Ferdinand Marcos: The Hidden Agenda

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Ferdinand Marcos: The Hidden Agenda

The Hidden Agenda

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The Hidden Agenda

 

THE MARCOS CAMPAIGN for the Nacionalista presidential nomination brought Imelda into her own. She threw herself with a vengeance into the job of getting her husband the nomination.

Imelda’s favorite clothes in shades of blue were packed away during the eighteen months of campaigning, and she wore chartreuse, neon pink, and canary yellow. “I wanted people to spot me in a room,” she said.

She staged tea parties, and fed campaign workers and constituents at least sixty breakfasts, two hundred and fifty lunches, and thirty dinners each day. On Ferdinand’s birthday she produced ninety-eight roast pigs and three hundred and fifty birthday cakes. She also took charge of handling the mysterious cloth bags of money that men kept bringing to the house. She told Loreto, “I am tired of counting money, I don’t know how much we have. It comes in sacks.” Ferdinand, she explained, “has a lot of businesses.” Hitting the campaign trail, sometimes with her husband, sometimes on her own, she became the star of mini-carnivals throughout the islands, making speeches and singing love songs to dazzled peasants. The frustrated performer had found her stage. No political wife had ever made such a display of herself, and it brought out the country folk, who were impressed that the pretty wife of Senator Marcos cared enough to mingle with poor people. Working from intelligence reports on each local leader and his private life, Imelda visited every delegate to the forthcoming Nacionalista convention three times. The first time, she introduced herself, was charming, and asked the delegate to vote for her husband. She took note of something she could bring as a “gift” the next time — say, a new swivel chair. On the second trip, she brought the gift, refused any payment, and urged the delegate again to come to the convention. On the third visit, she reminded him to vote for Ferdinand.

By the terms of Filipino hospitality she was obliged to eat every meal put in front of her, if it meant ten meals a day. Ferdinand normally watched her food intake carefully, weighing her portions on a scale at the table, promising her any dress she wanted so long as it was size ten. She came back from the campaign looking like a suckling pig.

Her energy was limitless. During a sweep through Zambales, Imelda visited fifteen out of eighteen towns in three days. The towns she bypassed felt slighted. She apologized, canceled other commitments, and drove back.

The message was that Imelda and Ferdinand really cared. They cared so much that reporters covering the campaign were given gifts of cash every time a picture of Ferdinand was printed in their newspapers.

Just before the convention, Richard Usher, chief of the political section at the U.S. Embassy, filed a classified report to Washington on a conversation with Ferdinand, which noted Marcos’s “obviously high intelligence and superior qualities of leadership, and determination to achieve his goal.” Senator Marcos

spoke with … intensity of the manner in which Macapagal had “betrayed” and “humiliated” him. In 1961, he said, Macapagal had told the Ilocanos during speeches … that Marcos would, on Macapagal’s word of honor, be the LP Presidential nominee in the next election … Since that time Macapagal had subjected Marcos to many harassments … He had tapped his telephone lines, had had him trailed, and there had been an “ambuscade” which had not succeeded. Marcos likened this treatment to that he had received during the Bataan death march …

Marcos added that he had many personal issues against Macapagal, but that he would not use them during the campaign. He did not wish to incite anyone … since if Macapagal did get shot, he, Marcos, would get the blame … Marcos expressed full confidence that he would win the election by a landslide …

At the convention, the Marcos camp had two huge balloons overhead, a party boat chugging back and forth in front of the Manila Hotel seawall, and scores of secret agents mingling with the delegates. Fabian Ver had returned from his U.S. police training courses to be on hand as chief of security.

Ferdinand’s rival for the Nacionalista nomination was Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez, who had resigned from the Macapagal cabinet in disgust during the Stonehill scandal, and like Ferdinand had jumped parties to the Nacionalistas. An outspoken supporter of the United States, and a favorite of the U.S. Embassy, Pelaez made such a poor showing on the first ballot that Jaime Ferrer, Lansdale’s protégé who engineered Magsaysay’s victory, threw his support to Marcos.

Ferdinand won on the second ballot with 777 votes to 444 for Pelaez. As a superstitious man and numerologist, Ferdinand read significance into the numbers — others found them very suspicious.

There was now an unexpected problem: nobody wanted to run with him. Imelda came to the rescue. With tears and sobs, she persuaded Fernando Lopez to put his clan behind Marcos. Although Lopez had failed to get the presidential nomination for himself, the leverage he could enjoy as vice president was not to be discounted. He could extract elaborate concessions from Marcos, including a ceiling on fuel-oil prices, which affected profits from the Lopez utility company, Meralco. When he finally consented, Imelda whipped out a document for him to sign on the spot and then flashed her biggest smile. He must have regretted his decision immediately for he refused to share the same campaign headquarters with Marcos.

On the day newspapers printed Ferdinand’s acceptance speech, the Malacanang press office released an ominous statement from Defense Secretary Peralta, the wartime guerrilla leader on Panay Island: “Knowing [Marcos] well, I can also say he does not possess the maturity, integrity, and moral rectitude required of a good President. Because of his known record of ruthlessness and unscrupulousness, I would be recreant to my duties, if I did not express my concern over [President Macapagal’s] personal safety.”

The Marcos campaign took off at high velocity. Many on the campaign team were old Lansdale men. One of them, Jose Aspiras, an Ilocano from La Union and former president of the National Press Club, headed the Marcos press campaign. Rafael Salas, a professorial-looking bachelor of thirty-seven, one-time head of the National Economic Council, served as the campaign coordinator and legal counsel. He had been president of Lansdale’s National Student Movement when it launched Magsaysay’s presidential bid in 1953. Bias Ople, Ferdinand’s propaganda chief, was a former newspaperman and assistant to Magsaysay. Jose Crisol was a CIA-trained secret policeman who joined the Marcos team to gather political intelligence. He had been chief of Magsaysay’s bogus land reform program intended to undercut the Huks. The Agency’s fingerprints were everywhere.

Imelda had her own group of twenty-five young women from wealthy families dressed in blue who became known first as the Friends of Imelda and then as the “Blue Ladies.” The big Tuesday and Friday political teas at the Marcos home became their responsibility. They were also assigned to pay special attention to foreign journalists. It was during this presidential campaign, under the direction of Ople, Crisol, and Aspiras, that Ferdinand finally capitalized on the myth building he had been doing since World War II — the unearned medals, the fake heroism — and it was at this time that his wartime records were tucked out of sight in a government warehouse in St. Louis, Missouri. The biography For Every Tear a Victory, written by Hartzell Spence, appeared, along with a movie on his exploits with the “Maharlika Division” — it had now become an entire army division. The movie was made by the family of Ernesto Maceda, one of Ferdinand’s chief political operators.

Ferdinand always maintained that he had nothing to do with either the book or the movie. He told the U.S. Embassy that he “wished he had been given the opportunity to look at the text of … Spence’s … book on him before it had been published, as he would have made a number of changes.”

The film was called Iginuhit Ng Tadhana — Marked by Fate. It was a production of a new film company called 777 (the magic number that won the presidential nomination). In the film, there were short scenes of Nalundasan’s murder while he was brushing his teeth, longer scenes of Ferdinand defending himself before the Supreme Court, war scenes of Ferdinand shooting Japanese soldiers and shoving a mortar down the cliff of Mount Natib, diverting scenes of Ferdinand persuading Imelda to sign their marriage certificate, followed by footage from their society wedding, and sentimental scenes between Ferdinand and his mother played to the last teardrop.

Thus inspired, Macapagal commissioned a biography called Macapagal the Incorruptible. But the original author, Quentin Reynolds, died suddenly in the Italian villa where he was working, apparently from a faulty gas valve. The book was finished by Geoffrey Bocca. While the Marcos movie soundtrack was in Tagalog, both biographies were written in English and intended primarily to influence a small but important group of American journalists and government officials. Thousands of copies of the Spence biography were distributed to American newspapers and magazines and to members of the U.S. Congress.

Naturally, Ferdinand was taken to be America’s anointed one. Since so many of his team were identified with Lansdale and Hartzell Spence was an old Pentagon hand, it was only natural for the word to get around Manila that the CIA — having given up on the candidacy of Emmanuel Pelaez — was doing everything it could to boost Marcos. Those who presume to know how the CIA operates cite the lavish positive coverage by the major U.S. media as one of the indicators, and point for comparison to the treatment given to Air Marshal Nguyen Kao Ky before he became premier of South Vietnam, to Indonesia’s Suharto, and to Magsaysay. Certainly Ferdinand received a buildup that no Philippine presidential candidate hitherto had enjoyed, even Magsaysay. American journalists visiting Manila were told by U.S. Embassy officials, off the record, that Macapagal had become corrupt and that Marcos was “the new Magsaysay.” In cover stories and feature articles he was portrayed as an authentic war hero, recipient of the U.S. Medal of Honor, and one whom America could depend upon to preserve democracy with his very life. The articles were almost without exception uncritical.

Macapagal’s team was not above its own dirty tricks. During the campaign, a nude photograph of Imelda was circulated, and it was put about that the snapshot had been filched from Ferdinand’s private collection. Imelda went into a state of shock. The photo was denounced by Marcos intelligence chief Jose Crisol as a clever composite, Imelda’s head superimposed on another woman’s body. Then Nalundasan’s son appeared on television to discuss the murder of his father: he said he still believed Ferdinand had fired the fatal shot. Macapagal’s campaign distributed black toothbrushes.

While Imelda and the Blue Ladies made the barrio rounds by car and bus, Ferdinand flew around the islands in his private Cessna. He claimed that he piloted the plane himself, although the flying was actually done by a former Philippine Airlines pilot with Senator Almendras as co-pilot.

Cable traffic was thick and fast between Manila and Washington, as America monitored campaign progress. One cable reported that “A late development of some importance involved the reported withdrawal of Iglesia ni Kristo [Church of Christ] support from Marcos because of the unauthorized duty-free importation of campaign materials by the Marcos camp in the name of the religious sect.” Several times, the U.S. Embassy reminded the State Department that there were certain negative aspects to Ferdinand’s career:

Marcos … [is] under heavy fire from the Liberals who are striving hard to demonstrate to the public his alleged unfitness for the Presidency by suggesting that he is guilty of everything from accepting a bribe to murder … Liberal propaganda described Marcos as ruthless, venal, unprincipled, and given to violence … Among the more important charges … are that he accepted a bribe from Harry Stonehill, that he was involved in some questionable land dealings that … dispossessed a number of small farmers … more effective is the whispered warning … that “Marcos is a killer,” a reference to … the … Nalundasan murder.

Washington was watching closely because of growing desperation within the Johnson administration over America’s entanglement in Vietnam. The White House wanted the Philippines to play a public relations role in beefing up Johnson’s image in time for the upcoming U.S. congressional campaign. Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy took the pragmatic point of view that Marcos posed a bit of a problem and that the whole Philippine election was significant only because of Vietnam, as apparent in this classified memo to Secretary of State Dean Rusk:

If Macapagal is re-elected, we can expect him promptly to call a special congressional session to enact the bill to send an engineer task force … to Vietnam. We can also expect … expanded use of U.S. bases and facilities in support of the Vietnam war effort … We are rapidly building up an important U.S. Air Force facility at Mactan Island, Cebu …

If Marcos wins the Presidency, we will first of all have a difficult lame-duck period of some two months before his inauguration … It is unlikely that we could make much progress on aid to Vietnam during that period, although it could be used to bring Marcos … more fully aboard … on this question. Nationalist elements around Marcos … are likely to make a strong bid for influence in the event of his victory. We might therefore have more difficulties than we would with Macapagal on foreign policy. On the other hand, Marcos … might be more dynamic and effective in moving the country forward internally.

Eighteen months of campaigning, a movie, a biography, a Cessna, and countless free meals all cost a great deal of money. The Marcos propaganda budget alone was 3 million pesos, nearly $1 million. One of the most important sources of funds for any candidate was the Chinese business community, as represented by the KMT-dominated Federation of Chinese Chambers of Commerce, set up in 1954 with the help of the CIA’s Lansdale and Taiwan-backed businessmen like Peter Lim. Through his secret Chua clan connections, Ferdinand was in an unusual position to tap into the Federation, headed by a Chua — Santos Chua Haw-ko. But, instead, there was a clash of wills. Santos Chua Haw-ko was a compadre of Macapagal, which put him in a dilemma. He pointed out to Ferdinand that it was well-established precedent for the Federation to support the incumbent president. If the Federation did not support the incumbent, Macapagal could cause serious trouble for the Chinese community while he was still in Malacanang. However, there was a way to get around this and not cause embarrassment to the Federation. Ferdinand could get money from members of the chamber before they put it into the campaign chest.

Ferdinand immediately went to one of his compadres, Ralph Nubia, president of the Chinese Tobacco Association. He could expect cooperation. It was through bills he had authored that fortunes had been made in the tobacco business, both by Stonehill’s associates and by a number of Chinese entrepreneurs loyal to Marcos. Ralph Nubia agreed, and was able to divert to him all the money that the Tobacco Association normally would have subscribed to the Federation’s campaign fund. Nubia went even further by interceding with the Chinese Textile Association to switch its contribution directly to Ferdinand. In return, Ferdinand reportedly saw to it that the Tobacco Association was given a 5 percent cut off import duties on Virginia leaf and, reportedly, that the Textile Association was allowed to import Japanese textiles in violation of tariff restrictions.

The Federation, realizing its mistake in opposing Ferdinand, hastily replaced Santos Chua Haw-ko with Ralph Nubia as president. Thereafter, the presidency rotated between Nubia and members of the Chua clan who were more cooperative toward Ferdinand. Nubia became one of Ferdinand’s most valuable allies. In addition to running the Federation, he became the head of the Philippine Bank of Communications, a branch of Taiwan’s Bank of Communications, which had been under the control of Chiang Kai-shek’s in-laws, the Soongs and Kungs, since the mid-1930s. When Antonio Roxas-Chua wanted to succeed Nubia as president of the Federation, he took the precaution of going up to Ilocos Norte to see Judge Chua in Batac to gain his blessing and intercession with Ferdinand.

Ferdinand also was reported to have received large secret campaign contributions directly from Taiwan and Japan. One of Imelda’s Blue Ladies, Presy Lopez Psinakis, whose uncle was the vice presidential running mate, told of “suitcases full of cash” being delivered to the Marcos home by Chinese businessmen. In Japan, powerful lobbies existed that were tied closely to the anti-Communist regimes of Taiwan, South Korea, South Vietnam, and the Philippines. Sasakawa Ryoichi, the multimillionaire “Class A war criminal” and patron of the Yakuza, headed one of the most dynamic lobbies, anxious to help elect anti-Communists everywhere. Sasakawa was working with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church to set up the Tokyo chapter of the World Anti-Communist League as a funnel for funds. Ferdinand told the U.S. Embassy before the presidential election campaign began that he had just made a “secret trip to Tokyo,” but he did not reveal what business he had transacted. He and Sasakawa boasted of their close friendship over the years and had a number of joint business deals in the works. Just as General MacArthur was able to channel U.S. war reparation funds to his political favorites, Tokyo used its own war reparations to reopen contacts with powerful wartime collaborators in Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. When Manila began negotiations with Tokyo for reparations, Jose Laurel headed the team.

Thanks to his seemingly bottomless resources, Ferdinand won the 1965 presidential campaign by 670,000 votes. The Marcoses entered Malacanang Palace on December 30, 1965, settling in for twenty years. The next morning, before the inauguration ceremonies, there was a private Mass for the family. In his homily, the priest chose as his text the story of a king being told, as the crown was lowered onto his head, that “he had been told the truth for the last time.” It was also the last time the king’s subjects ever heard the truth.

In the inauguration parade, the CIA’s Napoleon Valeriano rode horseback. Vice President Hubert Humphrey represented the White House.

*

The Kennedy era was over in America, but through the Doppler effect it was just beginning in the Philippines. Ferdinand and Imelda did everything they could to make it seem that Camelot was now theirs.

In September 1966, nine months after his inauguration, Ferdinand flew to Washington with Imelda to see President Johnson. In return for promising to back LBJ’s stand in Vietnam, they received millions of dollars in cash from “unvouchered funds.” More important than the cash were credits Johnson made available to them through the State Department, the Pentagon, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.

Americans were already familiar with Ferdinand through the press buildup before his election. One of the first post-election image builders appeared in The New York Times on November 13, 1965, under the headline: “Philippine ‘No. 1’ Ferdinand Edralin Marcos.” The story said that Ferdinand

was “No. 1” to his countrymen long before they voted him into the highest … office … His father, Mariano Marcos, was a well-to-do teacher, lawyer and politician …

As a law student at the University of the Philippines, he won a series of scholarships, debated, became the national small-bore rifle champion and was a member of the boxing, wrestling and swimming teams. In September, 1935 … he became implicated in a murder case that made him a national public figure …

Convicted in a trial that became an issue in national politics, he refused a proffered presidential pardon, scored the top grade on his bar examination while out on bail, and then was acquitted by the Supreme Court after arguing his own appeal before the bench.

When the Japanese invaded … Marcos fought as a guerrilla officer beside American soldiers. He was wounded five times, won 22 American and Philippine medals, was captured and tortured by the Japanese and was commended by Gen. MacArthur for his exploits in the defense of Bataan.

The war cost Lt. Marcos his father, who was bayoneted by the Japanese.

Since The New York Times sets the lead for most North American newspapers, this article was taken as confirmation of these biographical details.

Not all appraisals were so flattering. The November 26, 1965, Life, waxing sweet and sour, said that Marcos “had a kind of all-Filipino-boy air about him, as well as a gorgeous wife who had been Miss Manila of 1954 … Marcos … has a reputation of being both unscrupulous and exceptionally ruthless, and there are those who predict that he will do absolutely nothing about corruption. He is perhaps the only president-elect anywhere to have been convicted of murder …” Then Life went on to repeat the usual record: “When Japan invaded the Philippines, Marcos joined the U.S. Army as a lieutenant, was captured at Bataan, survived the Death March, escaped and then fought the Japanese as a guerrilla until the end of the war. He emerged as a colonel with 27 decorations, including the U.S. Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross, five wounds and the most heroic record of any Filipino fighter.”

Ferdinand’s visit to Washington was of major political value to President Johnson on the eve of the 1966 congressional elections in the United States. Americans were asking why their sons had to die in South Vietnam while few of America’s allies and aid beneficiaries gave more than token support to the war. Johnson wanted to present Ferdinand as a staunch ally from the area of conflict. Filipino officials returned from Washington with glowing reports that development loans from the United States had been “approved in principle,” subject only to President Johnson’s signature.

While the public relations puffery was going on in the American press, there was a hidden agenda for the Philippines. “To LBJ from David Bell, Department of State”:

… the Government of the Philippines has developed, in consultation with JUSMAG … a proposal to provide special military forces to Vietnam. These forces would consist of a 34-man medical and civic action team and a 2,300-man task force composed of an engineering battalion together with security and support units. [But] the Philippine Government cannot provide funds to cover all the costs of these forces for Vietnam. In addition, because these forces are a significant portion of the Philippine armed services, it will be necessary to train and equip replacements for the contingent going to Vietnam: … It is highly desirable that the U.S. financial support not be apparent, to avoid … accusations that the … personnel are U.S. “mercenaries,” … to effectively conceal the U.S. payment … The use of unvouchered funds is considered necessary … The amount involved for Fiscal year 1965 is $4.5 million.

And in a letter dated April 9, 1965, Bell wrote to Kermit Gordon, director, Bureau of Budget:

Attached is a memo … to the President requesting confirmation that he has already approved the use of unvouchered AID funds to meet costs of a Philippine International Military Assistance Force … for Vietnam … In accordance with the sensitivity involved … I can assure you that we have taken appropriate security measures to restrict to as limited a group as possible knowledge of U.S. funding of these particular IMAF costs.

Macapagal had intended to send an engineering battalion of two thousand men to Vietnam to accommodate Johnson. Ferdinand had opposed the idea during the campaign, arguing that the battles Filipinos needed to win were in the Philippines, implying that Macapagal was influenced improperly by American pressure, always an effective charge. After only six weeks in office he reversed himself and dispatched the battalion, alienating Filipino intellectuals who had supported him. As they saw it, their country’s greatest need was a new definition of its Asian identity, yet here was another president catering to a former colonial power. Ferdinand then backpedaled furiously, saying he wanted to rekindle the anti-Communist fervor of his people and to show potential foreign investors that the Philippines was not “turning down a path of sterile nationalism.”

In advance of the Marcos state visit, presidential adviser Walt Ro-stow gave Johnson the following summary:

Marcos Objectives: To highlight his support for our policies in Southeast Asia and to obtain tangible evidence of American support for his leadership and for rapid improvement in the Philippine economy … to advance his country and to overcome criticism of his strongly pro-American leads … To use the Army in rural development projects as the most effective means of … coping with rising popular dissatisfactions … to hold his critics at bay he needs … to bring home some concrete achievements on the veterans’ benefits and claims problem (a hot political issue in Manila) …

Our Objectives: Keep Marcos on our side and help him silence his critics. Keep him and the Philippines cooperative regarding the use of our bases in the Philippines, especially as regards logistic support for Vietnam.

Continue and possibly expand Philippine engagement in Vietnam …

As the Marcos visit to Washington approached, the skids were greased with gifts. Imelda’s brother Kokoy, named special envoy to coordinate the visit, arranged to see LBJ to present him with the head of a wild water buffalo, supposedly shot by Ferdinand himself. Wags in the State Department christened the beast “Nalundasan.” In Manila, other gifts were boxed for shipping: three Philippine hardwood tables, three swivel chairs, and a cabinet. The University of Michigan announced that it was going to give Ferdinand an honorary degree in civil law.

No fewer than ten diplomatic cables dealt with the question of what official gift Johnson should “properly” give Marcos, finally settling on a desk set, a silver cigar box, and a silver picture frame. Then there was the problem of what to inscribe on the cigar box. Researchers came up with the peroration from Ferdinand’s inaugural address: “Come then, let us march together toward the dream of greatness.” The U.S. Embassy nervously cabled: “Possible problem arises from fact that phrase … might well be construed to mean ‘Let the U.S. and the Philippines march together.’” LBJ decided to throw in a set of golf clubs, so the Department of State cabled Manila urgently: “We need President Marcos’ swing weight, flexibility of shaft, height, age, handicap and whether he is right-or left-handed.” Finally, State advised its embassy that the Pentagon was

ready and willing to go ahead with presentation Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star medals on basis that Marcos’ U.S. Army records do not … show he ever received them. However … biographic booklet in official [Philippine] press kit for visit contains picture of Marcos’ medals, including DSC and Silver Star, with the following explanation … QUOTE Leading critical patrol and combat missions in such famed battle areas as Mt. Natib, Mt. Samat and Salian River, he (Marcos) won many citations, including Silver Star medal and US. Distinguished Service Cross, which General Douglas MacArthur himself pinned on. UNQUOTE … Spence biography jacket shows Marcos wearing Silver Star, but not, apparently, DSC.

… You should ask Marcos soonest whether or not he ever received medals and, if not, ascertain his reaction to idea of low key White House presentation on September 14 during afternoon meeting with President Johnson.

Enough questions had been raised in the Philippine press regarding Ferdinand’s war record and his dubious medals during the recent election campaign that no American diplomat or intelligence analyst responsible for the Philippines could claim genuine ignorance. It was a scandal in Manila. The U.S. Embassy reported in June of 1965 that Marcos had been publicly denounced as “ignoble and dangerous,” his “fraudulent war-damage claims” being but one example. Obviously, Ferdinand would deeply appreciate LBJ’s gesture on more than one level.

It was known that President Marcos planned to visit former presidents Truman and Eisenhower, the son of Douglas Mac Arthur, and other prominent Americans in hope of getting them to express support for his claims for veterans’ benefits, and the State Department decided to speak to each of these people ahead of time to “forestall [the] possibility [of] their making statements which he might later use in support of Philippine case on such claims.” This proposed Filipino vet benefits package would cost the United States about $17 million a year. In a memorandum to President Johnson from his adviser Walt Rostow marked “SECRET,” Rostow reminded LBJ about the veterans’ claims issue and remarked, “You are familiar with this one,” indicating that there had already been some internal discussion of the sensitivities involved. Nevertheless, Johnson needed Marcos’s support on Vietnam so badly that any doubts about the legitimacy of his personal claims were set aside.

As the two presidents exchanged greetings on September 14, 1966, Johnson said warmly: “More than anyone here today, Mr. President, you know the price of freedom. You were wounded five times in freedom’s cause; you survived the Bataan Death March and for 2 years led a force of guerrillas with great and legendary courage. You wear two Silver Stars. And you carry the Distinguished Service Cross — one of the highest awards a grateful United States can give its heroes.”

After twenty years of trying and being rebuffed, Ferdinand had finally succeeded in having no less than an American president confirm war claims that U.S. Army investigators had considered “malicious and criminal.” A priceless opportunity existed to capitalize further when he addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress the next day, ending his speech with the following:

I have been hounded by the loud persistent criticisms that I am much too pro-American in my policies. Perhaps I am — emotionally so. For I was one of the many who gambled everything — life, dreams, and honor — on a faith and the vision of America, when all was lost as the Stars and Stripes for the first time in history was trodden to the ground in Asia …

There is no price tag for faith except justice … even the veterans scoff at our own scars in battle. One of these scars I received in trying to save an American comrade …

Yes, my American comrade died in my arms. We were surrounded and we had to break out. He fell and, as he tried to crawl to safety, I returned to him, to fall at his side — Filipino and American blood commingling in Philippine soil.

As I cradled him in my arms to a foxhole, he died with the words: “Tell them back home, you who will live, my only regret in dying is that America has failed us.”

I, the Filipino, assured the American, as if this would assuage his dying, “No, America does not forget and will not fail us.”

With the applause of Congress still ringing happily in their ears, the Marcoses went off to a presidential reception where Imelda, dressed in Texas yellow, fixed LBJ with a starry-eyed gaze, and sang “Because of You” in Tagalog.

Ferdinand went home with more than a new set of golf clubs. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Narciso Ramos (executive director and chief-of-staff of the Maharlika) exchanged diplomatic notes dealing with U.S. bases in the Philippines. Washington agreed to shorten its lease on the bases from the original period of ninety-nine years to twenty-five years. President Johnson signed two bills liberalizing and extending Filipino vet benefits, one providing additional funds for health and education of dependents, another increasing benefit payments to $25 million a year for the next two years. Marcos also received $20 million to equip five new construction battalions to replace the engineers he would send to Vietnam. Another $45 million was committed for programs such as irrigation, rice production, rural electrification, and feeder-road construction; plus additional funds for surveys, feasibility studies, training, and research. The World Bank approved new credit lines to the Philippines. The wishes of Lyndon Johnson heavily influenced the Bank’s decision. Summing up, Finance Secretary Eduardo Romualdez (Imelda’s cousin) said the Philippines could expect $125 million from the United States spread over the next two and a half years.

In return, Ferdinand agreed to push through the bill sending Philippine combat engineers to South Vietnam. The troops, he said, were going in support of a principle. He did not explain what principle, but he added that no price was too high to pay for freedom.

Johnson also persuaded Ferdinand to play host just before the U.S. congressional elections to a Vietnam summit meeting in Manila, including the heads of the seven Pacific nations contributing in one way or the other to the war. Johnson wanted to get away from Washington during the campaign rather than perform the obligatory whistle-stop tours in support of Democratic candidates. With Vietnam an important campaign issue, what better than a “surprise” presidential visit to the troops? But to fly 24,000 miles for two hours on the ground in Vietnam (all that security would permit) was stretching credibility. There had to be some compelling reason to take him across the Pacific so that an “unscheduled” side trip to Cam Ranh Bay would seem natural. Johnson hit on what looked like the perfect maneuver: a visit to the boys in Vietnam, and a summit conference on peace in Manila.

To prepare, Ferdinand released $190,000 to patch Manila’s potholed roads. Hotels and nightclubs indulged in hasty face-lifting. Johnson’s press secretary, Bill Moyers, bustled from airport to embassy to Malacanang Palace making arrangements for everything from protocol dinners to a Lyndon-and-Lady Bird tour of Corregidor. Marcos aides wrote position papers, while Imelda supervised a renovation of the palace. Manila’s pickpockets were rounded up by the police and kept aboard a ship offshore for the duration of the summit.

The Manila Summit was convened for all the wrong reasons, so anything useful coming out of it was bound to be accidental. In the end, the only agreement reached was that all six Pacific nations backing Saigon — America, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, and South Korea — would pull out of South Vietnam six months after peace, whenever that occurred. This gave Johnson a piece of paper he could take home with the signatures of his allies, which he could wave and say: “We have a policy. Here it is. We have unity and understanding and a sense of direction for the future. We have reviewed the war and prepared for peace.” The only sour note was that South Korea’s President Park Chung Hee was outraged at the choice of Manila for the meeting, since six months earlier he had suggested such a conference in Seoul.

While the men talked business, Imelda entertained the ladies. They visited two barrios in Cavite, then toured Taal Volcano. At an old church, she offered Lady Bird a skull and suggested that she might take it home with her.

The last night, Imelda threw a small party at the palace. Three thousand guests saw a procession of decorated barges float along the Pasig River, watched native dances, and wandered under palms and banyan trees illuminated with paper lanterns. President Johnson and all but one of the other leaders appeared in slacks and embroidered white barongs. President Park was alone in wearing a dark business suit.

The heavily publicized Marcos-Johnson rapport of the Washington state visit and the Manila Summit did not last long. It was broken one year later, in December 1967, when the two leaders met again in Australia at the funeral of Prime Minister Harold Holt. By then, LBJ had found Ferdinand too expensive. He sent Filipino troops to Vietnam in a noncombat role, but once Johnson had made his secret bargain and paid his bribe from unvouchered funds, there was no end to the demands Ferdinand made. It was simple extortion. Ferdinand sought — and received — more and more aid under the table, some of which he and Imelda deposited discreetly in Swiss banks, some of which lined the pockets of his friends and cronies, and some of which was used to turn the Philippines into a police state. With Johnson’s help, Ferdinand was able to transform the Philippine armed forces, the Constabulary, the police forces, and the intelligence services into a new centralized command under his personal control. No other Filipino president since Quezon had been able to bring all the security services under his personal authority and simultaneously purge them of factions loyal to other power centers. Johnson made it possible for Ferdinand to remain in Malacanang forever, if he wished.

Even that was not enough. At the Holt funeral, according to William Bundy, President Marcos presented President Johnson with a new shopping list. Johnson hit the roof and warned Bundy: “If you ever bring that son of a bitch within fifty miles of me again, I’ll have your job.”

 

 

 

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