population for drastic government action to restore public order.
On Friday night, “Communist terrorists” swooped down on the two-car convoy of Defense Minister Enrile, riddled one car with thirty rounds, and sped away. Enrile was riding in the escort car and escaped without a scratch, as did everyone else in his party. (Enrile later admitted that the ambush was staged.) Ferdinand announced that this “Communist” attack on his defense minister was the last straw. At 9:00 P.M. he issued an executive order implementing martial law for the first time in Philippine history:
WHEREAS, the rebellion and armed action undertaken by these lawless elements of the communist and other armed aggrupations organized to overthrow the Republic of the Philippines by armed violence and force have assumed the magnitude of an actual state of war against our people and the Republic of the Philippines;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, FERDINAND E. MARCOS, President of the Philippines … do hereby place the entire Philippines … under martial law and, in my capacity as their commander-in-chief, do hereby command the armed forces of the Philippines, to maintain law and order … prevent or suppress all forms of lawless violence as well as any act of insurrection or rebellion and to enforce obedience to all the laws and decrees, orders and regulations promulgated by me personally or upon my direction.
In pre-dawn raids, government troops seized control of all communications and public utilities, closed schools, and arrested more than forty opposition politicians and newsmen charged with plotting to overthrow the government by violence and subversion.
The military arrested members of Congress, governors, student and labor activists, and rounded up miscellaneous criminals. Some thirty thousand people were put in concentration camps. Among the first to be arrested were Senator Aquino and Senator Jose Diokno.
Newspapers and broadcast facilities were taken over and later transferred to Marcos cronies. One television network and one newspaper, the Daily Express (both owned by crony Roberto Benedicto with Imelda’s cousin Enrique Romualdez), and the government radio station resumed operations after the coup.
Few Filipinos were distressed by these arrests and takeovers. Under Marcos, the legislature had lost whatever effectiveness it had and became only a rubber stamp. So when Congress was abolished and many of its members were arrested, Filipinos shrugged and were ready to give Ferdinand and his “technocrats” a chance to show what they could do.
Media control was essential to promote two myths: That crime had been eliminated, and that there was no longer any such thing as corruption. After the coup, crime stories were rarely reported. The public awareness of crime went down sharply and Ferdinand was credited by many, including American businessmen, with instituting law and order. It became illegal to wear a sidearm on the street in Manila unless you were an official. Spreading rumors became subversive, and punishable by death. At the end of November 1972, Ferdinand claimed that the Communist menace had been eradicated. A lot of people were impressed.
The first fatality of martial law was General Marcos Soliman, the U.S.-trained chief of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency. General Soliman had leaked the martial law plans too far in advance to the CIA and to Senator Aquino. Within a week of the coup the palace announced that he had died of a heart attack. His family said he was shot by Marcos agents.