Ferdinand Marcos: Murder Most Foul
One — Murder Most Foul
FAR ABOVE MANILA in the northwest corner of Luzon is a dry, impoverished region called the Ilocos, a dusty yellow land with crumbling red brick churches. It bears more resemblance to Sicily or Sardinia than to visions of Pacific paradise. The small provinces called Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur are shielded from the rest of Luzon by a ridge of blue mountains inhabited by isolated hill tribes. Here life has never been easy. Survival was an act of desperation. The brown, weatherbeaten faces of the Ilocanos show grim self-reliance. According to tradition, they were forced out of Borneo long ago and settled here because these inhospitable valleys were only lightly inhabited. Nobody else wanted them. Adapting to the harsh landscape, the Ilocanos became more resourceful, more cunning, more clannish, and more vengeful than any other ethnic group in the archipelago.
The first European to arrive was a young Spanish nobleman, the conquistador Juan de Salcedo. In 1571, at the age of twenty-two, he sailed up from the original Spanish colony on Cebu to establish the new settlement of Manila, and then explored the coast of northern Luzon, founding many of the principal towns that remain today. He was appointed lieutenant-governor of the Ilocos, but died suddenly of fever at the age of twenty-seven.
The Spaniards had mixed opinions of the scantily clad Ilocanos. Some found them “more barbarous than the Tagalogs” to the south, while others considered them “a quiet and peaceful people, [who] dislike war, and are humble and well-disposed.” It was the twofold nature of Ilocanos to be very agreeable up to a point and then, when their sense of honor was disturbed, violent to a degree unusual even for the Malay archipelago, where the word amok originates. Pistols and rifles are common as toothpicks, and men boast of being crack shots, or black belts in karate. Boys carry butterfly knives, the Filipino switchblade, flicking them open and closed with a wrist motion similar to twirling karate nunchuks. In more recent years, family and political grudges have been settled by burning down whole villages with flamethrowers.
Under Spanish rule, the Ilocanos grew cigar tobacco and rice, garlic and onions, and other vegetables; they harvested fish, salt, coconut, wove their own cloth, and smuggled goods the short distance from Hong Kong and Taiwan, only three days’ sail.
Spaniards from sun-baked Grenada in particular felt at home here, and built most of the churches and haciendas. These friars were all Augustinians. They hired Chinese masons, who mixed sugarcane juice with coral limestone to produce bricks for the churches. Today there are primary schools in every town; literacy is high at 70 percent, but so is unemployment. There are only two roads out through the mountains, and a few bridges, which made it easy for local warlords to enforce control, to wage feuds and vendettas like the dons and capos of Sicily. It is an intensely parochial place.
Ilocano women are small, fine-boned, and pretty, but a hard life and family jealousies quickly take their toll. Ilocano men, although reactionary politically and thrifty by nature, spend like Beau Brummell on clothes and jewelry (for themselves) and like to prance and strut. Because they are so poor, appearances mean a lot, especially in towns like Laoag, Sarrat, and Batac where people without money like to pretend that they have. In the absence of plumbing, villagers still wash their clothes, brush teeth, bathe, and defecate in the same muddy streams. There are several unattractive new towns with lights, toilets, TV, and paved streets, built by President Marcos as a birthday present to himself. One is a village called Ferdinand, in a new community called Marcos.
The provincial capital of Ilocos Norte is Laoag, a stunted town which never grew into a city. It is built around a central market, and in addition to churches has a few very modest Chinese and Ilocano restaurants, general stores, silversmiths, soap and candle makers, a town hall, a courthouse, and a jail. In the streets, besides ubiquitous Filipino jeepneys, some of them survivors of World War II, the favorite transportation for adults is the creaking, horse-drawn banca, or sway-backed Detroit dinosaurs with tail fins and musical horns playing the first bar of the Colonel Bogey March. Since cars are beyond the reach of most young Ilocanos, motorcycle gangs are everywhere, roaring through town like cowboys on payday.
Small, varicolored chickens patrol the country lanes, but there are few dogs to be seen, for good reason. On feast days they are eaten.
Here in the Ilocos, absolute loyalty to the family and the clan means resenting everybody else. Ilocanos make a fetish of traits that differentiate them from other Filipinos. Starting from the family cell and the blood clan, their tribal loyalties expand outward through a series of concentric circles by the practice of ritual kinship — friends who are not related are drawn into the clan by making them compadres. As in Chinese secret societies, this is a way to enlarge the only dependable support group (the family) into a much greater and more potent force. When the need arises, Ilocanos can extend compadrazgo to everyone in their home village, and ultimately to the entire ethnic bloc. So much superstition and magic are invoked that to be an Ilocano is like being born into the Rosicrucians, or some Satanic cult, and many Ilocano males act as if they were born with a forked penis. The typical adult boasts of having divine powers by implanting a tiny amulet, or anting-anting, beneath the skin, which can make him invisible, or bulletproof, or telepathic. Any small scar can be claimed as the site of a powerful anting-anting. The wonder is that they are believed.
Numerology is big and superstition strong, especially among the gangs and murder syndicates that thrive in Ilocano communities throughout the Philippines, particularly in Nueva Vizcaya, and in Pampanga just north of Manila. Former Labor Minister Blas Ople observed that, among Ilocanos, “Family feuds are passed on from generation to generation, and the dark instinctual drives sometimes shape the political alignments … even now the rule of the gun considerably modifies the rule of law in that province.”
Political connections are vital to the gangs that dominate smuggling along the coast. Much of the smuggling comes in through a chain of small islands used as staging bases, the northernmost lying only 241 kilometers (150 miles) from Taiwan. The main smuggling stronghold is Fuga Island. From there, goods move around Cape Bojeador to Laoag, and on down the east and west coasts of Luzon to smuggling ports like Cavite on Manila Bay, transhipped by the Ilocano underworld in league with shadowy Chinese syndicates that finance the black market throughout the archipelago. It is a rule of thumb that whoever bosses Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur also controls this flow of smuggled goods from the north, taking a percentage off the top. The bigger Ilocano clans — such as the one of warlord Floro Crisologo — have private armies of two hundred to three hundred paid thugs armed with Uzi machine guns, M-16s, and grenades, many of them sadists and professional killers. Their only distinction in life is the ease with which they can inflict spectacular cruelty, and Filipino newspapers are unique in Asia for their grisly homicides. With so many gangs smuggling everything from ginger fists and garlic cloves to television sets and computers, ambushes are common, and there are periodic executions and assassinations. In the Philippines, a slow ritual murder is preferred: the victim is given a coup de grâce with a bullet only after his eyeballs have been plucked from their sockets.
Young Ilocanos, as prisoners of this lingering medieval past, inevitably dream of escaping. Traditionally, they sought employment elsewhere in the islands as domestics and drivers. In recent decades, thousands emigrated to undeveloped Mindanao, to the Middle East, and to Hawaii, California, and British Columbia. In Honolulu, they became the largest single group of Filipinos and formed a potent voting bloc. In the Arabian Gulf, they earned fat salaries for contract labor, and sent most of it in remittances home. The government of the Philippines earned millions each year from taxes on the remittances. For an Ilocano, anything was possible. So there was always hope.
In the century before World War II, the Ilocos produced two famous personalities: the revolutionary bishop Gregorio Aglipay and a revolutionary general, Artemio Ricarte. Aglipay led the fight to expel the Iberian friars and Filipinize Catholic priests and properties, producing one of the few tangible successes of the revolution. General Ricarte refused to cave in to the Americans and continued to plot against them until he died during World War II. But each town has its local heroes, intellectuals who died protecting a village from warlord gangs, poets who became crusading newspaper editors in Manila, a guerrilla leader who fought the Americans or the Japanese or both, and students who resisted the encroachment of great logging companies or the insidious exploitations of multinational corporations.
During the Philippine-American War, all the able-bodied men in the farming town of Sarrat marched on Laoag to protest American rule. The Sarrat Heroes Monument was built to honor the leader of the march, the wealthy landowner Don Jose Ver, who in appreciation fathered a lot of local children in and out of wedlock.
In the same town of Sarrat on September 11, 1917, Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos was born above the store owned by his maternal grandparents, followed over the years by his siblings Pacifico (1919), Elizabeth (1920), and Fortuna (1925).
When he grew up, Filipinos called him Ferdie, but among foreigners he referred to himself as Fred or Andy. As a child he was very poor and like his playmates ran around the dirt streets without pants. His mother, Josefa Edralin Marcos, was a hardworking grade-school teacher who doubled as a clerk in her parents’ store. A tough, desperate, and resourceful young woman, she had to work hard because her husband Mariano Marcos was a spendthrift who was never at home and rarely had two pesos to rub together. When he did, they were spent on his cronies.
Josefa Edralin was part Chinese, part Ilocano. Her paternal ancestors were local Ilocano village chiefs who were permitted by the Spaniards to keep their landholdings in return for their loyalty and the loyalty of their followers. Josefa’s father, Fructuoso Edralin, whose name must have taken some living up to, was a comparatively prosperous peasant. He owned 80 hectares of irrigated rice land and coffee plantation along the river in the barrio of Dingras near Sarrat, and another 50 hectares farther inland. By the time his grandson Ferdinand was born, Fructuoso was in the process of expanding his property by clearing 100 hectares of virgin forest at the foot of the mountains to grow more coffee. All forest land had once belonged to the Spanish Crown, but under American rule a public land law made it available in homesteads of up to 24 hectares. You could have nearly 100 hectares if you claimed homesteads for each of your children. Ownership of land was established simply by clearing it, and a diligent farmer and shopkeeper like Fructuoso could have this done for him. Chinese lumber mills would clear it in return for the wood.
Josefa’s Chinese blood came from her mother’s family, the Quetulios, wealthy Chinese mestizo merchants in Ilocos Sur who owned cigar tobacco plantations and big houses. This Chinese blood was thought to explain why the Quetulios were smarter and richer than their neighbors.
Thanks to his wife’s Chinese connections, which allowed him to borrow money at good rates and to build upon his investments, Fructuoso Edralin was a respected man in Sarrat. The Edralin family lived in modest but comfortable quarters above their general store, which in the islands are called sari-sari stores. They sold rice, coffee, tobacco, hardware, and a variety of consumer goods such as mosquito nets, blankets, cooking pots, and iron works. It was a typical storefront. The downstairs — housing the shop, the rice granary, and the coffee beanery — was blank and featureless to discourage armed robbery, laid with brick and stone to discourage rats. Upstairs were big windows and cool porches with wide eaves to block out the sun. The living quarters had open wood siding that stopped short of the roof to let out heat and welcome stray breezes.
Fructuoso was big and blustery. He claimed to be the best of everything, including best pistol shot in the valley. His wife bore him no sons. Josefa had six sisters, but the gods must have favored her because one was stillborn and four died of dysentery from contaminated water. Only Encarnacion survived with Josefa into adulthood.
Once its colonial administration was in place, the United States launched a drive to educate “the little brown people.” Between 1901 and 1902, a thousand American teachers arrived, known as “Thomasites” for the SS Thomas, which brought the original group. They fanned out across the archipelago. Enrollments mushroomed and within two decades there were more than a million students in elementary schools. Some Thomasites made their way to Laoag and other towns along the northwest coast. For the first time, basic education was available to everyone. Most families were so poor that their children were needed at home to help scratch a subsistence from the ground. The American educational system unconsciously favored those who were already doing well enough to part with their children for a few hours a day, Josefa among them. Although she was nine years old, she started in the first grade; when she began her senior year of high school in Laoag, in 1914, she was twenty-one. At the time, this was not unusual.
One of her fellow seniors was a handsome fourteen-year-old boy named Mariano Marcos, a streetwise young bravo. Mariano was from Batac, where he and his family were followers and distant relatives of the local hero, Bishop Aglipay. Mariano’s grandfather had been the illegitimate son of a Spanish provincial judge, but the judge had allowed him to serve as his clerk, which gave him power in the community. Because of this local influence, Mariano’s father, Fabian Marcos, once served a brief term as mayor of Batac. After that, their fortunes declined. The Marcos home was like most others in the rural Philippines, a bamboo shack with a thatch and tin roof.
When the Thomasites arrived in Ilocos Norte, Mariano was only four years old, but in the rush to educate under the Americans he was given an early start. Everyone agreed that he was precocious. By age fourteen he was finishing high school in the same class as Josefa, who was seven years older, and had become pushy and aggressive. He exuded animal magnetism, dressed like a dandy, and had a reputation as a young ladykiller with a string of conquests.
As the Marcos myth has been contrived, Josefa fell under the spell of her attractive classmate and they were secretly married in 1916. Ferdinand arrived the next year. At three months the infant Ferdinand was said to have been baptized by Bishop Aglipay himself. When he was three years old, his mother, who was not a follower of Aglipay and had little patience with his cause, had the child baptized again in the Catholic church in Sarrat. Or so it has always been claimed, both his baptismal certificates apparently having vanished in blazes that consumed the two churches before he was born. There are many such inconsistencies in the family history. The more you look, the more you conclude that it must have happened quite differently.
The story — as it is told by well-informed Ilocanos and by knowledgeable journalists and members of the Chinese community in Manila — is that the heir of the wealthy Chua family in Batac, a young man named Ferdinand Chua, fell in love with Josefa. How it came about we don’t know, although there were many young girls from Batac and Sarrat who were employed over the years as domestic servants in the Chua mansion, and Josefa might have been among them. They planned to be married, but Chua’s parents intervened. “They were old-fashioned,” explained Manila newspaper editor Max Soliven, “and the clan elders insisted that he follow tradition and return to Amoy for a proper Fukienese wife. As luck would have it, Josefa was already pregnant.” A suitable husband had to be found, but in the meantime she was packed off to Manila where her condition would cause no loss of face. After what must have been considerable melodrama, Josefa agreed to a marriage of convenience to her young classmate Mariano Marcos, and an arrangement was made to Mariano’s satisfaction. Josefa came back to Sarrat to have the baby at home.
If this version is accurate, and the essential details have been confirmed repeatedly by various independent sources, it would help to explain many peculiarities and inconsistencies in the official Marcos story. Such as the fact that Josefa was seven years older than Mariano, the fact that he spent little time with her and the children over the years, that he mistreated and abused Ferdinand as a boy, but was affectionate toward her second son Pacifico, and that Mariano’s career advanced in ways that can only be explained by the intervention of a powerful but invisible patron. This would also explain why Ferdinand Marcos seriously considered himself to be a direct descendant of the Chinese pirate Li Ma-hong. There was no Chinese blood in Mariano’s family, and only a little in Josefa’s.
Josefa’s choice of the name Ferdinand for her first son was attributed officially to Ferdinand Magellan and King Ferdinand of Spain, but — more important — it was also the name of Ferdinand Chua, although in a country fond of pet names he was usually called Fernando.
Chua was an urbane young law student at the University of the Philippines. He followed his family’s wishes and brought back a proper Chinese wife from Amoy, and in due course became justice of the peace in Batac, then municipal judge in Laoag, which made him unusually powerful. For a Chinese in the Ilocos to enter the professions in those days was unheard of, rarer still to succeed, but Fernando Chua was an unusual man with extraordinary connections. Josefa only identified Judge Chua in public as little Ferdinand’s godfather.
In official biographies, Ferdinand Marcos romanized his godfather’s name as Quiaoit, which is all but impossible to pronounce. It comes out something like Chwa-oy, a combination of the family founder’s Chinese surname and given name. The Chinese character for the surname normally is romanized as Chua by speakers of Hokkien, the dialect of Chinese from Fukien, while Mandarin speakers render it as Ts’ai.
The stream that flowed by the Marcos home in Batac was named after the Chuas. They were the wealthiest Chinese family in Ilocos Norte, part of the great Chua clan, the sixth richest and most powerful clan in the Philippines, numbering among its members many millionaires and several billionaires.
The Chuas established themselves in the islands early in the nineteenth century, some of them eventually becoming Filipino citizens, but they never gave up their links to their ancestral home. New generations continued to arrive from Amoy, and dispersed throughout the archipelago. The branch that settled in and around Laoag became the leaders of the Chinese community in the Ilocos.
To protect themselves, the Chuas and other leading Chinese families organized clan associations in Manila. Once or twice a year, all male members of the Chua families scattered around the islands gathered in Manila, ostensibly for ritual ancestor worship, but actually to assess family and business ventures and to review how one branch of the clan could assist another. It was absolutely essential for individual Chinese to maintain these ties because the clan association was the most important social organization in the islands. The Nationalist Chinese Embassy and many other political or business organizations would have nothing to do with a man who was not introduced by his clan association. He was considered a man without an identity. Eventually there were nearly fifty official clan groups, most of them registered with the Chinese Embassy and through it in close contact with the Kuomintang in Nanking.
The Chua clan was very active in the Chinese chambers of commerce, which provided leadership for the Chinese community as a whole. As Mao’s forces gained momentum on the mainland, Chinese in the Philippines became the target of intense anti-Communist propaganda, which was bad for business. In the years following World War II, as Chiang Kai-shek’s struggle with Mao reached a climax, a new Federation of Chinese Chambers of Commerce was formed by KMT loyalists in Manila, drawing its leadership exclusively from clans committed to support Chiang. The Chua clan was prominent among them. Two of its members served as presidents of the Federation.
What is significant, in the end, is not that Ferdinand was illegitimate — although that added to his personal burden — but that his real father had to remain invisible, while providing secret leverage and the temptation of access to a hidden world of limitless money and power.
As time passed, Judge Chua’s hand could be seen as he intervened in the Marcos family’s destinies.
The Americans had established a Normal College in Manila to train Filipino teachers, and Josefa applied for admission, determined to make a career in the school system. Mariano was immediately enrolled with her. Graduates received a certificate qualifying them to teach elementary school only. Two years later, their teaching certificates in hand, Josefa and Mariano came back to Ilocos Norte, where Mariano inexplicably got a choice job teaching at the Laoag High School where they had met, a job for which he was legally unqualified. Josefa was pregnant with Mariano’s son Pacifico, and later with Elizabeth. Unable to teach, she lived with her parents above their store in Sarrat, and spent her days selling dry goods.
In 1924, she found a job at Shamrock Elementary in Laoag, housed in a row of wooden shacks. This enabled her to enroll Ferdinand for a negligible sum. In school, he was the smallest and the neatest, dressed in his first pair of short pants, hair parted in the middle and slicked down. His teachers noted that he was prone to quibble unnecessarily over words and meanings. He was a nervous, intense boy with a quick grin.
Education in the Philippines at the time turned entirely on rote memory, so Ferdinand did well in school. Nobody could memorize faster or recite better. His worst enemies concede that he was born a genius. He had total recall, one of the phenomenal memories that are the mark of idiots savants, people otherwise retarded, who cannot read or write, but who can hear a Mozart sonata only once and play it back immediately, or who can work out square roots to the fifth decimal place in seconds inside their heads. Ferdinand liked to show off this odd talent by quickly memorizing complicated texts and reciting them forward or backward. Later, one of his law professors recalled that as a student he was “the best [I] ever had, because he could recite the constitution backwards.” When he became their commander-in-chief, military men were awed by the fact that he could recall every detail of tables of organization, and orders issued weeks earlier at which he had only glanced. As a politician, his ability to match the names and faces of thousands of constituents was a potent vote-getter.
If anything, he was too bright, and more than a little quirky. He had an overactive imagination, which he often confused with reality, and entertained his family at dinner with fantastic stories in which he insisted that he had played roles. To add to his awareness of being different, he was left-handed in an age when that was still considered freakish. Grandfather Edralin taught him to be ambidextrous with a pencil or a target pistol.
His early political education was administered by lashings of a leather belt in a manner typical of Mariano, who was a severe disciplinarian. Learning to adapt himself to Mariano’s unpredictable moods, Ferdinand developed a range of instant personalities like a hall of mirrors. Later, in Congress or on political campaigns, he could stand in front of a crowd and change personalities as the occasion required.
He saw little of Mariano, which was fortunate, and grew up with an unusual attachment to his mother. Josefa was a handsome young woman, with tawny skin the color of hand-rubbed teak, and large, dark, fawnlike eyes. Disillusioned by love, she was tough and ambitious, and extremely protective of her favorite son. There is a striking resemblance between Josefa and the women who played major roles in Ferdinand’s life. His wives and mistresses would all look remarkably like his mother.
Mariano’s career, meanwhile, made unaccountable progress. After teaching high school for only three years in a post for which he was no more qualified than Josefa, he was appointed district school superintendent. In that capacity, he traveled around Ilocos Norte by pony, becoming a familiar sight. He drew the attention of Bishop Aglipay. By now Judge Chua had become president of the community, the most influential figure in the economic life of the region for many miles around Batac. But Bishop Aglipay — a pious figure with a moon face and prematurely white hair — was the town celebrity. The bishop came up with the idea that Mariano should study law and make a career in politics as a champion of the Aglipay movement. The Aglipays were locked in a losing struggle for power at the national level, and the bishop was rallying all the men he could muster to his cause.
With the bishop and Judge Chua as his sponsors, Mariano resigned the school superintendency in 1921 and went off to Manila with his wife and children, to enroll in pre-law at the University of the Philippines. It is claimed that he was a superior student, that he graduated in 1924 at the head of his class, and that the Aglipay faction immediately put him up for election as the congressman representing the second district of Ilocos Norte, which included Batac. This was an Aglipay stronghold. His victory was assured. But much of the story is hype. According to the official record of the Philippine National Assembly, Mariano spent his first term in Congress listed as “farmer,” not “lawyer,” suggesting that the law degree did not fall so quickly into his hands. Four more years passed before his official description was changed, as he finally passed the bar.
Now in his mid-twenties, Mariano seems to have swaggered out of an early Italian movie about the cruelties of life in the Sicilian Mafia. Vain and egotistical, he had a voluptuous face, with cruel eyes and a pouting, sensual mouth set in a perpetual smirk. He was not without redeeming qualities — in private he was often gentle and affectionate toward his own son, Pacifico — but his public persona unnerved bystanders. Although there were long periods when he was too poor to own a horse, it was Mariano’s custom at six each evening to put on a tan military uniform with a Sam Browne belt, holstered sidearm, riding breeches and boots, and strut around the village square cracking a riding crop on his thigh. People who watched his performance sniggered to each other that Mariano Marcos and his family were “different from you and me.” It was this air of command that put people with less self-assurance completely under Mariano’s spell. If he was a bully by nature, he was also devious and cunning. Mariano was not a man who looked you in the eye and then shot you in the back; he had somebody else shoot you in the back and then looked you in the eye.
In Manila, while Mariano attended to congressional matters, Josefa found a job teaching at Ermita Elementary School, where she could enroll Ferdinand and Pacifico on partial scholarships. Ferdinand remained in school there until he completed the seventh grade in 1930, interrupted by several periods of a month or two when there was absolutely no money. The Marcoses lived in a shabby rented house on Mabini Street, the first of many temporary accommodations. They moved every year, sometimes more often, as Josefa struggled to keep the family afloat on her meager earnings. The impression is that of a family constantly dogged by bill collectors and landlords, a family who wore out their welcome quickly. Josefa’s salary was only 50 pesos a month, barely enough to buy food and shelter for such a large brood, and although her husband was now a member of Congress, he brought home nothing. It was rare that Mariano was even at home. He was always “engaged in politics.” Or, as Josefa’s official biographer put it, “The demands of politics kept Don Mariano broke most of the time.”
He spent every penny on cronies, and on continual trips to Ilocos Norte “to rally support.” On those rare occasions when he was home, he was a brooding, ill-tempered martinet. He had the reputation of picking on matters that were overlooked or forgiven by others. Punishment was inflicted by lashings, or by locking the boys in a closet the size of a coffin; once Ferdinand was locked in the closet for several days “to keep him from catching influenza.” Pacifico said: “We were obedient, because my father was really a terrible disciplinarian … We were born to strong-willed parents and it was this virtue of ramrod determination which surfaced in Andy whenever he was challenged. He would excel at anything he set his mind to.” Pacifico always took a back seat. Mariano, he recalled, “was, however, a very loving and, at times, indulgent father. He praised us highly before visitors for good performance and gave us handsome rewards. He gave much of his time to teaching us the manly arts of boxing, fencing, shooting, horseback riding and many other sports before we fully understood their importance in our growth.”
Sometimes he took the boys along on his political rounds, not so they might learn from observing the process, but so that he could pit them in the boxing ring against any challengers their own size, which was always an effective way to draw crowds. When he was in a mood to beat one of the boys, Josefa had to use extraordinary tact, as she put it, to win “clemency” for the child.
“Mommy attended to the finer things in life,” Pacifico said. “She taught us to read and write before we entered school, led us to the many adventures of various heroes and great men, many of whom were models in make-believe plays, with either Andy or me as hero or villain and our playmates as followers or soldiers.”
Thanks to his phenomenal memory, Ferdinand did brilliantly. When he graduated from elementary school, he missed being valedictorian only because he had skipped several months during his third year for lack of tuition money.
In 1928, again with the support of Bishop Aglipay and Judge Chua, Mariano was returned to Congress for a second term. The family finances did not improve.
To her children, Josefa explained that their grandparents on her side had big farms in Ilocos Sur, but the Marcos side had nothing. The official version is that Grandmother Edralin had to send money now and then, to tide them over. But Judge Chua, in his role as godfather, also sent money, possibly a good deal more than has ever been acknowledged. In 1929, Josefa was said to have sold a parcel of land that had been given to her as a birthright by her parents, and bought a house of her own at 1555 Calle Calixto, in Manila’s working-class Paco district. There, she was able to ease the strain by taking in boarders, including Andres Chua, the nephew of the judge.
It was a square two-story house on a large plot of ground, with a porch overlooking a vacant lot where they planted vegetables. Most of the ground floor was occupied by a wide sala, or enclosed patio. There were four small rooms upstairs. Josefa had her own room, the two girls shared one, the two boys another, and the remaining room served as a dormitory for the boarders, never less than five at a time.
When her children could look after themselves, Josefa began night school and obtained a bachelor’s degree that enabled her to earn more teaching high school.
Judge Chua openly paid for most of Ferdinand’s education, apparently having reached some understanding with the boy regarding their relationship. Ferdinand would return to Batac to see his godfather whenever he could. In 1930, he enrolled in a high school attached to the University of the Philippines, then began college on a two-year program for a liberal arts degree. With that in hand, he went on to law school, and joined the training program of the Philippine Constabulary. His main interest was the college pistol team, where he became a crack shot.
The world of politics that Mariano entered in Manila, and into which Ferdinand would soon be drawn, was a great game of pretense, manipulation, and patronage, in which egos were mashed and bruised, and murder was a viable option. It was murder that brought young Ferdinand into that world.
Under Spanish rule only wealthy, educated Filipinos were allowed to participate in politics, and then only at the local level to compete for appointment as mayor. Around the main market towns of each district, where the wealthy had their homes, leading families grouped themselves into factions to contend for this post. Politics was a family affair. There were no political parties, although in the last years of Spanish rule several revolutionary movements were organized.
When the Americans arrived, little changed. Governor-General Taft organized wealthy landowners into the first national political party, the Federalistas, who were committed to collaborating with the Americans against those who favored independence. Any party promoting independence was banned outright. Taft failed to take into account that once American soldiers had started shooting Filipinos, no political organization could survive if it failed to declare itself in favor of ultimate independence. Before the first national election in 1907, Taft was forced to acknowledge the importance of the issue by dropping the ban. Otherwise the elections would have been a joke with the Federalistas running alone. Immediately, a number of rival parties were started by young radicals who had fought the Yankees, including one called the Nacionalistas, which won overwhelmingly.
Despite American propaganda and self-congratulation, there was nothing democratic about the new government. Under the leadership of two men, Sergio Osmeña and Manuel Quezon, the Nacionalista party monopolized Philippine politics for the next forty years, until independence in 1946. While the Nacionalista platform called for immediate independence, Osmeña and Quezon had a secret understanding with Washington that they would block any attempt by the national assembly to legislate independence. Historian Ross Marley noted that “the trick employed so skillfully by Manuel Quezon fifty years ago [was to] play the nationalist fighting for the dignity and independence of the Philippines, knowing that the Americans will tolerate this from someone who protects American interests in the islands.”
Powerful Americans wanted to hold on to the islands as long as possible until their economic interests were satisfied. While Dewey’s fleet was still in Manila Bay, President McKinley was cabling the admiral for information on natural resources, mining, farming, and industry. An emissary of the secretary of state was sent out to prepare a catalogue for the economic exploitation of the colony. American companies were preempting the best land for their ventures. A subsidiary of the Del Monte Company, limited by law to no more than 1,024 hectares, appealed privately to the governor-general. He converted public lands into a U.S. Navy preserve and then had the navy sublease 20,000 hectares to Del Monte. This was done discreetly, out of public view, and was not unusual. In Hawaii, Sanford Dole of Dole Pineapple led a businessman’s coup that toppled Queen Liliuokalani, and appealed for annexation, which President McKinley granted. Soldiers in the American expeditionary forces who could claim degrees in jurisprudence, like infantryman John Haussermann from Ohio, stayed in the Philippines to parlay their knowledge of American law into the control of key local industries. Haussermann and some clever law partners took over the struggling Benguet gold mine, which eventually grew into the second biggest in U.S. territory, and used it to build one of the great fortunes on the planet — a fortune that was later shared selectively with key political players such as General Douglas MacArthur.
Osmeña and Quezon recognized that this commercial audience was the dominant force behind the scenes in Washington, so they catered to it. In return, American officials looked the other way in Manila, making it possible for wealthy Filipinos to ignore basic questions of ethics and justice. This double standard had subtle, insidious, and long-lasting consequences. Its worst effect was to demoralize the great majority of Filipinos, who were poor and divested of their traditional lands, while permanently addicting the rich to massive doses of American favoritism.
Quezon was a flamboyant politician, whose magnetic personality and sheer exuberance disarmed U.S. officials and businessmen alike. They found it easier to work through Quezon and Osmeña than to deal with Filipinos directly. In return for guaranteeing the national assembly’s approval of the governor-general’s programs, Osmeña and Quezon were rewarded with patronage, which they could manipulate to keep their own factions in line.
Patronage, not democracy, was the most important force in the islands. Only part of the American system had been transplanted to Manila. Missing were the checks and balances so deliberately built into the original. In their place, Washington substituted the whims of its governor-general, and made all actions of the national assembly subject to veto by the U.S. Congress. With a broad wink from the governor-general and the White House, these vetoes were rarely exercised, and Osmeña and Quezon were given an open purse.
Manuel Quezon was from a well-educated Chinese mestizo family, schoolteachers of modest but adequate means, with good connections on the fringe of the oligarchy. He was a young man of such exceptional gifts at manipulation that as a schoolboy he was nicknamed gularato, the “bluffer.” In his teens, he quarreled over a girl with a Spanish officer, beat him up, and was arrested and sentenced to prison. On his release, Quezon joined Aguinaldo’s army to fight the Spaniards and ended up fighting Americans instead. Captured by the Yankees, he spent six months in jail. He then completed his law studies, and became a prosecuting attorney for the new colonial government. He was so gregarious and charming that Americans loved him. In 1906, with their encouragement, he ran successfully for governor of Tayabas Province. The following year, he was elected to the national assembly and became Osmeña’s wily floor leader.
Osmeña may have lacked Quezon’s charm, but he made up for it with exceptional organizational ability and command of detail. A college-educated journalist, he was the son of a mestizo shopkeeper on Cebu who had both Spanish and Chinese blood. With American support, Osmeña was elected governor. Cebu, as the second city of the Philippines, was in many ways its financial heart. Osmeña used his post to build a political machine representing the sugar bloc and other wealthy interests in the central islands. His machine evolved into the victorious Nacionalista party. At the age of twenty-nine, Osmeña was chosen to be the first national assembly speaker.
Before long, Quezon left Osmeña trailing far behind. He was a proud, vain, explosive personality, who knew how to appear to be everything Filipinos wanted. He had a keen understanding of his countrymen. Ordinary Filipinos were awed by his ability to mingle with world leaders, and admired his imperial style. He was a natural playboy, one of the world’s best ballroom dancers, a celebrated drinker, a world-class poker player, and a peacock who designed his own clothes. His favorite attire was an informal uniform he designed himself with russet riding breeches, a soft white shirt, and a high-collared military tunic. Not so visible was the sly, shifting, ruthless side of his nature. He was a skillful liar, who coolly manipulated friends and enemies to gain his own ends, and a gifted actor, full of histrionics. Even in religion he was an opportunist. Born a Roman Catholic, he became a Freemason when he joined the anti-clerical revolution, then reconverted to Catholicism in 1928 to round out his image as national leader. While Osmeña was preoccupied running the party and the assembly, Quezon saw that real leverage was only to be found in Washington. He had Osmeña appoint him resident commissioner there, remaining in America from 1909 to 1916, and used the time well, making powerful friends in the Democratic party and the Anti-Imperialist League. During this period the U.S. Congress passed tariff acts providing free entry into the United States for all Philippine products. Unfortunately, the long-term result was to make the islands absolutely dependent on the U.S. market, and the wealthy producers addicted to the subsidy.
These ill-conceived tariff acts were followed in 1916 by the Jones Act, which promised that America would grant independence to the Philippines as soon as “a stable government” was established, but dodged the issue by setting no date. The act also created a Philippine Senate, but every law it passed could still be vetoed by the governor-general or the U.S. Congress. Claiming sole credit for these dubious achievements, Quezon returned to Manila in time for the 1916 elections. He led everyone to believe that he had struggled valiantly to win full independence, but that all he could pry out of Washington was an inexact promise. It was just smoke, but it made Quezon a hero and he rode a wave of popularity into the new upper chamber, where he was chosen Senate president. Osmeña continued to be speaker of the House of Representatives.
Quezon’s plot to displace Osmeña as party leader moved ahead when President Harding appointed Leonard Wood as governor-general in 1921. His predecessors rarely used their veto, but General Wood was a tyrant, a military imperialist who believed that the withdrawal of America from the Philippines would be a disaster. He exercised his veto 126 times during six years in office. So unreasonable, overbearing, and contrary was he that the entire Filipino cabinet walked out. Quezon seized the opportunity, unfairly put the blame on Osmeña, and called passionately for a new national vision. Osmeña was upstaged and had to settle thereafter for second place. Quezon remained unchallenged as the autocratic ruler of the Philippines until World War II, providing an object lesson in politics for all to follow.
Quezon’s domination did not mean his rivals retired from politics; they simply formed factions within factions. When ambitions conflicted, politicians jumped from one faction to another, or started a new faction.
Democracy became mere theater. Part of the show obliged politicians to reach out into the audience of the canefields and the barrios, seeking support from men able to purchase and deliver the bloc votes of whole communities, at 5 pesos a vote. The linchpins of this vote-buying system were local bosses or caciques (pronounced “kah-seeks”) who bartered money or favors for votes. On great estates the cacique was the landlord himself, or a member of his family, who kept tenant farmers under control by employing armies of thugs. The result was the beating and killing of upstarts who refused to play the game, the torment of their women and children, and the emergence of grass-roots warlords, who guaranteed with thugs and guns what could not be bought with gold. They shifted allegiance from one political faction to another according to who paid more.
In 1931, Mariano Marcos ran for a third term in Congress and was stunned when he was defeated by Emilio Medina of Dingras. Sourly, Mariano groused that he had been cheated by a stuffed ballot box in the town of San Nicolas. Voting in provincial districts could be decided by a few hundred ballots, most of them paid for well in advance, so a little cheating accomplished a lot. “I was never in a more intense campaign,” Mariano said. “I spent my last centavo, forgetting that I had a wife and children.”
In his hometown of Batac, where he had expected a landslide, a local tax official, a political novice named Julio Nalundasan, had decided to run for Congress. Nalundasan garnered only a few votes, but it was enough to split Batac, and to deny Mariano the comfortable margin he had counted on. Emilio Medina, the outsider, won the election, beating Mariano by a mere fifty-six votes.
Mariano never forgave Nalundasan. He took the defeat hard. He could not adjust to unemployment after six years as a public official. For a full year, he was emotionally crippled, unable to practice law, only to brood. He became a terrible burden to everyone. It is said in official histories of the Marcos era that strings were pulled and Senate President Quezon got Mariano out of everyone’s hair by having him appointed governor of Davao, in remote Mindanao, a post that supposedly was reaffirmed two years later in 1933. Many other Marcos claims depend on whether this assertion was true.
Provincial documents for the period show that the governor of Davao in 1931 was not Mariano Marcos but Cayetano Bangoy, and the governor in 1932 was not Mariano Marcos but Juan Sarenas. Mariano was merely a clerk in the governor’s office, at an annual salary of only 3,000 pesos, without an allowance for lodging or a horse. He was not a success, so the second year his pay was cut by 50 pesos. This was the same year that Ferdinand missed a month in school for lack of tuition fees. Hardly the plight of a governor’s son.
In an effort to displace the Muslim Filipinos who lived along its coast, Mindanao was under intense development, and Filipino Christians were given incentives to move there. Mariano’s job was to help these Christians get settled. He also found time to dispatch the occasional Muslim troublemaker.
During summer vacations in 1933 and 1934, Ferdinand said he visited his father in Davao, and had a number of memorable experiences. “In Mindanao,” records one official biographer,
Don Mariano showed his son the face of courage … One day, a Muslim amok chanced upon the Marcoses’ path. Andy looked at his father; he waited for his words. His father tapped his shoulder, then held his hand. Together, they stood their ground, watching the berserk. As the huramentado raised his kris, Don Mariano moved quickly. He drew his gun and blasted the culprit. The amok crumpled on the ground dead. Then they walked quietly away from the scene as if they were strolling toward the sunset. For Don Mariano, it was an ordinary feat. The savage was a poor tactician; his mind was crazed, indecisive. He did not fight to win; he took chances. For Don Mariano, it was different. He controlled the situation. He knew his ground, his strength. He knew he would win. He was prepared all the way … Often he would tell Andy: “Don’t start a fight until you know you can win.”
According to official biographies, Mariano came into the ownership of a fine hacienda with many thousands of acres in the Padada Valley south of Davao, and stocked it with between two thousand and ten thousand head (the number varies) of expensive disease-resistant Nellore brahmin cattle from India. The story goes that Mariano transformed the Padada Valley from an unproductive wasteland to a bustling center of agriculture and commerce.
The facts are different. The wealthy American secretary of the interior, Dean Worcester, imported the first Nellore bulls to the Philippines. When he retired to the islands as general manager of the American-Philippine Company, Worcester established the Diklum Ranch, which maintained a Nellore herd of six thousand head. Worcester then set up his own Nellore Ranch near Mailag, and by 1940 this 7,000-hectare spread supported a herd of two thousand five hundred. All the other early Nellore cattlemen in the islands were American associates of Worcester.
It is difficult to believe that Mariano Marcos ever owned a ranch in Mindanao during the Great Depression with a big mansion and more than two thousand head of brahmins. In 1948, however, Ferdinand Marcos petitioned the U.S. government for half a million dollars in compensation for the theft of these cattle during World War II. The U.S. government rejected his claim because there was no evidence that the herd had ever existed. Mariano and Ferdinand evidently had adopted the Diklum Ranch in fantasy.
While Mariano was busy shooting Muslims in Mindanao, the contest between Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña was coming to a head in Manila and Washington, partly as a result of the Depression. From 1929 to 1933, Democratic party victories in America, the rise of Japanese militarism, growing opposition to the Philippines by U.S. labor and farm groups, and racial hostility toward Filipino immigrants all combined to make the U.S. Congress receptive to granting independence to the Asian colony.
Independence was the last thing the Nacionalistas really wanted. At least not until they had time to prepare. House Speaker Osmeña and his new floor leader, Manuel Roxas, hurried to Washington in 1933 to buy time, and secured the promise of independence only after ten years as a self-governing commonwealth. It was a decent compromise for which Osmeña deserved praise. Quezon could not afford to let his rival get that credit, so when the bill was passed by the U.S. Congress, it was blocked in Manila by Senate President Quezon. He argued that the bill did not offer genuine independence, since U.S. military bases in the islands would remain sovereign American territories. He persuaded the Philippine legislature to reject the offer, and headed for Washington himself.
Quezon thought he could get a better deal from his friend, the new Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and from other old friends in Congress, notably Maryland Senator Millard Tydings. But horse trading with FDR was not as easy as Quezon expected. When Quezon pushed for better trade agreements, Roosevelt threatened him with independence in twenty-four hours. By gaining a few cosmetic changes, Quezon claimed that he had won better terms with “his” Tydings-McDuffie Act. There was little difference between the two bills, but it was a propaganda victory for Quezon. In reality, Quezon forfeited more than he gained. Under Tydings-McDuffie the commonwealth would have its own constitution and would be self-governing, but its foreign policy would still be determined by America, and laws affecting immigration, foreign trade, or currency had to be approved by Washington. Only fifty Filipino immigrants would be allowed into the United States each year, whereas American entry and residence in the islands would be unrestricted. Philippine goods could enter the United States free for five years, followed by five years of gradually steepening tariffs, reaching 100 percent in 1946, while during the same period American goods could enter the islands unrestricted and duty free.
A bitter fight ensued in Manila over these unequal terms, which caused the Nacionalistas to split finally into two parties. Osmeña and Roxas, and their contingent, broke off to start the Liberal party. But the “great split” was only a family spat. The two parties were like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Politicians changed from one to the other indiscriminately.
There was no question who would be president of the new commonwealth. Quezon, the poker player, held all the cards. Osmeña decided to be content once more with second place, and ran as Quezon’s vice-presidential candidate.
Not everyone was happy with this one-sided deal with America. A new movement was launched called the Sakdal party (the word sakdal means “to accuse”). Some two hundred thousand Filipinos rushed to join Sakdal ranks, revealing for the first time the persisting hostility toward America and toward Quezon. Sakdalistas campaigned for complete independence by the end of 1935, redistribution of land, and an end to caciquism, winning a number of seats in the legislature. When Quezon prevented them from taking these seats, the Sakdalistas took up guns, but their revolt was put down by the American-trained Constabulary. Echoing Mussolini, Quezon declared: “The good of the state, not the good of the individual, must prevail.”
In 1935, Mariano Marcos returned to Batac from Mindanao to run again for the national assembly.
Four years earlier, when he had lost to Emilio Medina of Dingras, he had blamed the defeat on his neighbor, Julio Nalundasan. This time, Medina decided not to run. The election pitted Mariano directly against Nalundasan.
Nalundasan was on Quezon’s Nacionalista ticket. Bishop Aglipay was running for president at the head of his own Republican party, formed for the purpose, and Mariano was the Republican party candidate for Congress in the second district of Ilocos Norte. Their prospects were not good. Aglipay was now seventy-five and his popularity had greatly subsided.
Every dirty trick was employed. Quezon’s machine was better oiled and Nalundasan defeated Mariano easily. Mariano groused blackly that his opponent had taken advantage of his position as an official with the Bureau of Internal Revenue to extort votes. It was typhoon season, and tempers were hot. One of the other disappointed presidential contenders, General Aguinaldo, plotted a coup, and Quezon became so concerned about assassination that he slept in a different house every night. (Under pressure from the American governor-general, Aguinaldo finally abandoned his plot.)
To rub Mariano’s nose in failure, Nalundasan’s supporters borrowed a coffin and lashed it to the rumble seat of a car. Two men sprawled in the casket facing each other, one labeled Aglipay, the other Marcos, both politically dead. They roared up and down the dirt streets of district villages, finally reaching Batac, where they made several noisy, horn-blowing circuits of the town and then buzzed the Marcos home, stopping in front to hoot and razz, then drove away, leaving a cloud of dust and a deafening silence.
Ferdinand was in Batac and saw it all. His academic standing, by the end of his first college semester in 1935, had dropped below the level required to maintain his scholarship. He had been spending too much time on the .22-caliber pistol team, and hanging around with friends. Years later, he boasted that he had been the national pistol champion, but this was not true; he was just another team member. To raise the 200 pesos he needed to see him through the rest of the school year, he went to Sarrat and Batac to ask Grandmother Edralin and Judge Chua for further loans.
Three nights after the election, on September 20, 1935, a heavy tropical downpour drove everyone off the streets. In Nalundasan’s house, the victorious candidate enjoyed a late supper with family and friends. A few minutes after 10:00 P.M., he got up from the table and crossed the porch to a wash basin by the railing to brush his teeth. The rain had stopped but the banana plants in the yard still dripped. Nalundasan was clearly silhouetted by the porch lantern. Among the waxy leaves there was a loud pop. A .22-caliber bullet entered Nalundasan’s back, piercing his heart and lung. He gasped, “Jesus, María y José! Me pegaron una tira!” (“I’ve been shot!”) and collapsed. Minutes later he was dead.
Early the following morning, Ferdinand was among the curious crowd milling around the town hall to view the corpse of Congressman-elect Nalundasan, while an autopsy was performed. The next afternoon, his pocket stuffed with 200 pesos for tuition, Ferdinand left for Manila in a borrowed car with two other men and his uncle Quirino Lizardo, who was married to one of Mariano’s sisters.
Suspicions were immediately directed at Mariano Marcos and his family and friends, but on the afternoon of the murder Mariano had made a public display of leaving Batac for Laoag. Everyone knew Mariano was miles away when the murder occurred. One of Mariano’s relatives and campaign workers, a Batac villager named Nicasio Layaoen, was accused of the murder. Mariano rushed back to Batac to organize Layaoen’s legal defense with his brother Pio Marcos, who was also a lawyer. The trial was staged in the provincial capital. The case against Layaoen was thin and circumstantial from the beginning. He was promptly acquitted on insufficient evidence. Nobody was satisfied, especially Nalundasan’s friends and relatives. It was suspected that the case against Layaoen had been deliberately contrived as a red herring, to throw everyone off the trail of the real killer. After all, was it not true that Mariano’s son boasted of being the best .22-caliber marksman on his college pistol team? After the trial, Mariano prudently packed up and moved to Manila to live with his wife and children for the first time in many years. Pio remained in Laoag to keep their dingy law office open.
There the matter would have rested — as so many unsolved murders rested in the Ilocos over the years — had it not been that the chief investigating officer, Constabulary Major Jose P. Guido, felt he had been made to look a fool. Quezon himself had ordered him to find Congressman Nalundasan’s killer, and that he was going to do.
In 1936, entering the college of law, Ferdinand was commissioned a third lieutenant in the reserves of the Philippine Constabulary. Among his fellow cadets were Primitivo San Augustin, Saturnino and Leonilo Ocampo, and Roberto Benedicto, clever young men who would play important roles later in his life. They hung around together after classes each night, and took an oath to come to each other’s aid no matter what.
Just before Christmas 1938 — three years after the Nalundasan murder — Constabulary soldiers burst into Ferdinand’s room and arrested him on the charge of being the triggerman. Also charged were his uncles Pio Marcos and Quirino Lizardo. The next day in Laoag, Mariano was in court where he too was arrested.
Quezon sent a special legal team headed by the celebrated Manila attorney Higinio Macadaeg to handle the prosecution. The trial was presided over by Judge Roman Cruz. Another acclaimed lawyer, Vicente Francisco, headed the defense panel. After preliminary investigation, Ferdinand was held at the Ilocos Norte provincial jail in Laoag.
He was five months shy of graduating with honors from law school. From his cell, he petitioned the Philippine Supreme Court for release on bail. He may have had some discreet assistance from Judge Chua and the Chua clan, for in a precedent-setting decision the high court ruled that Ferdinand was entitled to bail, “unless the prosecution could show a strong evidence of guilt.” Prosecutor Macadaeg, not wishing to reveal his evidence prematurely, declined to argue the case at bar. All the accused were therefore granted bail. For many months thereafter, every time the case was calendared, the hearing had to be postponed. By coincidence or otherwise, defense attorney Francisco always had other hearings elsewhere. After many delays the case was finally postponed to September 1939.
Out on bail, Ferdinand hied to Manila to get his degree. He found himself a celebrity. It was not that everyone thought he was innocent, no matter how often in later years this assertion would be repeated in his biographies. It was just that no senior in law school had ever been charged with murder on the eve of graduation. A great rhubarb. During the graduation exercises, when Ferdinand was called to receive his diploma from President Quezon, students and audience exploded into deafening applause. Quezon was startled by the unexpected ovation.
On September 9, Josefa was beside her son when he was finally brought to trial. One embarrassing family secret revealed in court was that there had been bad blood between the Marcoses and Lizardo, which had climaxed in the filing of a criminal complaint against Lizardo for attempted homicide in which the offended party was Mariano’s mother.
The government case against Ferdinand rested on the testimony of one Calixto Aguinaldo, a dark little man, only four feet tall, unusually gentle in speech and manner. He was from Tarlac, a province just outside Manila, and spoke a number of dialects including Tagalog, Ilocano, and Pampangan. Although he had dropped out at the beginning of high school, his gift for dialects and his subservient manner had enabled him to earn a modest living running errands for lawyers and helping them as a clerk and interpreter. Calixto Aguinaldo was accustomed to being bullied, so he had developed the peculiar strength of the meek. On the witness stand, he told his story simply and convincingly, and could not be shaken no matter how the defense tried to intimidate or confuse him.
Calixto was forty-seven years old, married, and a small property owner. He knew Quirino Lizardo because he had worked for him when Lizardo once served as a public defender. Since Lizardo was married to one of the Marcos sisters, Calixto knew the whole family, and that was how he came to be at the scene of the crime. Lizardo was a grossly overweight man who sweated a lot and always shouted, especially when he was angry, which was most of the time. His poor wife had shriveled up into a frail, birdlike creature, dying slowly of tuberculosis.
Calixto testified that just before election day, Lizardo decided to help his brother-in-law as a poll watcher. Calixto obligingly borrowed a car from his nephew, Francisco Aguinaldo, who came along as driver. Calixto himself accompanied Lizardo to Ilocos Norte as a bodyguard. Although fat Lizardo boasted that he knew jiu-jitsu, he liked to take the precaution of having tiny Calixto walk around two paces behind him, to cover his back. You could never be too careful.
They arrived two days before the election, bringing along Lizardo’s consumptive wife and her youngest child, a frail girl of three. The Marcos home in Batac was now owned by Mariano’s other sister, Antonia Marcos Rubio, and was under renovation. The original house of bamboo and tin roof was still used as kitchen and dormitory while a new house was being built in front. The unfinished structure was covered temporarily by corrugated zinc to serve as Mariano’s campaign headquarters. The Lizardos were given the use of a bamboo shack in the yard, while Calixto bunked on the upstairs floor of the new house, and his nephew, the driver, slept in the car.
Calixto was introduced to Mariano, and Lizardo emphasized that he had complete trust in his small bodyguard. Accordingly, Calixto was accepted around the house and in the meetings of political henchmen as if he were a fly on the wall.
All the men gathered in the unfinished upstairs area of the new house, sitting on bare planks, to discuss the prospects. Included were Lizardo, Calixto, Pio, and Mariano, and young Ferdinand, the law student. Mariano told them it was going to be difficult for him to win because of the fading appeal of Bishop Aglipay. Fat Lizardo butted in immediately and said, “If we are defeated in the election, we can win in another matter and that is to kill Nalundasan.” Calixto testified that it was not the first time Lizardo had offered that solution. Twice he had suggested liquidating Nalundasan, when Pio Marcos had visited him in August.
Calixto testified that Mariano replied, “Think it over if it is convenient that we do that.” (They were speaking Ilocano.)
On election day, Calixto served as poll watcher, driving around the district with Lizardo and sometimes Mariano. After his defeat was certain, Calixto was in the Marcos house when Nalundasan’s followers roared up in the jalopy with the coffin and effigies. The next morning there was another conference with Mariano, Pio, Ferdinand, Lizardo, and Calixto, in the unfinished room upstairs.
They felt humiliated and resentful. Calixto said Lizardo asked if they were going to get revenge. Everybody agreed they should. Lizardo said, “Who is going to kill Nalundasan?” After a pause, he said, “If no one of you dares to shoot him, I will do it.”
Since Mariano would be the prime suspect, they would make sure everybody saw him leave town immediately for Laoag.
That night it rained hard. When it was time, Lizardo got out a .32-caliber police positive, while Ferdinand prepared his .22 target pistol, which had a small handle and a very long barrel. Lizardo asked Calixto to come along to stand watch. It was pitch black. Calixto testified that they picked their way carefully to the narrow alley leading to Nalundasan’s house.
Ferdinand and Lizardo posted Calixto at a corner, then the two of them entered a rice shed at the back of Nalundasan’s property, and passed through it into a small orchard where they could stand among the dripping banana plants and fruit trees, and see the victorious candidate eating dinner with his family by lantern light on the open porch.
Calixto was frightened and lost his nerve. He retreated up the dark alley toward the Marcos house, hearing a shot behind him. Hurrying on, he climbed into the car where his nephew was sleeping.
Three minutes later, Ferdinand and Lizardo returned. Peeking out, Calixto saw Ferdinand go directly upstairs. Lizardo stopped at the car, stuck his head in, and said, “Go to sleep, Nalundasan is already dead.” When Lizardo went inside, Calixto heard his wife cry out, “How cruel you are! At last you have killed him.”
Calixto said the murder weapon was buried by a coconut palm in the yard. Two days later they drove back to Manila, as they had come, but this time young Ferdinand accompanied them because he had to return to law school. Eventually, Major Jose Guido of the Department of Investigation had tracked down the car, found that it belonged to Francisco Aguinaldo, and that led him to Calixto. The prosecution brought in witnesses who corroborated various elements of Calixto’s testimony.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Francisco was unable to shake Calixto or to alter his testimony. Francisco brought to the stand various members of the Marcos family who testified that Calixto was not at the Marcos house in Batac during the time of the election and murder, and that they did not even know him. Antonia Rubio, elder sister of Mariano and Pio, who had been rebuilding the Marcos house in Batac, testified that Calixto Aguinaldo was never in the house and that she saw him for the first time in court.
Finally the four accused were presented as witnesses in their own defense. Pio Marcos testified that he spent the whole day on his small farm, going home at six o’clock. He said he went to bed after supper and was awakened at midnight and told that Lieutenants Lasola and Villanueva of the Constabulary were in the house. It was only then, he said, that he heard of Nalundasan’s murder. The two officers asked for his gun, and Pio gave it to them without hesitation. It was returned to him the following day by Lieutenant Villanueva, who said the gun had not been used for a long time as evidenced by its rust. Pio declared that he and Nalundasan were friends.
Mariano told the court that he did not mind the Nalundasan victory parade.
“I also celebrated my triumph when I was elected representative of the second district of Ilocos Norte in 1925 and 1928,” he declared, “but of course it was not like that of Nalundasan which, frankly, was in bad taste.” Concerning Ferdinand, he said: “Ferdinand never meddled in politics. He did not grow up in Batac, and was not familiar with the town. Ferdinand did not conspire against Nalundasan nor would I have allowed him to do that. What reason would he have to conspire? I am not a mad or unnatural father to have my son commit a crime for which he would have to pay with his life. I am not a coward, your honor.” Then it was his son’s turn.
“On the night of the 20th,” Ferdinand testified, “I went to our house after supper to ask my uncle Quirino when he was going back to Manila. My father had advised me to go with my uncle because I was carrying money. My aunt informed me that my uncle was out because he had cabled his mother in Manila for some money as they were short of cash, and stated that as soon as the money arrived they would leave for Manila. I told my aunt that my father had advised me to go with them, and that I hoped to leave as soon as possible so as not to miss classes and so I could prepare for my semestral examinations scheduled on the first week of October. The conversation with my aunt lasted around ten minutes, after I went back to the Verano house and began studying for the semestral exams, as I had taken my books along with me. After two hours of study, I went to bed. My roommate, Efrain, was still reading when I fell asleep.
“It was probably past six o’clock in the morning of the 21st when I woke up. I learned of Nalundasan’s death from a personal attendant of the town president’s niece, Miss Aurora Chua, who also lived in the house. As I was curious, I asked her when the murder was committed, what weapon was used, if the murderer had been caught, and who the suspects were. At past eight that morning, Efrain and I went to the town hall to get more news about the death of Nalundasan.”
On December 1, 1939, the Laoag Court of First Instance found Ferdinand Marcos guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. Because of his youth, he was given ten years minimum to seventeen years and four months maximum. Lizardo was sentenced to life imprisonment. Mariano and Pio were acquitted. Ferdinand asked to be set free on bail pending an appeal. The request was denied. A few days later, Judge Cruz called Ferdinand to his private chamber. He told Ferdinand that President Quezon was ready to pardon him. This was a surprising and peculiar development. It was never explained beyond the assertion that Ferdinand had become a national celebrity, which is a great exaggeration. A more likely explanation is that Quezon had long since been advised of the special relationship that existed between Ferdinand and Judge Chua, and that a deal had been cut. Quezon’s term as president ended in 1941, at which time he would be running for re-election. The Chua clan’s support could make a big difference. Ferdinand realized that he was now in a rare position. The advantage was his.
He turned down Quezon’s pardon and returned to Laoag jail. News of the pardon offer, and his refusal, spread quickly. Before he could get to his cell he was called to the mayor’s office. Roque Ablan, the young mayor who had been elected with Chua support, greeted him warmly. They had been acquainted for years, but now that Ferdinand was his guest, the mayor could not do enough. Ablan had a Ping-Pong table set up in the jail courtyard, and made it clear that Ferdinand only had to ask. Ablan also sent him a set of law books so that the convicted murderer had at his disposal a complete law library. Ferdinand remained in Laoag jail for six months while he wrote his appeal brief for the Supreme Court; the finished brief was 830 pages long. It was submitted in May 1940. He was then moved to Bilibad Prison in Manila for another six months while the Supreme Court deliberated on whether to hear his appeal.
In the meantime, Ferdinand took the bar examinations and, in spite of being in jail, or perhaps because of it, topped the results. His score of 98.01 on the bar exam was so high that he was accused of cheating. He insisted on being re-examined, and was taken by the dean of law to a confrontation with justices of the Supreme Court, who administered the exam orally. Ferdinand challenged them to ask any question on criminal law, legal ethics, civil law, commercial law, procedural law, or political law. His replies showed that he had committed to rote memory entire sections of the textbooks. He passed this expanded test with a score of 92.35. (A few years later, Jovito Salonga bested this with a score of 95.3.) The justices then asked if newspaper reports were true, that Ferdinand could recite the constitution backwards. In reply, he gave a demonstration. It was a tour de force. The day was his.
The Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments on Ferdinand’s appeal for Saturday, October 12, 1940. For the occasion, he wore a white shark-skin suit to symbolize his innocence. His uncles, Pio Marcos and Quirino Lizardo, arrived early. Mariano was conspicuously absent. Perhaps Judge Chua warned him that he had caused Ferdinand enough trouble.
The celebrated orator Leon Maria Guerrero presented the government’s case. Presiding for the high court was its most controversial figure, Associate Justice Jose B. Laurel.
Laurel was an extraordinary character. He first came to public attention in 1909 at the age of eighteen when he stabbed a man in a fight over a girl. Convicted of murder, he defended himself successfully in an appeal before the Supreme Court, which agreed that he had acted in self-defense. This victory marked him as a brilliant young comer. He attended Yale, where he felt he was treated badly by Americans, and in 1923 became secretary of the interior at age thirty-two. In that post, he was involved in the cabinet showdown with Governor-General Leonard Wood. It was Laurel who led the celebrated cabinet revolt and walkout which failed when Quezon used it to upstage Osmeña. The cabinet drifted back into office without Laurel. He was embittered by the way his contemporaries turned their backs on principle to advance their careers with the Americans. His own political career never fully recovered. He was a successful attorney, and continued to be a leading opponent of American rule — not only because of his treatment by Leonard Wood, and at Yale, but because his father had been tortured by American soldiers in a concentration camp in 1901. Quezon eventually appointed Laurel to the Supreme Court to sidetrack him. There Laurel displayed an unusual interest in the Marcos case and preempted his colleagues by announcing that he would pen the majority decision himself. According to one source, Laurel went individually to all the members of the Supreme Court and pleaded emotionally for the acquittal of young Ferdinand.
Why Laurel should become so exercised has never been satisfactorily explained. The entire future of Ferdinand Marcos turned on the intervention of Laurel at this point. The way in which Laurel resolved the case legally was so discordant that it adds to the mystery. To be sure, the murder trial had been heavily covered in the press. But efforts to explain Laurel’s intervention as an act of compassion, based on his own experience as a law student accused of murder, are unconvincing. So are arguments that the young defendant had to be saved for society because he was so brilliant. It is only with the discovery of the identity of Ferdinand’s father that the Laurel mystery begins to resolve.
Laurel was a man of all-consuming ambition, a nationalist visionary who believed that the Philippines had to be rescued from American domination at all cost. The effort to expel Western imperialism was a major force at that time in India, Burma, Indonesia, Indochina, revolutionary China — and in the emergence of Japan as a military power with international designs. Laurel was trying to rebuild his political fortunes, to enlarge his constituency, and to gain the discreet backing of financiers who had no reason to love America. His aim was ultimately to wrest the presidency from Quezon. A presidential election was scheduled for 1941, to determine who would preside over the last term before independence. There was an eight-year limit on how long any president could serve. Quezon would have to step aside eventually.
In addition to seeking the support of disgruntled Filipino oligarchs, Laurel turned to Japanese industries that were investing heavily in the islands, becoming their legal consultant. He also courted the Chinese. The Chuas were pilot fish for the entire Chinese community; their support could shift Chinese banking and commercial interests in Laurel’s favor.
The most likely explanation for what happened is that Judge Chua appealed to Justice Laurel privately, in the manner of such things, and Laurel was happy to respond. The two men were contemporaries in the legal profession, and it was a small favor, in a country where such favors are a part of life. As Joseph Lely veld once commented in The New York Times, “To be convicted of a crime in the Philippines is almost to be convicted of lacking influence.”
When the high court convened to hear the oral arguments, Laurel obviously had his mind made up in advance. He listened impatiently while Guerrero, the famous prosecutor, summarized the testimony of the star witness, Calixto Aguinaldo — testimony that had been remarkably persuasive up to this point and that remains persuasive reviewing the court records half a century later. Suddenly, Laurel interrupted the prosecutor and announced that he simply did not believe Aguinaldo.
In his decision, Laurel wrote: “By and large, we find the testimony of Calixto Aguinaldo to be inherently improbable and full of contradictions in important details. For this reason, we decline to give him any credit. In view of this conclusion, we find it neither necessary nor profitable to examine the corroborative evidence presented by the prosecution. Where the principal and basic evidence upon which the prosecution rests its case fails, all evidence intended to support or corroborate it must likewise fail.”
Before he had heard the case through, Laurel simply dismissed all arguments with a wave of his hand and the matter was closed.
Ferdinand was free — along with his astonished uncle, Lizardo. By his own account, Ferdinand went directly to the post office to wire the good news to his father (we are not certain whether he meant Mariano or Judge Chua, or both). Then he rushed home, where he had a joyful and tearful reunion with his mother.
The following morning, he returned to the Supreme Court, where Laurel administered his oath as a lawyer while Chief Justice Avancena handed him his certificate.
Years later, when Ferdinand was looking for backing to run for president, two of his oldest and closest friends from law school, Roberto Benedicto and Claudio Teehankee, discussed the prospects and rejected the idea of him as president because of the Nalundasan case. According to one source, the two lawyers concluded: “No, Marcos killed Nalundasan. People are convinced about that … We should not have a murderer in Malacanang.”
The question was also raised by Ferdinand’s own son. “Little boys have amazing minds,” Marcos told Time correspondent Arthur Zich. “Just the other day our nine year old, Bong-Bong, came to me and said: ‘Hey, Dad, what’s this about you having murdered a man once?’ And I said: ‘Well, if that had been so, I wouldn’t be standing here with you now, would I?’ Bong-Bong said: ‘O.K., who did kill him, then?’ We just left it there.”
Perhaps the final word on the matter comes from Imelda’s family. In the course of a number of lengthy interviews, Imelda’s cousin Loreto confided that one of the Romualdez family once asked Ferdinand privately whether he really had shot Nalundasan. Ferdinand brushed the question aside with the remark, “That was just kid stuff.”