Ferdinand Marcos: The Casting Couch
The Casting Couch
The Casting Couch
AS PUBLIC RELATIONS for his re-election in 1969, Ferdinand wanted a new biography written and a new movie made about the Maharlika. This time the book, Rendezvous with Destiny, was to be done by the Ilocano journalist Benjamin Gray, who had helped Ferdinand get elected the first time in 1949 by writing articles on his heroism in the magazine Bannawag. Unlike the first Maharlika movie — Marked by Fate — the new movie was not to be a documentary but a full-scale jungle epic along the lines of Bridge on the River Kwai, with Hollywood stars. Ferdinand turned the project over to a group of cronies: businessman Potenciano Ilusorio, manager Diosdado Bote of the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club, and Manuel Nieto, president of Philippine Overseas Communications.
So long as they were casting actresses, the cronies decided to pick girls who would appeal to Ferdinand. Somebody had to play the role of his wartime sweetheart. (Ferdinand claimed that she was a Filipino-American guerrilla named Evelyn who saved his life by “stopping a Japanese bullet” meant for him.)
At the time, President Marcos was showing great interest in Gretchen Cojuangco, the pretty wife of his wealthy friend Eduardo Cojuangco, of the billionaire Tarlac sugar clan. She was one of Imelda’s Blue Ladies, and Imelda was furious, but Cojuangco support had been crucial in Ferdinand’s political career. Instead of confronting Gretchen Cojuangco directly, as she had Carmen Ortega so many years ago, Imelda dispatched another Blue Lady with a message. Whatever the message said, Ferdinand later told a mutual friend, Gretchen “will no longer stop weeping.” Eduardo Cojuangco, her husband, tried a more diplomatic approach. He knew people in Hollywood who had worked on films in the Philippines, including Paul Mason, a minor producer at Universal Studios. At Cojuangco’s suggestion, Ilusorio approached Mason, and asked him to arrange for the audition in Manila of several actresses who might fit the type Ferdinand associated with “Evelyn.” Mason came up with two, Joyce Reese and Dovie Beams. The two women were flown to Manila in December 1968. Dovie Beams suspected the whole thing was just a set-up. She had heard that American girls were brought to the Philippines to “audition” for movie parts, then were drugged and passed around.
Dovie and Joyce were checked into a Manila hotel and invited to a party that night at a house in the posh Greenhills suburb. Oddly, the house was under reconstruction, with makeshift furniture and a big hole in the yard for a new swimming pool. They were taken upstairs, where drinks and snacks were set out on a picnic table in a room with a large bed. Ferdinand arrived a few minutes later. He was introduced as “Fred,” but Joyce told Dovie later that she recognized him immediately. They talked about movies, and Dovie sang “I Want to Be Bad.” As the party wore on, Ferdinand said something to the other men in Tagalog, and they drifted out of the room, taking Joyce Reese with them.
He talked with Dovie for several more hours. At one point she asked if he was a lawyer. “I have something to do with the legal profession,” he said. “I am the president of the Philippines.” Then, according to Dovie, he stood up to leave, shook her hand, gave her a light kiss on the back of her neck, and said, “I’m in love with you.” The next day he returned and they became lovers, an affair that lasted nearly two years. Dovie got the role of Evelyn.
Dovie Beams was born Dovie Osborne in Nashville on August 5, 1932. She was thirty-six years old, but she looked much younger and claimed to be twenty-three. In Tennessee, she was briefly married to Edward Boehms, and had a daughter. When they were divorced, she moved to Hollywood, keeping his name but changing the spelling to Beams. Over the years, she supported herself in various ways, eventually getting small roles in television soap operas. She said she was the occasional houseguest of Mr. and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., at their home in Palm Springs. When Paul Mason sent her to Manila, she had a mortgage on a small house in Beverly Hills.
Ferdinand installed his new mistress in the unfinished Greenhills house, with a staff of servants, bodyguards, and a social secretary named Vicky Abalos. In the early days of their liaison, he told Dovie that he was impotent with Imelda and that they had been sexually estranged for many years. They remained together, he explained, because it served a purpose, but each lived a separate life. Dovie also discovered about Carmen Ortega, and learned from Ferdinand that his mother still considered him married to Ortega. Once they had a quarrel, and Ferdinand went off to find consolation with Ortega. According to Dovie, during this visit Ortega became pregnant again.
After a few weeks of bliss, Ferdinand gave Dovie a trip to Hong Kong to buy jewelry, and a holiday in the Bahamas, where he wanted her to deposit some black money, including $10,000 he gave her “tax free.” She took her daughter Dena with her. Among her other acquisitions in Hong Kong, Dovie purchased a small cassette tape recorder, so “Fred” could teach her words and phrases in Tagalog and Spanish for the movie. He was writing new lines for her in the script. Sometimes they would interrupt these language lessons to make love while the tape recorder continued running. Once Ferdinand turned it on to sing his favorite Ilocano love song, “Pamulinawen,” and other love songs in Spanish. Soon Dovie had a collection of incriminating tapes.
Whenever Imelda was out of the country, Ferdinand spent all his time in Greenhills, or brought Dovie to Malacanang Palace. After he had fallen asleep, she would look through the papers on his desk in the palace study and select particular documents to tuck away for a rainy day. On one occasion, he flew her mother and daughter to Manila and gave them a tour of the palace. If Imelda was in town, Dovie sometimes met him at a cottage on the palace golf course, which Ferdinand used for assignations.
The movie proceeded slowly because Ilusorio had invested all the production money in Benguet mining stocks, and the price had temporarily plunged. Ferdinand was angry, but he put up more money and eventually shooting started with actor Paul Burke playing him and Farley Granger playing his faithful American sidekick (apparently modeled on Captain Jamison). As Evelyn, the female lead, Dovie became a Manila celebrity. To provide her with a public residence, Ferdinand made available a house on Princeton Street near the Wack Wack Country Club. It was there that she gave interviews to the press, although she continued to live at their love nest in Greenhills.
Whenever Ferdinand was around, Colonel Ver was always nearby, on an eternal vigil for the First Lady and her spies. When the president went to Baguio for a break, Ver smuggled Dovie in and out of the presidential retreat on the floor of his sedan.
Ilusorio was afraid that if Imelda found out about the love affair, and that it was he who had brought Dovie to the Philippines, she might have him shot. He had good reason to be worried. A member of Ver’s palace security guard said in an interview, “Whenever Imelda became suspicious, she ordered us to drive her around Manila searching for her husband or his car. We always knew where the president was, so we always drove her somewhere else.” Some people in the palace, he said, thought Imelda was having a wholesome relationship with her husband because she got up in the mornings looking radiant, but the truth was that she kept an oxygen tank beside her bed and spent a few minutes each morning doing breathing exercises, which made her feel vigorous, and brought a flush to her cheeks.
Once Dovie read a Hong Kong magazine article saying that Ferdinand was the richest man in Asia. She asked him about it. He replied, “Well, Imelda has more money than I do.” Dovie told him frankly that she herself had only one purpose in life, to make a lot of money. He answered that he was grateful to her because she had saved him from having a nervous breakdown. Because of that, he had made financial arrangements that would take care of her for life, apparently through banker Roberto Benedicto, who managed a number of his offshore companies. (Marcos and Benedicto owned a bank in Beverly Hills.) He told her that he and Ilusorio had done some smuggling together during the war. He talked about how the Japanese had killed his father, and bragged that he had found some of Yamashita’s Gold, which he had hidden and used after the war. He also confided that he carried a poison pill: if his enemies captured him, he would take the pill to avoid being tortured. It was then April 1969, and his campaign for re-election was under way. He told Dovie that no president had ever won a full second term before, but that he was going to win the election by any means, fair or foul, and if necessary he was prepared to use the Communists as an excuse to declare martial law.
As they lay in bed together, Ferdinand told Dovie that he had tricked the Liberals into selecting Sergio Osmeña, Jr., as their candidate, because Osmeña would be easier to beat. He was even going to defeat Osmeña in his home province, because it had never been done before. How many votes did Dovie think he should beat Osmeña by — two million? The way he had things planned, he told Dovie, it made no earthly difference if everyone in the islands voted against him, he would win the election anyway.
While Ferdinand was reinflating his own war hero image with the Gray biography and the new Maharlika movie, he publicly denounced Osmeña as a traitor for collaborating with the Japanese during the war. Just because Osmeña had been given amnesty along with all the other collaborators, he said, did not mean he was not guilty of treason. Both Osmeña and his vice presidential running mate, Genaro Magsaysay, portrayed themselves as strongly pro-American. So, for good measure, Marcos labeled Magsaysay as a CIA candidate. The Osmeña camp struck back, circulating black toothbrushes to remind voters that their president had been convicted for shooting a man in the back while the victim was brushing his teeth.
Five months before the November polls, President Nixon came to Manila. Ferdinand was threatening to turn against America unless he was given visible support. Nixon understood the ramifications, and decided to pay a visit to America’s staunch ally. To offset the impression that he was there exclusively to help President Marcos, Nixon met leaders of the opposition, and expressed concern about the pressure he was under in America to accelerate troop withdrawal in Vietnam. The Marcoses gave up their master bed for him, a large bed with a purple velvet headboard which they apparently had never slept in together. Mrs. Nixon occupied her own suite in the guest wing.
One day Diosdado Bote arrived at Dovie’s love nest in a sweat and said, “You’ve got to call the palace! My son has been shot.” Bote assumed that Dovie knew all about what was going on in the campaign, so he was indiscreet and babbled about Ferdinand’s election methods. As the campaign proceeded, he said, there were ambushes, and people on both sides were being murdered. It was worse than Bote said. Seventeen out of sixty-six provinces were bloody. “Terrorists” in Constabulary uniforms took over polling places in province after province; warlords in nineteen provinces used private armies to force the voting; houses and whole villages were burned to the ground. On Batanes, an armed band known as the Suzuki Boys took over the entire island, murdering the local public prosecutor, closing the airport, occupying the radio and telegraph offices, as well as the polling stations. Special Constabulary murder squads known as “the Monkees” were intended to achieve what the military called “a balance of terror” in central Luzon. Congressman Jose Cojuangco (brother-in-law of Ninoy Aquino) pointed out that there were at least six teams of Monkees in his area of Tarlac. Another group of thugs, the Barracudas, guarded Marcos candidates in Lanao del Norte. Constabulary soldiers in Agusan Sur shot up a schoolhouse polling station, killing four, wounding five, taking ten hostages. Brigadier General Vicente “Banjo” Raval, the Constabulary chief fresh back from training in Washington, was accused of partisanship and his men of terrorism. On election day his Special Forces terrorized the provinces of Marinduque, Cagayan, Ilocos Sur, and Batanes, including forty-six killings. Ballot boxes were burned, and replaced by stuffed boxes stored for the purpose in Philippine army safe houses, all handled by specially trained “fraud” teams of the air force and navy. In southern Cebu, the Liberals controlled one polling station, the Nacionalistas the other; the Liberals announced that every single one of the 9,400 voters registered in the area had chosen Osmeña, but Ferdinand won with a vote 2,000 greater than the registered total.
On paper, the Marcos slate won seven of the eight senatorial seats, and all but 24 of the 110 races for the House. This was so improbable that it made the fraud embarrassingly obvious. As he met supporters in Malacanang Palace to declare his victory, Ferdinand was leading in every single province. It was a landslide, on a scale surpassing even Magsaysay’s 1953 win backed by the Seventh Fleet. He claimed a margin of 1.7 million votes, or 74 percent of the votes cast, just shy of the 2 million he had promised Dovie.
It cost Ferdinand $168 million to be re-elected. Back in 1946, national parties and presidential candidates had spent $1.5 million; by 1961, the cost jumped to $30 million. By 1969, Ferdinand had expanded patronage to such an extent that the election crippled all but his richest opponents. The Marcos political machine was heavily oiled down to the barrio level by Executive Secretary Ernesto Maceda, known to foreign correspondents as Oil-can Ernie.
Ferdinand paid for his campaign in several ways — one was by printing more money and causing runaway inflation. The Philippines’ foreign exchange reserves were completely exhausted and short-term loans were falling due. Embarrassingly, he had to press Washington for a $100 million advance on base rents. He was now president of a bankrupt country, forced to seek IMF assistance to stabilize his currency with a special loan of $27 million, and he had to roll over $275 million dollars’ worth of short-term indebtedness to American and European banking groups. Despite these emergency measures, Ferdinand was forced to adopt austerity measures and devalue the peso by 50 percent. The 70 percent of Filipinos living on less than $200 a year had their buying power cut in half.
Eduardo Lachica of the Philippines Herald said, “The Liberals were outspent, outshouted, and outgunned.” Osmeña charged that “democracy was raped” and refused to concede.
Dovie had missed all the fun. Since “Fred” was busy, she had gone off on a holiday just before the election. When she left, he had seemed exhilarated. When she came back, he was morose, withdrawn. She did not understand the change until Colonel Ver came in for a talk one day and explained what had happened. Despite everything, Ver told her, “the boss” had lost. Despite all the money, all the killings, all the manipulation. She said Ver talked about it at great length.
Ferdinand could falsify the ballots, but he could not change the realization that he had really lost. As it had done for Mariano Marcos in 1931, this came as a terrible blow to his ego. “It was devastating,” Dovie said. From then on, everything was different.
So obvious was the election fraud that Ferdinand became a target of unprecedented contempt from students and opposition. He had stolen the presidency, and found himself nearly in the state of siege that he had prepared for so deliberately with U.S. help.
Charges of corruption, fraud, and hidden wealth became the basis for impeachment proceedings. To avoid impeachment, he announced that he was giving away everything he owned. Later, he disclosed that he was giving it all to something called the Marcos Foundation. Then he amended his announcement to say he would give away only what he could legally dispose of — excluding the holdings of his wife and children.
When Ferdinand took his oath of office on December 30, 1969, tight security had to be imposed. Machine guns were mounted on the grandstand, a helicopter hovered over Luneta Park, and navy gunboats patrolled Manila Bay. In his inaugural address, Ferdinand portrayed himself as a champion of the underdog, determined to tame the oligarchy. “The decade of the seventies,” he said, “cannot be for the faint of heart and men of little faith. It is not for the whiners, nor for the timid. It is not a decade for the time-wasters and the fault-finders … Our society must chastise the profligate rich who waste the nation’s substance including its foreign exchange reserves in personal comforts and luxuries.” Alluding to influence peddlers, he warned that no man who claims to be a friend, relative, or ally should try to take advantage — “if he offends the New Society, he shall be punished like the rest.” Nobody took him seriously. Who could rule without the support of the Lopezes, Ayalas, Elizaldes, Ongpins, and Chuas? Meanwhile, in the streets of Manila fifty thousand demonstrators denounced his victory as a joke. The demonstrations went on for days. The first big success of the new U.S. trained METROCOM paramilitary security force was the bloody suppression of these demonstrations. The demonstrators were protesting that they had been swindled out of the one thing America always boasted it gave the Philippines — democracy. But times had changed. What America was now giving the Philippines was dictatorship.
Several weeks later, on January 26, 1970, Ferdinand made his state of the nation address at the Legislative Building. As he and Imelda listened to an invocation by Father Pacifico Ortiz, president of Ateneo de Manila University, Ferdinand grew rigid and the First Lady’s cheeks flushed with fury. The priest spoke of “the growing fears, the dying hopes, the perished longings and expectations of a people who have lost their political innocence; a people … who now know that salvation, political or economic, does not come from above, from any one man or party or foreign ally; that in the last analysis, salvation can only come from below — from the people themselves, firmly united … to stand for their rights whether at the polls, in the market place or at the barricades.”
Outside the Legislative Building there was a demonstration by twenty thousand students, workers, and farmers. One of the organizers was Edgar Jopson, president of the National Union of Students. The demonstrators were parading a cardboard coffin containing a stuffed crocodile with a mouthful of money. As the president and First Lady emerged, they were greeted with a shower of bottles, sticks, and placards. There was a scuffle and Colonel Ver thrust Ferdinand into the car, bumping his head on the door. Imelda was several meters behind in the melee. No security man dared to grab her. Ferdinand climbed out, took her wrist, and dragged her into the car, spraining his ankle. Both were badly shaken. As army and police moved in, what had begun as a peaceful protest turned into the bloodiest confrontation in a decade.
Four days later, a group of student leaders was summoned to a meeting at Malacanang, watched by reporters. Again the students were led by Edgar Jopson. The son of a middle-class grocer who had introduced the first American-style self-service supermarket to Manila after the war, Jopson at age twenty-one had been named the outstanding young man in the Philippines by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. He was studying business management and planned to go to law school. Jopson summarized the issues that had led to their protest rally, but their dialogue with Ferdinand quickly turned sour. When he asked the president to guarantee that he would not seek a third term, Ferdinand blandly replied that he was barred from doing so by the constitution. Jopson persisted, demanding that Marcos put the promise in writing. Infuriated, Ferdinand exclaimed, “You are only the son of a grocer!”
When news that the meeting had collapsed reached a crowd of four thousand students waiting outside the palace, they commandeered a fire truck and rammed it through the gate, storming in. Six students were killed and hundreds injured as the riot raged on for eight hours, from Malacanang Palace down the street to Mendiola Bridge. The riot of Bloody Friday was the first of its kind in contemporary Philippine history. The brutal military suppression that followed drove the student movement sharply to the left. It did not help that the students killed in the riots were killed by squads specially trained and supplied by the U.S. government.
Ferdinand holed up in Malacanang for weeks, turning it into an Alamo. Workmen welded the palace gates shut. Armed guards patrolled the riverfront. Under the banyan trees loitered soldiers and plainclothesmen. A large air force helicopter made a test landing in the palace garden. When its rotor blades grazed branches, a general ordered a dozen trees cut down. The regular palace helipad was across the river, but a river crossing in an emergency was considered too risky.
Ferdinand was rattled by the violence of the demonstrations against him, and he seemed incoherent — or at least illogical — in his interpretation of the episode. At first, he blamed “non-student provocateurs” for the riots, then inflated the protest to “an insurrection” by Maoists. A soothsayer chose this moment to predict that the president would be assassinated before April by a “light-skinned man wearing a suit.” Ferdinand then complained that the CIA was sponsoring a right-wing coup plot against him. He was habitually frightened by the specter of his rich rivals hiring Mafia hitmen to rub him out. Later, he claimed there were eight such attempts in 1972 alone.
One day Dovie returned to Greenhills to discover that their love nest was being packed up. Ferdinand explained that spies were watching the house, making it too risky to continue using it. Dovie agreed to move to her public residence, near Wack Wack. Afterwards she learned that it was all a lie and Carmen Ortega had moved into the Greenhills house. The renovation and the swimming pool had been for Carmen all along.
In this atmosphere of growing tension between them Dovie made two new tapes, on January 17 and 22, of President Marcos making love with all the bells and whistles. She added these to a small hoard of documents, tapes, and articles of his clothing that she had thoughtfully sent to America for safe keeping.
One night, Ferdinand took Polaroid shots of Dovie in the nude, in startling poses on the bed and in the bathroom, and asked her for a lock of pubic hair. Dovie agreed, but only in trade for a lock of his. It was a disastrous mistake. To Filipinos, Dovie might look twenty-three and vulnerable, but she was turning forty and no fool. She had to protect herself. Ferdinand was losing interest in her — he was withdrawn, distracted. Everything he said had a hostile undercurrent; he was not the same person. Quarrels were more frequent. It was only a matter of time before she was dumped.
A few days later, just before Black Friday and the siege of Malacanang, she came home one morning furious. The Maharlika movie was in rough cut, but Marcos would not allow it to be shown; he said it was not good and was miscast. Dovie swore revenge. She packed her bags and returned to Los Angeles. Seven months later, in August, she came back with a full quiver of threats against Ferdinand and demands upon the production house USV Arts. She was either being very bold or very rash, encouraged by a number of people, apparently including billionaire Eugenio Lopez, whose feud with Ferdinand was now near the breaking point. A showdown with Dovie Beams could only embarrass the Marcos administration. It has been alleged also that Dovie was a CIA plant all along, that there were factions in the Agency determined to ruin Ferdinand by making a fool of him.
In public statements, Dovie claimed that she had come back to produce a travelogue in which President Marcos would be featured. At USV Arts, Diosdado Bote complained that Dovie insisted on being paid “fantastic” amounts in U.S. dollars. His attorney said that she threatened to “involve Mr. Bote and other directors of the corporation in a scandal which she said she would create should her demands not be met.” Bote said he finally gave her $10,000 and nothing more, just to silence her. However, Dovie now had a letter dated September 25, 1970, in which Bote acknowledged that she was due more than $100,000. When Dovie increased her demand to $150,000, Potenciano Ilusorio refused and Bote filed a complaint against her with the National Bureau of Investigation.
That night, Dovie was picked up by secret police chief Ver and taken to a safe house for a showdown with Ferdinand in front of his cronies. Face to face, she lost her temper and yelled, “You’re a goddamned liar!” They had a terrible row while Ver, Bote, and Ilusorio looked on wide-eyed. It ended, she said, with Ferdinand trying to make up. He wanted to kiss her. She refused, and was driven by Fabian Ver to Malacanang, where she was kept until 5:30 A.M., talking to Ver.
“He’s a murderer,” she said.
“But, Ma’am, you loved him,” Ver said, denying nothing.
“Ma’am, you called him a goddamned liar, and you know, no one talks to him like that, not even his Cabinet.”
From the palace, Dovie claimed that Ilusorio, Bote, and others took her to a room at the Savoy Hotel on Roxas Boulevard (now the Hyatt Regency) where the men assaulted her and tortured her. After some time, they let her go to the bathroom. It was the only thing she could think of to get away from them for a few minutes. In the bathroom she discovered a telephone that the men did not know was there. She decided to take the chance and called her friend and onetime social secretary, Vicky Abalos.
Before leaving California, Dovie had set up a code by which she could call for help in an emergency. Among her anxious friends, she claimed, were Mr. and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., the publishers, who were friends of Governor and Mrs. Reagan. Whispering over the phone to Vicky Abalos, Dovie asked her to send a telegram to the Hearsts in Palm Springs: “Happy birthday on this your special day.”
Dovie’s tormentors then took her back to her own room at the Manila Hilton. She was in pain and went immediately to bed. Shortly, she said, a telegram arrived from the Hearsts in California. According to Dovie, they had contacted Senator Alan Cranston of California and Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, Dovie’s home state. In their telegram, she said they told her to go straight to the U.S. Embassy and see Ambassador Byroade. By then, she had begun to hemorrhage, and left the hotel to check into the Manila Medical Center under a false name.
Her disappearance caused speculation in the press, and Manila buzzed with rumors about the president’s torrid affair with Dovie Beams. Was she kidnapped? Was she killed? Or was she hidden at Clark Air Base? From the papers, Imelda learned everything and was said to be livid with rage. It was rumored that the First Lady’s agents were searching for Dovie everywhere.
Dovie phoned the U.S. Embassy and was immediately visited by Consul Lawrence Harris, who told her that he was speaking for Ambassador Byroade. According to Dovie, Harris and Byroade initially tried to help the First Lady buy her off, offering her $100,000 directly from the palace if she agreed to keep quiet — and hinting that they might be able to get her double that amount. She was given to understand that the offer came directly from Imelda. “Think about it — it’s tax free,” she was told.
When she was strong enough to leave the hospital, Dovie was taken to the embassy for a conference with Ambassador Byroade, during which she said the $100,000 bribe was again proffered. She was warned that if she did not accept the bribe, Imelda might have her killed. Apparently Harris and Byroade were not yet aware that Dovie had assembled a great deal of incriminating evidence to support her claim.
Dovie now realized that she was putting herself in grave danger by keeping her mouth shut. When she told Ambassador Byroade and Consul Harris what she had collected as insurance, their whole attitude changed. They booked her into the Bay View Hotel across Roxas Boulevard, where embassy security men could keep a close watch on her. There, she called a press conference.
She was careful to refer to Ferdinand only as “Fred” — which made it possible for reporters to print her allegations freely without being vulnerable to charges of libeling the president of the republic. During the press conference Dovie played one of her tapes complete with moans, murmurs, creaking bed, and an Ilocano love song, which every Filipino knew to be a Marcos favorite. His voice and that of Dovie were clearly recognizable. While she was talking with one reporter, two others were busy at a table patching their tape recorder to hers and making a duplicate. She put a stop to it midway, but made no effort to recover what they already had transcribed. (Copies of the tape were then made available to a number of people, including Ninoy Aquino, who is said to have paid $500 for his.)
Student protestors at the University of the Philippines commandeered the campus radio station and broadcast a looped tape; soon the entire nation was listening in astonishment to President Marcos begging Dovie Beams to perform oral sex. For over a week, the president’s hoarse injunctions boomed out over university loudspeakers. Special forces troopers sent to recapture the radio station crumpled with laughter. Barely able to keep a straight face, Ninoy Aquino called for a Senate investigation.
As the scandal raged to new levels of intensity, Ambassador Byroade’s aides escorted Dovie to the airport. Manila International was swarming with Marcos aides, Imelda’s spies, immigration officers, and U.S. Embassy people as Dovie boarded Philippine Airlines Flight 396 for Hong Kong. Ferdinand did not attempt to stop her; he was too busy trying to outmaneuver the First Lady’s secret agents. It became a contest between those sent to protect Dovie and those sent to kill her. Lurking in the background was a very competent bodyguard Ferdinand had long ago assigned to look after her. Imelda dispatched forty-three-year-old professional killer Delfin Cueto. Although the U.S. Embassy had secured seats around Dovie for her loyal Filipino servants, Imelda had an airlines official oust them to other seats across the aisle and put Cueto next to her. The First Lady also sent to Hong Kong a ten-man flying squad of her own thugs in a Philippine Air Force C-130.
At Kai Tak airport in the Crown Colony, Dovie’s bodyguard and Delphin Cueto had a grim confrontation, after which Cueto went his own way, to strike again elsewhere.
A few days later, when Dovie came out of hiding and tried to leave Hong Kong for Los Angeles, Imelda’s pursuers were waiting to pounce. As she walked toward the Pan American departure ramp, Philippine Consul General Rafael Gonzales popped out of nowhere and blocked her. British police in plainclothes moved in and stopped the altercation. Dovie went back into protective custody for five days, this time courtesy of MI5. At last she was put aboard a plane with three new bodyguards. The moment she left, Hong Kong police captured Cueto, disarmed him, and deported him to Manila. Cueto told reporters that his name was Fred and it was he who had been keeping Dovie Beams as his mistress. A Presidential Security guard at Malacanang said during an interview that Ferdinand had even asked him to claim that he was Fred. “Marcos always had plenty of girlfriends,” he said. “Marcos even wanted me to take the heat for Dovie.”
Ever since 1954, when Imelda had discovered the existence of Carmen Ortega and her children, she had been forced to stifle her fury at Ferdinand’s betrayal. Now the shoe was on the other foot. Imelda was embarrassed, but Ferdinand was humiliated. As the palace security man put it, “Imelda went crazy over the Dovie Beams affair.”
Once safe in Los Angeles, Dovie produced mounds of the president’s clothing, additional tape cassettes, secret documents from Malacanang Palace, and a tuft of pubic hair that she threatened to turn over to a laboratory for identification. Her charges were all published in great detail in the Manila journal Graphic, earning its editors the eternal enmity of President Marcos and the First Lady. Their publishing days were numbered.
In the years to come, Imelda’s emissaries came to Los Angeles to see Dovie periodically with inducements to turn over her treasured mementoes. She was told that if she did not cooperate, the scandal would spoil the First Lady’s chances of becoming president herself. To which Dovie replied: “Good! Then I’ll be doing the Filipino people a favor.” (This neatly paraphrased what Imelda and Carmen Ortega said to each other nearly twenty years earlier.)
For life insurance, Dovie stashed multiple copies of everything with attorneys and friends. She told her story to a Filipino-American journalist, Hermie Rotea, who produced a small book titled Marcos’ Lovie Dovie. The moment the book appeared, it magically disappeared, snapped up by Imelda’s agents. Copies were stealthily removed from libraries across America, and from the Library of Congress. Rotea’s book was a bit too frank, clearly favoring Dovie but also including the celebrated nude photos and a summary of Imelda’s counter charges, alleging that Dovie was a professional. Dovie was not happy with Rotea’s book, and went on to write her own, as yet unpublished, copies of which she kept in different vaults in case anything odd happened to her.
The Dovie Beams affair was neither the first nor the last Marcos sex scandal. Among U.S. diplomatic dispatches from Manila, there is a secret message, stamped “No Forn” to bar it from foreign eyes, which describes Marcos as “a ladies’ man.” The message was intended for the edification of Governor Reagan during his visit to Manila for the gala opening of Imelda’s Cultural Center in 1969, giving him discreet background on Filipino problems. One of the most delicate problems, according to the message, was President Marcos’s backstairs romance with the wife of a U.S. Navy officer. The embassy was deathly afraid that the First Lady would find out and kick up a fuss, to the detriment of Filipino-American relations.
Filipino singer Carmen Soriano was another celebrated romance. The First Lady sought out the singer in San Francisco in 1970, going to her apartment accompanied by her financial adviser, Ernesto Villatuya. Imelda demanded that Soriano sign a prepared statement that she and the president had never gone to bed together. When Carmen told Imelda to go to hell, the First Lady took a roundhouse swing at Soriano — which she ducked — and the blow landed on Villatuya, knocking him flat. In consolation, Imelda saw to it that Villatuya became president of the Philippine National Bank, a position he held until 1972.
The movie Maharlika was banned in the Philippines because it starred Dovie Beams. Producer Luis Nepomuceno said Imelda railed at him for six hours and finally had government banks foreclose on his production company. “What really bothered her,” added Nepomuceno, “was that Dovie said Imelda was no longer attractive to her husband.”
Imelda would extract a heavy price from Ferdinand for his philandering — from shares in gold mines to unbridled political power. Sighed a former family friend, “In the Philippines, a philandering husband has to pay for the rest of his life. Marcos just used our taxes.”