Ferdinand Marcos: The Lost Command
The Lost Command
The Lost Command
AFTER THE NALUNDASAN MURDER conviction was overturned in 1940, the Marcos family was deeply in debt to Jose Laurel. Such a debt could work both ways.
They were now penniless, unable to pay their legal fees to defense attorney Francisco. Ferdinand, Mariano, and Uncle Pio set up a one-room law practice in Manila, a bolthole typical of 1930s detective novels in the Heacock Building on the Escolta, the main street of the financial district. Hanging your shingle on the Escolta signified that you were on your way, or at least that you had bought a ticket, even if you could only afford third class. Several of Ferdinand’s old prisonmates at Bilibad asked him to represent them on appeal, which gave him his first work as a defense attorney, and did his reputation no harm in the Manila underworld.
They tried to capitalize on their endless Ilocano friends and relatives, and the promising new Laurel connection. Like most strong leaders, Laurel had a lot of followers; Ferdinand was not the first in line. But in law and politics there was always somebody’s dirty work to be done. Nearby were the law offices of the most powerful Ilocano politician of the 1930s, President Quezon’s valued and ambitious ally Elpidio Quirino, still only a congressman, and his brother, Tony “the Fixer.” The political boss of Ilocos Sur, Quirino was a lawyer and a legislator who had served at various times as secretary of finance, interior, and foreign affairs and would eventually become president. He neatly dodged charges of corruption by delegating the nightwork to his two brothers. In addition to being the reigning Ilocano warlord, Quirino had married into one of the top Chinese clans, the Syquias, and he was reputed to be the boss of the northern Luzon smuggling networks in partnership with Fukienese triads. The Marcoses became Quirino men.
One of Ferdinand’s uncles was Congressman Narciso Ramos from Pangasinan Province, north of the city, another powerful man in Ilocano circles who had found jobs for hundreds of his followers in the civil service and in all ranks of the Constabulary, which had become almost a Ramos preserve. There were many transplanted Ilocanos in Pangasinan and in neighboring Tarlac Province who had fled the wasteland of the Ilocos for the farmlands of central Luzon, not to be farmers but to find jobs as chauffeurs or enforcers with the landlords. Many of them became members of Ilocano black-market syndicates operating in and around Manila. They were in competition with similar syndicates run by other tribal groups based in Batangas or in Cavite, or in Chinatown, all of them providing the grease for Manila’s gears. Through Ramos, Laurel, and Quirino, the Marcoses stood a fair chance of becoming part of these mutual aid societies, and rescuing themselves from poverty.
But they had little time to cultivate these connections. On the eve of World War II, Manila was tense. Centerstage was taken up entirely by President Quezon’s new field marshal, Douglas MacArthur.
Back in the autumn of 1934, worried about Japan’s long-range plans, Quezon had gone to Washington to ask for the services of General MacArthur, who was about to be retired after serving as U.S. Army chief of staff. President Roosevelt, the New Deal Democrat, was only too glad to be rid of MacArthur, a saber-rattling Republican with monumental ambitions. For Douglas MacArthur, Manila was a tempting post: his father, General Arthur MacArthur, had been the military governor of the Philippines at the turn of the century. As a young officer, Douglas had served in the islands, and he had returned as a general to command the U.S. Army garrison in Manila, becoming an admirer of Quezon. In Washington as chief of staff, MacArthur had found his ambitions thwarted by growing ranks of adversaries. He was anxious to get away from the poisonous atmosphere of Washington and to make the Philippines his base for a new career, one that might lead eventually to the White House.
As a West Point graduate and a patrician, MacArthur identified with the Filipino oligarchy, shared their prejudices, and was determined to become one of them. He saw himself as America’s proconsul in the islands, which was a decided improvement over the obscurity of retirement in the United States.
The current governor-general was Frank Murphy, a liberal and a pacifist. MacArthur despised liberals, pacifists, and Murphy in particular. He wanted the post of governor-general for himself. When Roosevelt refused to oblige, MacArthur persuaded Quezon to create the title of field marshal of the Philippines. At Quezon’s urging he designed his own uniform — black trousers, white tunic, and a braided cap, the whole costume spangled with medals, stars, and gold cord like a matador’s suit-of-lights. At ceremonies in Malacanang Palace, First Lady Aurora Quezon presented him, appropriately, with a proconsul’s gold baton. On top of his ongoing U.S. salary as a major general, MacArthur was to receive $33,000 a year from the commonwealth, plus lavish imperial perks. Through Quezon’s initiative, he was inducted into Manila’s most exclusive clubs, including the president’s own coven of the Freemasons, became a director of the resplendent Manila Hotel, one of the all-time great watering holes, and was given opportunities to acquire shares in gold mines and valuable property along Manila Bay. Since Governor-General Murphy, the pacifist, occupied Malacanang Palace, Quezon built his field marshal a luxurious penthouse atop the Manila Hotel, overlooking the swimming pool and the magnificent bay, with its lush sunsets over Bataan. MacArthur conducted much of his business on its terrace. When Mrs. MacArthur gave birth to their only child, a son, the godparents were Manuel and Aurora Quezon, which made the field marshal and the president compadres.
MacArthur’s theatrical posturing impressed many Filipinos. He looked like the doorman to Quezon’s New Age. As MacArthur became increasingly absorbed with the better things in life, defense was neglected. MacArthur’s twenty-two thousand American soldiers had begun to go soft, and his commonwealth army of eight thousand Filipinos received only cursory training. Morale was low; Filipino soldiers were paid $7 a month compared to $30 for Americans. Preparedness was solely MacArthur’s responsibility, although Washington was also to blame; much of the ammunition provided by the United States were duds. Admiral Tom Hart, MacArthur’s naval counterpart, commanded an outmoded force of only three cruisers, thirteen destroyers, eighteen submarines, and half a dozen PT boats. The air corps was in worse shape. In the six years prior to Pearl Harbor, little was done to improve the situation.
While Quezon courted Americans, Tokyo wooed Filipinos. Japanese diplomats and businessmen spent large sums on gifts and entertainment, and created dummy corporations to be headed by famous Filipinos. Ferdinand’s patron, Jose Laurel, was only one of many retained to lobby for Japanese interests.
By midsummer 1941, war with Japan was inevitable. Roosevelt had blocked Tokyo from access to oil in the Dutch East Indies, and on July 26 he ordered all Japanese assets in the United States frozen and the Panama Canal closed to Japanese shipping. At the same time, American and Filipino forces were merged, making Filipino soldiers members of the U.S. Army, which theoretically entitled them all to GI benefits and U.S. citizenship. MacArthur was reappointed a U.S. Army general. He shed the field marshal’s uniform, but kept its gold-encrusted hat, which became — along with his corncob pipe and aviator’s sunglasses — part of his carefully considered wartime image. It was time to dust off Plan Orange, America’s defense strategy for the Philippines.
The dust was thick. Plan Orange was first drawn up during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. It called for American and Filipino soldiers to fight a holding action on Bataan Peninsula till the Great White Fleet arrived with reinforcements and fresh supplies. But Plan Orange was designed for a war between America and Japan, not a global conflict. Now Europe was already at war, and London was more important than Manila. A new British-American strategy called Rainbow Five was drafted secretly in the fall of 1940. If America came into the war against the Axis, the Allies agreed to attend to Europe first. Asia would be limited to delaying actions. Not until October 1941, two months before Pearl Harbor, did Washington realize that MacArthur had never seen Rainbow Five.
The Allies were confident that Japan would not attack before spring 1942. Plan Orange was reviewed, but left basically unchanged. When the Japanese invaded, MacArthur was to block them on the beach or withdraw to Bataan to await reinforcement. MacArthur was supremely confident that he could stop them at the beach. When the invasion came on December 22, 1941, two weeks after Pearl Harbor, nobody was prepared, or alert. While MacArthur brooded about what to do, his air force was caught on the ground and destroyed. From a beachhead on Lingayen Gulf, General Homma Masaharu pushed quickly south toward Manila. Major General Jonathan Wainwright’s forces were all that stood in the way. Unable to operate their old Enfield rifles properly, his men broke and ran, leaving their artillery unprotected. Wainwright asked MacArthur for permission to withdraw toward Bataan. Everything was going according to Plan Orange, but no comfort was to be gained from that. MacArthur had made no serious preparations in Bataan. Under his own plan to block the Japanese at the beaches, supplies and equipment were moved to forward areas facing the beaches instead of to Bataan as specified by Plan Orange. Most of these supplies were lost. By the end of their first week in Bataan, the defenders were already on half rations. The 26th Cavalry eventually had to shoot and eat their horses.
As darkness fell on Christmas Eve 1941, the general and his staff escaped from Manila by boat to the fortified island of Corregidor at the mouth of the bay. Nine days later the Japanese Army entered the city.
There was never any question that Ferdinand Marcos served on the U.S. side in the early days of the war, but after that his tales of heroic exploits as a guerrilla leader were completely at odds with the facts. Many people suspected this over the years, but his war records vanished mysteriously from the U.S. archives sometime during the 1950s. Thirty years later, in 1985, they reappeared, revealing bits and pieces of a surprisingly different story — one with large gaps and question marks.
A month before Pearl Harbor, as a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps graduate, Ferdinand was called into the army as a third lieutenant. When the Japanese invaded, he was assigned to General Mateo Capinpin’s 21st Philippine Division, one of the elements pushed back into Bataan where it was to support General Wainwright’s main force.
By pulling strings while everything still looked easy, Ferdinand and some college friends, including Primitivo San Augustin, wangled vague assignments in “intelligence” under General Capinpin’s G-2. As defenses collapsed, telegraph lines were down and communication became difficult. Ferdinand was the only subordinate on the G-2 staff who had a car handy, a battered Oldsmobile sedan. He volunteered to “reconnoiter Japanese progress,” got back into civilian clothes, and drove around Pangasinan and Tarlac provinces with some Ilocano pals. There was chaos as people fled. Finding stores deserted or unguarded, they loaded the Olds with canned goods, rice, sugar, and clothing, making repeated trips. Pangasinan was the constituency of his uncle, Congressman Ramos, so these operations may have been more methodical than Ferdinand let on. They were, in short, looting. It might be argued that if they did not loot, the Japanese would, and meantime General Capinpin could get along without him.
The invasion had panicked shopkeepers, and liberated a lot of suppressed bitterness, greed, and vengeance. Most of the businesses and homes looted at the end of December and the beginning of January belonged to Chinese, who controlled 80 percent of trade in the islands, which galled many ethnic Filipinos. Ferdinand was always ambivalent about his Chinese ties; if they were not Chuas, it was open season. Even certain Chuas were fair game. Next, the Chinese had to face the Kempeitei. Japan and China had been at war since 1933, and once in Manila the secret police wasted no time rounding up and executing Chiang Kai-shek’s consul general, his staff, and other prominent members of the Chinese community who were active supporters of the Kuomintang. Supporters of Mao Tse-tung were also arrested and executed. With the help of wealthy Chinese collaborators, a new pro-Japanese chamber of commerce was set up.
The brutality of the Japanese Imperial Army was to be expected, but Filipinos were killing each other instead of Japanese. Murders were committed to settle old scores, or as part of rape or armed robbery. While Ferdinand and his friends were “engaged in a delaying action” in Tarlac, they snared Calixto Aguinaldo, the chief witness against him in the Nalundasan case. They claimed they caught the meek little man looting a bank. Calixto’s prospects at that point were not worth a bent centavo, but Ferdinand insisted that he spared Aguinaldo’s life and that he was slain by guerrillas on some other occasion for having dealings with the enemy. Applying the Marcos Axiom — everything said is the opposite of the facts — one wonders.
One day early in January, while they were still driving around “reconnoitering Japanese progress,” Ferdinand said he and his six pals were captured and put to work as handymen and houseboys for the Japanese. (There are some clues later that the Japanese in question were senior officers in the Kempeitei, and that Ferdinand’s presence may not have been entirely innocent.) He and two others then escaped, but the other four were killed. In a different version of the same episode, Ferdinand said he “volunteered to be captured by the Japs, posing as a houseboy, then made his escape back to our lines with information as to the enemy’s number and location”!
Back again with Capinpin’s division in Bataan, Ferdinand’s idea of “good intelligence work,” according to what he told biographer Spence, “was to find a weakness in his own lines and then personally to organize a defense, holding the position himself … His patrols functioned as miniature armies …”
So here we have the two contradictory versions: Marcos as one-man army, and Marcos as looter and scrounger (and possible double agent). The version related to Spence — Marcos as one-man army — was accepted by many as fact.
“Marcos required only a few weeks to become a hero,” Time Magazine reported in a 1966 cover story relying on the Spence book.
His idea of intelligence duty was to prowl behind the Japanese lines often in his personal Oldsmobile sedan probing for weak spots. He found one on Bataan’s Mount Natib, a Japanese military battery that was lobbing 70mm shells into U.S. General Jonathan Wainwright’s beleaguered defenders. Marcos and three privates scouted the battery, trailing two near dead Japanese artillerymen to it, then cut loose. They killed more than 50 Japanese, spiked the guns and escaped with only one casualty. Marcos won the first of a brace of Silver Stars for the operation, and a few weeks later was recommended for the U.S. Medal of Honor for his part in the Defense of the Salian River. But the recommendation was never filed with Washington, and Marcos failed in becoming the only Filipino to win America’s highest military award.
Ferdinand’s war stories should never have been taken seriously. Some are just yarn spinning of the Colonel Blimp tradition, some are militarily illogical, while others collapse on close scrutiny — the dates are wrong, he really was not there at the time, some other person did it, or eyewitnesses say nothing of the sort happened. The more people believed him, the wilder his inventions became. Eventually, he was able to claim that because of these many feats he was one of the most heavily decorated heroes of World War II. Going unchallenged, the assertion gained a life of its own and crossed the fine line between hyperbole and methodical fraud. Long after the war was over, this legend drew international attention to him, attracted sensational press coverage, and snowballed into popular American support.
On Bataan, most people were too busy fighting for their lives to notice the glaring inconsistencies that would emerge twenty years later. Consider just the high points of January 1942 alone: After the better part of a week liberating other people’s property, then escaping from work as a Japanese houseboy, Ferdinand had scarcely returned to duty with General Capinpin when, “patrolling several miles behind Japanese lines,” he was hit by sniper fire in the hip. Unable to move, he ordered his men to return without him. “He then tried to crawl,” says Spence, “but when he did so he felt the bullet grating on his hip bone. With the Japanese only five hundred yards away, he cut out the bullet with his knife, then dragged, weak and bleeding, several miles to his own lines.”
Although this painful wound had prevented him from walking, Ferdinand gamely went back on patrol several days later, on January 16, this time a few miles behind his own lines. According to a postwar affidavit supporting the award of a U.S. Silver Star, he earned the medal in action that day at Guitol, in Bataan. “[Marcos] with three men attacked and dislodged a greatly superior enemy force which had captured the outpost and machine gun emplacements of the 21st Division.” (The history of the 21st Division states that Lieutenant Marcos was nowhere near Guitol that day because he was assigned elsewhere to guide a regiment to the front. It says nothing about Marcos earning a Silver Star.)
Two days later, eight miles west, he supposedly stormed the Japanese heavy mortars on Mount Natib, earning him the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross and the eventual approbation of Time. According to Spence, at 25 yards Marcos “knocked off its commander with a rifle shot.” When two Japanese with machine guns appeared, “Ferdinand destroyed them.” He then finished off the ammunition carriers. His patrol killed more than fifty men, including eight officers, and pushed the mortars off the cliff.
Unaccustomed to idleness, that same afternoon Ferdinand and his patrol set out again. But they were tired and grew careless, so they were captured, taken to a Japanese command post, and tortured. “Finally,” says Spence, “exhausted from torture, they were tied and left on the ground with a guard of two soldiers. In the night, Ferdinand chafed free from his bonds, slit the throats of the guards, released his companions, and led them to safety …” These repeated escapes from the Japanese are extraordinary, one might even say peculiar, and the stuff of which legends are made. They all happened during the first few days of the war.
On January 20, Ferdinand carried out the operation that supposedly inspired General Capinpin to recommend him for the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor. He rallied a group of one hundred stragglers to block a Japanese offensive, enabling U.S. forces to withdraw to a new defensive line. His daring included “a suicidal charge against overwhelming enemy forces” at the junction of the Salian and Abo Abo rivers. No other soldier was doing anything comparable. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, Ferdinand was everywhere at once.
Spence quotes General MacArthur as saying that “without Ferdinand’s exploits, Bataan would have fallen three months earlier.” Unfortunately, this quote cannot be authenticated. Neither in MacArthur’s Reminiscences nor in William Manchester’s biography is there any mention of Ferdinand Marcos. In the official history, Fall of the Philippines, no acknowledgment is made of Ferdinand’s exploits delaying the fall of Bataan by even an hour.
Nevertheless, Spence and other Marcos biographers claim that General Capinpin spoke to General Wainwright, who immediately promoted Marcos three grades to captain by telephone from Corregidor, and directed that papers be prepared recommending him for the Medal of Honor. A postwar Filipino chronicler explained that due to confusion during the fall of Bataan, the papers prepared by Capinpin were lost. It is only a very small point that Wainwright did not move to Corregidor for another month or that a member of the decorations board appointed by Wainwright, Colonel John Vance, later said: “We never saw anything about Marcos.”
After the war, General Capinpin’s missing recommendation was reconstructed by a former member of his headquarters’ staff, Colonel Aurelio Lucero, at the specific request of Ferdinand Marcos, by then a powerful politician. Lucero stated that everything happened exactly as Marcos said. It is puzzling why an affidavit was not obtained directly from General Capinpin or General Wainwright, who were both still around. Only in October 1958, when both Capinpin and Wainwright were dead, did the Philippine Army award Ferdinand the Philippine Medal of Valor in place of the U.S. Medal of Honor. By then, he was a leading senator with influence over the military budget and his eyes on Malacanang Palace. (When Imelda had the Marcos birthplace in Sarrat rebuilt as a museum for his memorabilia, the centerpiece was a figure of Ferdinand in uniform wearing a chestful of Filipino and American medals. An observant journalist attending the opening noticed that around the neck of the mannikin was the U.S. Medal of Honor with its conspicuous blue ribbon, and turned to ask President Marcos if indeed that had been among his awards. The president scowled angrily and ordered an aide to remove the medal immediately.)
As the situation in Bataan grew desperate, the convoy of U.S. troop reinforcements and relief supplies called for in Plan Orange crawled slowly across the Pacific, only to be recalled by Roosevelt. The men and materiel were more urgently needed in Europe. President Quezon complained bitterly to MacArthur’s aide, Charles Willoughby, that “America writhes in anguish at the fate of a distant cousin, Europe, while a daughter, the Philippines, is being raped in the back room.” Quezon cabled Roosevelt that “after nine weeks of fighting not even a small amount of aid has reached us from the United States … While perfectly safe itself, the United States has practically doomed the Philippines to almost total extinction to secure a breathing space.” While this was starkly apparent to Quezon in Corregidor, it was not evident to Filipinos in general or to Wainwright’s doomed men.
During the entire struggle on Bataan, MacArthur never went anywhere near the front, relying on staff officers to keep him informed. On January 9, 1942, he boarded a PT boat in Corregidor and made his first and only visit to the peninsula, remaining as far as possible from the enemy.
It would have been a demoralizing situation for any commander. MacArthur had allowed his air force to be crippled on the first day of the war. His grandiose defense plan had resulted in near disaster and the starvation of the Bataan forces. His grandiloquent pronouncements and his refusal to visit the front demoralized his men, who made up a contemptuous ditty:
Dugout Doug’s not timid, he’s just cautious, not afraid;
He’s protecting carefully the stars that Franklin made.
That February, Corregidor’s defenders were treated to some curious sights. The gold reserves of the Philippine treasury had been transferred hastily to the island fortress, accompanied by all the gold bullion stockpiled against market fluctuations by the Benguet mines, the second-largest gold producer in U.S. territory, of which MacArthur was a prominent stockholder. President Quezon then issued an executive order commending General MacArthur and his staff for “their magnificent defense” of the islands and giving them “recompense and reward” of $500,000 to MacArthur and separate gifts of less than $100,000 to each of three aides — totalling $640,000 in American currency. MacArthur and his aides, curiously, were given Philippine currency to hold until the American currency could be transferred into their bank accounts from the Philippine government account in the United States. (This extraordinary reward, which President Roosevelt knew about, and apparently chose not to block, was successfully kept secret till it was discovered in 1979 by historian Carol Petillo.) No explanation was offered, but some historians including Petillo have since speculated that MacArthur had lost his nerve, or was in danger of losing it, and Quezon chose this method to restore his resolve. More than one scholar has labeled this an outright bribe; but at the very least, MacArthur violated U.S. military regulations by accepting it.
Dwight Eisenhower, who had worked closely with MacArthur in the Philippines in the 1930s, wrote in his diary in January 1942 that MacArthur was “as big a baby as ever. But we’ve got to keep him fighting.” On February 3, 1942, Eisenhower wrote again that it “looks like MacArthur is losing his nerve.”
Historian Ronald Spector concluded, “At this point, MacArthur might justifiably have been relieved.” Australian historian Gavin Long observed, “MacArthur’s leadership in the Philippines had fallen short of what might have been expected from a soldier of such wide experience.”
Instead of being relieved, MacArthur became a hero and a legend in America. Fed concoctions by MacArthur’s clever public relations staff, the U.S. press published breathless accounts of the exploits of “The Lion of Luzon.” Walter Lippmann wrote of his “vast and profound conceptions.” He was named “Number One Father of 1942.” President Roosevelt awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor for “the heroic conduct of defensive and offensive operations on the Bataan Peninsula.” Of the 142 communiqués released by his headquarters in the first months of the war, 109 mentioned only one individual, MacArthur, while omitting the names of combat units, commanders, and individuals who had performed exceptional exploits. Eisenhower observed, “The public has built itself a hero out of its own imagination.” Roosevelt needed a hero. It was General Marshall and FDR who conceived the scheme to award MacArthur the Medal of Honor, and to rescue the false hero from his doomed command and have him take charge of a new American force in Australia.
At MacArthur’s orders, a U.S. submarine was then loaded with 20 tons of gold “as ballast” and sailed for Australia. It has never been clear whether this was Filipino government gold or private stock, but it matters little. Manuel Roxas, the wealthy brahmin MacArthur and Quezon were grooming to succeed Quezon one day as president, was left in charge of sinking the remaining gold reserves in Manila Bay to keep them from falling into Japanese hands, before making his own escape from the Rock. On March 11, MacArthur and his inner circle left Corregidor by PT boat for the Del Monte pineapple plantation in Mindanao, and from its airstrip flew on to Australia. With him went the ailing Quezon and Vice-President Osmeña. Roosevelt was determined to maintain them as the legitimate Philippine government-in-exile.
For the American and Filipino soldiers remaining in Bataan, food rather than gold became an obsession. Front-line troops received only a third of a ration a day and were starving. In Bataan, the exhausted Americans and Filipinos grumbled bitterly. General William Brougher, commanding the 11th Division, wrote, “Who had the right to say that 20,000 Americans should be sentenced without their consent and for no fault of their own to an enterprise that would involve for them endless suffering, cruel handicap, death or a hopeless future? A foul trick of deception has been played by a commander in chief and small staff who are now eating steak and eggs in Australia. God damn them!”
“Corregidor surrendered last night,” Eisenhower recorded in his diary. “Poor Wainwright! He did the fighting in the Philippine Islands. Another got such glory as the public could find in the operation.” At the end of the war, Harold Ickes concluded, “Blame is due to Roosevelt … [He] should have left MacArthur to clean up his own mess and taken Wainwright out. Truman agreed, saying that Wainwright was a better soldier. He knows, as do others, that the Philippine campaign under MacArthur was a fiasco.”
Tokyo was not happy that General Homma had allowed the defenders to retreat to Bataan. A special task force headed by the ruthless Colonel Tsuji Masanobu flew down to take matters into their own hands. Estimating that he would capture twenty-five thousand men in Bataan, General Homma turned over all logistics to his transportation officer, Major General Kawane Yoshikata. Homma was so preoccupied mounting his assault on Corregidor that it was two months before he learned that more Filipinos and Americans had died on their way to the POW camps than on the battlefield. As many as ten thousand perished during the Death March to Camp O’Donnell, from malaria, starvation, beatings, or execution. Two thousand were Americans, the great majority Filipinos.
Ferdinand was somewhere among these POWs, although he gave conflicting explanations of how he got to Camp O’Donnell. By one account, he and three companions fled to the north but were captured. In another version, he was wounded by shrapnel and rifle fire, was unable to flee north, and began the Death March “half dead already.”
While he was at Camp O’Donnell he ran into his old school chum, Primitivo San Augustin. San Augustin and some comrades planned to escape, make their way to a fishing schooner moored in Tayabas Bay southeast of Manila, and sail to Australia to join MacArthur. Sure enough, a few days later San Augustin made good his escape and headed for the wilds of Mount Banahaw, overlooking Tayabas Bay, where he found other men hiding. Instead of leaving for Australia, he and a comrade-in-arms, Vicente Umali, organized these men into a guerrilla force named President Quezon’s Own Guerrillas (PQOG).
Ferdinand did not take part in this escape. His situation at Camp O’Donnell, and his relationship with the Japanese, had become too complex.
Once fighting in Bataan ended in the summer of 1942, the Japanese began freeing Filipino prisoners with severe health problems and those whose families cooperated. The names of sick prisoners were published as they were released. Ferdinand was not among those named. According to him, he was released on August 4, 1942. He said his mother bribed the Japanese and he was summoned to camp headquarters. There an officer in civilian clothes who spoke idiomatic English with an American accent told him, “There are no strings. You may go home if you wish.” Josefa met him inside the gate with clean clothing, and they were given railway tickets to Manila. Since he was not among the ill, could he, perhaps, have been among those who cooperated?
Josefa told him that Mariano was under house arrest in Batac “for refusal to join the Japanese civilian government in Ilocos Norte.” According to a U.S. intelligence report, Mariano Marcos was not under house arrest. In fact, he had taken part in a welcoming ceremony for the Japanese in Laoag early in 1942, long before Ferdinand was captured. Then — while Ferdinand was in Camp O’Donnell — Mariano spoke at a pro-Japanese rally in Batac. After being unemployed for nearly a decade, Mariano had finally found a full-time job. For the rest of the war, he was a propagandist for the Japanese in northern Luzon, making speeches from village to village, protected at all times by a bodyguard of Japanese soldiers. Near the end of the war, Mariano himself admitted that “he had been recommended to the Japanese … by his son,” Ferdinand. (Although the dates are not certain, it appears that Ferdinand made this recommendation in January 1942 when he said he was a houseboy for Japanese officers.)
No sooner did Ferdinand arrive at Josefa’s house than the smooth-talking Japanese agent sent a car to take him to Fort Santiago, Manila headquarters of the Kempeitei. The urbane Japanese was a colonel in the secret police. There, at Fort Santiago, Ferdinand claimed he was “subjected for eight days to the most incredible forms of human torture” to make him reveal what he knew about the plans of “some guerrillas” to flee by boat to join MacArthur in Australia. He said he was given the dreaded water torture, in which water was forced down his throat and the Japanese jumped on his bloated stomach. He was, he said, bludgeoned in the face repeatedly with a rifle butt — blows that ordinarily fracture cheekbones, split skin, and remove front teeth. Ferdinand survived without a trace. People who saw him several days later remarked only that he was down with a fever and fatigue.
According to a secret report prepared for MacArthur by one of his top agents, Jesus A. Villamor, “It is a known fact that almost every person who has been confined in Fort Santiago has been asked by the Japanese to act as informers for them. Acceptance of the offer means release from confinement; refusal represents prolonged confinement, torture or death. It is obvious that the majority will accept the offer.”
Men who were prisoners at Fort Santiago insist that Ferdinand was never jailed there. After the war they refused to give him membership in their veterans association. Official Japanese records do not list him as a prisoner in Fort Santiago. It is probable, then, that he was not taken there as a prisoner.
After this extraordinary torture, Ferdinand said he agreed to guide the Kempeitei to San Augustin’s escape boat. He then led truckloads of Japanese troops to the base of Mount Banahaw, where they were ambushed by the PQOG. Ferdinand said the ambush was set up “by prior arrangement,” although how this could have been done while he was a guest of the Kempeitei is unclear. He said he saved himself by shouting in Tagalog that he was a friend. This would hardly have been necessary if the guerrillas had been expecting them.
San Augustin took Ferdinand to his guerrilla camp, where he was bedridden with a mysterious fever and stomach pains for five months, until December 1942. “The torture had almost killed him,” says Spence, “and he mended slowly.” It is likely that these symptoms and his other long periods of illness during the war were not caused by malaria or torture, but signaled the onset of lupus, the degenerative disease that ultimately broke his health. Lupus often strikes people first in their twenties and then goes into remission for long periods, making it difficult to diagnose. Its symptoms can be confused with other ailments, such as Blackwater fever, and it can respond superficially to the same treatments given for malaria.
At a moment when everyone around him on Mount Banahaw was engaged in high adventure, plotting ambushes, assassinations, secret missions, and intrigue, cleaning rifles and machine guns, and sharing in the camaraderie of a resistance movement, Ferdinand once again was unable to participate. Lying on his pallet, his imagination working overtime, he invented a starring role for himself. Later he insisted that San Augustin begged him “to guide both staff and combat echelons [of the PQOG], and [he] was offered the rank of general, which he refused.”
This moment was a major turning point for Ferdinand Marcos. In childhood and adolescence he had merely exaggerated, boasting of being the class valedictorian and the best marksman, claiming that Mariano was a provincial governor and a rich man with a great hacienda and thousands of special cattle. He changed reality into something more glamorous. His life had been deformed by the circumstances of his birth. His real father was an elusive and remote figure; a potent and successful man, but whose power and influence were discreetly hidden. Compared with Judge Chua, Mariano Marcos was a failure. This created a situation common in folk tales the world over, from Snorri Sturlason to the Brothers Grimm, from the operas of Wagner to the operas of Peking: the legend of the dark prince born in a stable whose real father is a great god or a mighty emperor. Unable to disclose the identity of his true father, Ferdinand boasted of being a direct descendant of the pirate Li Ma-hong. He was intensely superstitious. The movie he commissioned before running for president the first time in 1965 was titled Marked by Fate, and the campaign biography written by Benjamin Gray for his second presidential campaign in 1969 was called Rendezvous with Destiny, both revealing his preoccupation with supernatural origins. He had Imelda commission ornate doors in Malacanang Palace depicting the legendary first Filipino man and woman: Malakas (strong) and Maganda (beautiful) who both emerged like sperm from a bamboo stalk.
Although the life Ferdinand invented was full of heroic deeds, he was not audacious or physically brave, but furtive and indirect, the result not of cowardice but of cunning. (There are certain episodes that demonstrate fatalism rather than personal courage, particularly the final moments in Malacanang before his downfall.) In Asia, cunning is valued infinitely more than courage, and confrontation is positively discouraged. The sages contend that bravery is the height of folly if it results in failure or the destruction of family, community, or nation.
Investigators who studied Ferdinand’s claims and affidavits in detail were uncertain where he found his inspiration, especially for the wartime heroics. Ferdinand himself would never discuss the subject except to condemn anyone who challenged his version of events.
The inspiration was Primitivo San Augustin. He was the unwitting prototype for the legend that paved Ferdinand’s path to power. Ferdinand idolized him. In college and afterwards, he dogged his hero’s heels. San Augustin was one of those fortunate souls who do everything well, and never hesitate. He had longstanding ties to the Quezons and was linked romantically to the president’s daughter, Baby Quezon. (Ferdinand ungallantly claimed years later that it was he who had been her favorite.) San Augustin seemed destined for greatness until his fantastic luck ended suddenly one day after the war, on a car trip with Aurora and Baby Quezon. Driving along a lonely road, they were all slain in an ambush. The ambush was attributed as a matter of course to the Communists, often a dead giveaway that the victim was done in by political rivals. Once Ferdinand’s role model was dead, he helped himself unabashedly to whole segments of San Augustin’s history.
The parallels are instructive. San Augustin had been a legitimate war hero in Bataan. His field promotion to major had come honorably. He had escaped dramatically from POW camp, started his own guerrilla force, and organized a network of spies and saboteurs that ranged all over central and southern Luzon (exactly what Ferdinand would later claim). He was one of only a bare handful of Filipinos in the resistance who were eventually considered so important as secret agents that they were given codenames by MacArthur’s command. Why, then, did he not take Ferdinand as a senior partner in his guerrilla unit, his corps of spies, and later his direct pipeline to MacArthur? Why did Ferdinand find it necessary to invent his own identical secret organization and pretend to be all the things San Augustin was? The answer appears to be inescapable: San Augustin, who knew him well, did not trust him. Ferdinand did not completely invent his own secret command; he merely created a more glamorous identity for an organization already in existence. This was the Ilocano black market syndicate identified on the eve of the war with the powerful Quirino brothers, a fraternity of political operators, shady entrepreneurs, and Constabulary officers on the fringe of the Manila underworld, typical of cities everywhere, which the French in Marseilles call “the milieu.” In the 1930s, Ferdinand’s father and uncle had been vaguely associated with this syndicate as legal functionaries doing errands for the Quirinos, and Ferdinand had come to be associated with it since he was freed from his murder conviction by Justice Laurel. What it needed was a romantic name and a proud commission. During his months of recuperation on Mount Banahaw, and with a little inspiration from the example of San Augustin and the PQOG, Ferdinand dreamed up both.
When he recovered enough to return to Manila, early in 1943, Ferdinand decided to call “his” secret organization Ang Mga Maharlika (Noble Studs). Even the name was second-hand. The original Maharlika had been organized by one of his friends, Cipriano Alles, in August 1942, the month Ferdinand was freed from POW camp, said he was tortured, and fell among the PQOG on Mount Banahaw. Cipriano’s Maharlika was briefly given official U.S. recognition as an intelligence-gathering unit. But early in 1943 Alles was captured and his unit fell apart.
Ferdinand claimed to have enlisted spies, saboteurs, and assassins throughout Manila and across several provinces, especially in his old haunt of Pangasinan. In fact, documents show that many of the men closely identified with Ferdinand and his Maharlika were forgers, pickpockets, gunmen, and racketeers. Others were part of an Ilocano black-market syndicate engaging in extortion, theft, smuggling, profiteering, and occasional atrocities. There has never been any concrete evidence that these men were united in anything but a common interest in the black market. So, instead of being a new secret organization, Maharlika was simply a name Ferdinand gave to a loosely strung network of his friends and relatives that was already in existence before the war.
In a perverse way, it was a stroke of genius. Although Ferdinand was never able to gain official U.S. military recognition for his Maharlika, by giving them a name and an identity he transformed these shadowy syndicates into the beginnings of a consolidated political machine. Before the war was over, the struggle to gain control of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan, and vital parts of the economy in central and northern Luzon was being waged not by gangs of faceless cutthroats but by an integrated organization with a glamorous identity. When the war ended, it was only a matter of the right public relations to turn the Maharlika into a political vehicle, one that Ferdinand could ride into Congress, even into Malacanang.
He did not have to look far for his constituency. In time, the Philippine resistance movement would become, like its counterparts in Greece and Yugoslavia, one of the big romantic themes of World War II; when the Allies returned in force in October 1944, they would be supported by 250,000 guerrillas. In the north, around the Ilocos and in the mountain provinces, a large guerrilla force developed known as the U.S. Army Forces in the Philippines, Northern Luzon (USAFIP, NL), organized by Colonel Russell W. Volckmann, a U.S. Army regular who disobeyed MacArthur’s orders to surrender and took to the hills. Volckmann’s USAFIP grew to five infantry regiments. In central Luzon, where landlords traditionally employed mercenary armies to keep tenant farmers in line, angry peasants formed the Communist Hukbalahap, an anti-Japanese guerrilla army that also assassinated landlords who collaborated with the Japanese. While most guerrillas avoided contact with the enemy, following MacArthur’s orders to await his return, the Huks sought out the Japanese and their Filipino supporters at every opportunity. They were so effective that they took control of the central provinces, introducing reforms that farmers had been seeking fruitlessly for decades.
But there were other groups that had no interest in fighting or reform. The situation in Luzon was ripe for exploitation. The economy was in shambles, crops were seized, and starvation confronted everyone. Gangs calling themselves guerrillas terrorized the countryside. Old feuds between rival clans and political factions were settled at gunpoint. Currency became useless, homes, factories, and warehouses were abandoned, and desperate civilians bought food and commodities on the black market with payment in gemstones and scraps of gold. Gangs who had something to sell to the occupation forces made fortunes. The Japanese needed steel cables and copper wiring, which could be stolen. These gangs looted buildings, expropriated food, destroyed property, and bullied whoever got in their way. Some of them were called “Escolta Guerrillas” because they were led by shady lawyers with offices on the Escolta, who claimed to be members of the resistance, but sought only to make fortunes on the black market.
When Cipriano Alles was released from prison during the general amnesty of October 1943, he joined Ferdinand’s Maharlika, and the two worked together for the rest of the war. Cipriano had hardened in prison and now was considered “the worst perpetrator of scrap metal deals in the black market.” (Whether this was bad or good depended on your station in life: Sergio Osmeña, Jr., the son of the vice-president-in-exile, also was said to have made a fortune selling scrap metal to the Japanese, but the charge had little impact on his political career.) Cipriano’s black-market broker was identified in intelligence reports as none other than Ferdinand Marcos. U.S. Army investigators after the war found evidence that “the other Maharlika [Ferdinand’s] was a buy and sell organization,” not a fighting unit. Legitimate guerrillas reported hearing that Alles and Marcos were “engaged in buy-and-sell activities … in the province of Pangasinan.” It was a question of survival. According to a Chinese businessman acquainted with the Marcos family, they were so poor and their situation so desperate that Ferdinand “sold anything he could lay his hands on.”
According to Ferdinand, it was not like that at all. The main objective of the Maharlika, he said, was espionage. He claimed that plans for the Japanese defense of Manila were filched from the pocket of an officer by one of the Maharlika’s professional pickpockets. It was a family affair. According to Ferdinand’s official unit history, his executive officer was his uncle, Narciso Ramos, the prewar congressman from Pangasinan, which was probably why their activities outside Manila were concentrated in that province. Headquarters was in a storefront on Leroy Street, near Josefa’s house. Narciso (the father of General Fidel Ramos) ran the headquarters with the assistance of Ferdinand’s brother Pacifico, who had just returned from Sulu in August 1943, after being interned there briefly by the Japanese.
As a front for their buy-and-sell operations, the Maharlika started a trading company called The Ex-Servicemen’s Corporation (TESCO). According to Ferdinand, TESCO manufactured items such as toothbrushes. Its office was in the Regina Building, one of the buildings “most frequented by Jap spies and collaborators,” teeming with Kempeitei agents, stated an intelligence report. Mariano Marcos, the full-time Japanese propagandist, was listed as chairman of the board of TESCO.
Another of Ferdinand’s many Ilocano uncles, Simeon Valdez, who had connections in Chinese financial circles, ran TESCO on a daily basis, and supervised its finances. Tony Quirino was the Maharlika’s liaison with various Luzon guerrilla groups, and coordinated intelligence activities with Simeon Valdez. The Maharlika also had a “smuggler’s ring” along the coast, Ferdinand said. All supplies needed by the Maharlika were either bought in the black market or stolen from the Japanese. Profits were used to buy firearms and ammunition, automobile spare parts, medicines, clothing, and foodstuffs, which were distributed to members of the Maharlika. Its “sabotage section” stole enemy communication wires, food, medicines, clothing, firearms, and ammunition. They had a delivery truck with double walls specially designed for smuggling weapons. Maharlika even published a mimeographed underground newspaper. Unfortunately, all supporting evidence of these activities, Ferdinand said, was “lost due to continuous searches by the Japanese.”
The Battle of the Coral Sea, followed by the American victory at Guadalcanal in February 1943, began to blunt the Japanese advance in the Pacific. American and Filipino agents started to trickle back by submarine, to make contact with the resistance. That February, MacArthur’s favorite secret agent, former Manila businessman Chick Parsons, left Australia aboard the submarine Trout to contact a guerrilla command in Mindanao headed by the flamboyant American Wendell Fertig.
Rumors soon spread in Manila about the operation of wireless transmitters in Mindanao, Panay, and the Visayas. These were the first indications Ferdinand and others in Luzon had that guerrilla groups on other islands were in radio contact with MacArthur.
Primitivo San Augustin, who never got around to making his voyage to Australia, decided to go to Mindanao instead to see Fertig and through him establish communications with MacArthur’s headquarters. With Japanese patrol boats everywhere it was a dangerous trip, but any smuggler could slip easily from island to island at night in a banca outrigger.
Ferdinand first claimed that he and San Augustin made the whole trip together, joined by their old school chums Leonilo Ocampo and Vicente “Banjo” Raval. There were, in fact, two trips. Ferdinand accompanied San Augustin the first time, in March 1943, only as far as Leyte. San Augustin then proceeded to Mindanao alone, while Ferdinand ran into peculiar delays and turned back. The likely explanation is that he undertook the trip with an ulterior motive on instructions from his benefactor Jose Laurel, and was sidetracked.
Besides his Maharlika dealings in the black market, the evidence suggests that Ferdinand was working part time for Jose Laurel, who in turn was working closely with the Kempeitei. The first puppet administration set up by the Japanese was an executive commission under Jose Vargas, Manuel Roxas, and Jose Laurel. Vargas had been President Quezon’s executive secretary, left behind as mayor of Greater Manila to keep the city going. In this commission, Laurel was essentially minister of the interior, with responsibilities for internal security, supervision of the puppet Constabulary and its intelligence divisions, and the suppression of anti-Japanese guerrillas. Laurel undertook the job vigorously, remarking that Japan had done enough in fighting for “all the races of Asia.”
The Japanese did not have enough troops in the islands to suppress the guerrillas in any case. They leaned on Laurel, who actively used secret agents, informers, and the Constabulary to track down, ambush, or betray guerrillas. Periodically, leading guerrilla commanders — Filipinos and Americans — were snared and beheaded. These traps depended on intelligence reports from spies, infiltrators, or collaborators. In his secret report to MacArthur after a wartime visit to Manila, Villamor said these spies were
drawn from among the scum of the community. Swindlers, pimps, whores, racketeers, crooks, ex-convicts and the like constitute this group which, from all reports, appears to be a large one. They are normally headed by notorious characters, often by ex-secret service men of bad record and reputation. They are dangerous because they seem to be very well paid, are very active and have no scruples in the methods they use to accomplish their purpose. Many succeed in joining anti-Japanese organizations, take active part in their doings and thus are able to turn over complete information on them.
A number of Ferdinand’s Ilocano friends and relatives (former lawyer and newspaperman Venancio Duque, for example) were officers in Laurel’s puppet Constabulary and were simultaneously members of well-known anti-Japanese guerrilla units. Thus they were in a position to be double agents serving either side.
As a patriot and a nationalist, Laurel had long been opposed to America’s economic domination of the Philippines. He genuinely admired Japan and what it had accomplished. After attending Yale, he had obtained a doctorate of jurisprudence in Tokyo in 1938, and sent one of his sons there for military training. Everyone clinging to Laurel’s coattails in Manila was careful to share his attitudes.
“The Tragedy of Bataan,” Laurel said, taught “the bitter lesson that the United States used the lives of the Filipinos to defend purely American interests.” Filipinos, he believed, were sacrificed ruthlessly in a delaying action that had no purpose because no American reinforcements were ever sent, and in fact none were intended to be sent. Laurel hated colonialism, and condemned its legacy: “We are weary with the pretensions of the white man’s burden, which more often than not has only served to cloak the exploitation of weaker peoples.”
Laurel’s values were not typical of the easygoing Philippines. As an authoritarian, he admired Japan’s code of social responsibility and self-sacrifice, virtues he thought his own society lacked. He believed that the Philippines needed constitutional dictatorship and that totalitarianism would eventually replace democracy throughout the world.
Some investigators who have studied the long-missing Marcos wartime archives, including John Sharkey of The Washington Post, suspected that Ferdinand may also have done occasional odd jobs directly for Colonel Nakahama Akira, the urbane and ruthless chief of the Kempeitei in Manila who had released him from Camp O’Donnell, played host to him at Fort Santiago, and probably made the decision to hire Mariano Marcos as a propagandist. I suspect that Ferdinand met Nakahama even before the Bataan campaign, while claiming he was forced to work as a houseboy in January 1942. An open letter published in the Maharlika newspaper and attributed to Ferdinand was written in reply to Colonel Nakahama’s offer of amnesty to all guerrillas. In it, Ferdinand wrote passionately of his great regard for Nakahama’s sincerity, and said the offer of amnesty “has wrung from my men and myself tears of regret that we should face gentlemen of honor and chivalry, bearing the Oriental strain of which we are inordinately proud.” He assured Nakahama that the Maharlika believed in the “Oriental Sphere of Co-Prosperity.” Sounding like Laurel, he denounced Americans as “transgressors,” who “robbed our country of its independence.” He wrote that he “is still groping for the true meaning of Japanese intervention in his native land … But it is the beginning of [my] conversion into the new way of life of Greater East Asia.”
Elsewhere in his Maharlika documents, Ferdinand noted that orders were issued for several of its officers to seek employment with the Kempeitei, with the puppet Constabulary, and with the puppet government. He does not give names, but various clues suggest that he and his brother Pacifico were among them. He boasted that during the war he was under Laurel’s care and protection, and at one point he openly used a Japanese staff car, while wearing the full uniform of the Constabulary, passing unchallenged through Japanese checkpoints. He busied himself throughout the war trying to locate all the guerrilla forces operating in the area north and east of Manila. It would have been easier, he once said, if the guerrillas had not considered him a Japanese spy, or at least an unwelcome busybody. He said he was a marked man to three guerrilla leaders near Manila, who warned him not to set foot in their territories, issuing orders to shoot him on sight.
Ferdinand claimed that he was simply “establishing contact” with guerrilla commanders because he wanted to “forge links” for his own Maharlika. He claimed that MacArthur himself had given him the mandate to coordinate all guerrilla groups under a unified command. This is incorrect. On the other hand, Jose Laurel certainly wanted this information, as did the Kempeitei. From Laurel’s viewpoint, these guerrilla groups were outlaws, troublemakers, and profiteers. In Leyte, for example, Marcial Santos owned a small fleet of bancas that would set sail each night to ambush Japanese supply barges making deliveries between islands. Santos sold the captured supplies on the black market and made himself a fortune. Other renegade guerrillas terrorized Leyte villages, demanding rice and girls. When Laurel and the Japanese decided to crack down on Leyte’s guerrillas, their sweep across the island coincided exactly with the period Ferdinand spent there after getting separated from Primitivo San Augustin. His presence in Leyte may have been more than coincidental.
Ferdinand claimed that when he got to Leyte, his journey on to Mindanao was delayed six months because Japanese patrols were so thick. He might have been delayed six months, but he did not spend them all on Leyte. That June, he came back to Manila requiring urgent hospitalization for the same symptoms that had made him an invalid on Mount Banahaw the previous autumn.
Angered by the Japanese sweeps, the guerrillas struck back by murdering key collaborators among the Filipino elite. If they murdered a Japanese officer, there was always a savage reprisal, so instead they murdered members of the puppet regime. Tee Han Kee, vice-president of the Japanese-sponsored Chinese Association, Jose de Jesus of the finance ministry, and Andong Roces of the Manila Tribune were all murdered. Then, on June 6, 1943, the guerrillas shot down Jose Laurel while he was playing golf. Laurel was critically wounded, one .45-caliber slug just missing his heart, another missing the liver, one hitting his collarbone and another — as his son put it — “just under the balls.” For seven weeks he was confined to a bed in the Manila General Hospital, which had been taken over by the Japanese Army as a high-security military hospital for their own officers. Specialists were flown in from Tokyo.
Laurel’s narrow escape from death made him extremely popular with the Japanese. They had found Jose Vargas pliant as head of the puppet regime, but realized that the only way to win widespread Filipino support was to grant independence, before America did, and install as president the most popular Filipino available. Even before Bataan fell, Premier Tojo had promised independence in 1943.
There were only three Filipinos of Quezon’s stature: Benigno Aquino, the head of the Kalibapi, a political party set up to support the Japanese; Jose Laurel; and Manuel Roxas, who had escaped Corregidor only to be captured in Mindanao. The Japanese had permitted him to return to Manila. They wanted Roxas, the youngest, most charismatic of the prewar elite, to be the first president of the independent Philippines. But Roxas alleged that he had a coronary condition. The Japanese then shifted their attention to the second choice, Jose Laurel, and the attempted assassination of Laurel convinced them that he was their man. After his release from the hospital, Laurel was inaugurated as the first and only president of the Japanese-sponsored republic. Ferdinand’s patron achieved under the Japanese what had always eluded him under the Americans.
Who should go into the same Japanese military hospital with Laurel after the golf course shooting that June but Ferdinand Marcos, suffering what his brother Pacifico (a doctor) diagnosed as Blackwater fever and a gastric ulcer. Ferdinand said he was disguised as a patient in the cancer ward. Early in August 1943, when Laurel came out of the hospital, Ferdinand came out also, ready to resume his trip to Mindanao. This time, the odyssey took nine months.
As the story goes, he and his friends caught a ride south to Lucena City, then walked to Pagbilao on Tayabas Bay, where Ferdinand had shown the Japanese San Augustin’s fishing schooner the previous August. There they hired a sailing banca from a smuggler who had twenty bancas operating in the islands. They sailed south to Bohol, near Leyte, and were immediately arrested by guerrillas who thought they were spies. Ferdinand talked the Bohol guerrilla chief, Major Ismael Ingeneiro, into releasing them by claiming that he was the leader of a big guerrilla force on Luzon called Maharlika, and also the leader of the famous 14th Infantry based in Mountain Province, part of Volckmann’s USAFIP, NL command. Ferdinand knew that the original leaders of the 14th Infantry (Guillermo Nakar and Manuel Enriquez) had been captured and executed. Command of their unit was assumed by its executive officer, Major Romulo Manriquez, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy. But Ferdinand claimed that he, not Manriquez, was its commander. This caused quite a stir. A coded message to MacArthur by Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Andrews from his station in Negros, dated November 19, 1943, said that according to his “Bohol man” (Ingeneiro), “MARCOS WAS CLAIMING TO BE IN CHARGE OF FORMER NAKAR AND ENRIQUEZ UNITS SINCE THE CAPTURE OF THE LAST TWO.” The message added that Marcos was on his way to see Fertig “TO ARRANGE FOR THE RECOGNITION OF HIS UNIT BY … HIGHER AUTHORITY.”
None of these guerrillas had ever heard of Ferdinand Marcos, but he was a convincing talker and they decided to believe him. When they let him go, Ferdinand and his comrades returned to the smugglers’ haven on Bohol. They rented a 43-foot banca, hired a Cebuan fisherman as skipper, and set sail for Mindanao, 75 miles to the south. They reached the big island in November 1943, but landed at Oroquieta in the northwest only to learn that Fertig was at the opposite end. After more wandering, they arrived at Fertig’s camp late in December. By then, San Augustin had long since come and gone.
When he heard that Ferdinand had sailed all the way from Manila, Fertig was suspicious, but Ferdinand produced documents which were intended to show that he had vital information.
The documents portrayed him as a tough young guerrilla with excellent connections, contacts with guerrilla units in every province of Luzon, and spies even in Kempeitei headquarters. In short, a man cut from the same cloth as San Augustin. There was a handwritten note to President Quezon saying the Maharlika “greets your Excellency with a pledge of loyalty and fealty. We await orders from Your Excellency and General Douglas MacArthur.” A letter to MacArthur said: “Your old men from Bataan and Corregidor … await your orders and return.” In the meantime, he added, please send money. There was a roster of Maharlika’s general staff and district commanders, with Mariano Marcos as “inspector general.” There was also an intelligence report listing the number of troops at each Japanese camp on Luzon, plus the number of trucks, tanks, artillery pieces, and other materiel. It stated that the Japanese had 142,000 men on Luzon alone in October 1943. (At the time, Japanese strength in all the Philippines was less than 60,000.) If anything, this exaggeration would tend to discourage a U.S. invasion, which (assuming the figures were provided to him by Laurel or by Nakahama) may have been the motive. Another document called “Memorandum on Political Developments” portrayed Laurel as a patriotic stand-in for Quezon.
Marcos said he supplied Fertig with information on every guerrilla force encountered in his journey from Luzon to Mindanao. Biographer Spence claims that Fertig gratefully relayed all this intelligence to MacArthur. “General MacArthur responded quickly,” Spence says. “His headquarters promoted Captain Marcos to major and directed the officer to establish contact with as many guerrillas as possible and to convince them of the need for united action.”
Official records show otherwise. Fertig never mentioned Ferdinand Marcos in any of his messages to MacArthur. A “P. V. Marcos” is mentioned in a message sent seven months earlier, in April 1943, listing men who had joined the puppet Constabulary. This probably referred to Ferdinand’s brother Pacifico, who was interned in Sulu (off Mindanao) just long enough to become fluent in the Japanese language, then was released to return to Luzon. Fertig sent only one terse, unfavorable message about Maharlika: “ANG MGA MAHARLIKA GUERRILLA ORGANIZATION IN ILOCOS SUR AND MOUNTAIN PROVINCE WHO CLAIM TO BE UNDER MY COMMAND. NEVER AUTHORIZED BUT CAN DO NOTHING ABOUT IT NOW.”
It was not Ferdinand but his role model Primitivo San Augustin who featured prominently in Fertig’s messages to MacArthur. San Augustin had reached Fertig’s camp many months earlier and, unlike Ferdinand, supplied him with solid intelligence on the guerrillas and Japanese forces in Luzon. And it was to San Augustin, not to Ferdinand Marcos, that MacArthur sent a message on September 6, 1943 (months before Ferdinand arrived): “I have instructed Col. Fertig to extend to you every possible facility and assistance and relay on to me such information as your group may obtain and believe needs to be brought to my attention until such time as some direct means of communication are established.”
MacArthur had decided not to have anyone coordinate the scattered guerrilla groups at this stage. It was better to compare their separate reports “without it being known that this procedure is followed …” Control would be exercised directly by MacArthur’s headquarters. Meantime, the senior espionage assets in Luzon would be Colonel Narciso Manzano, Primitivo San Augustin, Chick Parsons, and Jose Osamiz.
Ferdinand left Mindanao in late January or February 1944, and headed back toward Manila. It was a successful trip, Spence declares, because he had “established a complete chain of communication linking Colonel Fertig to Manila, and shortly he extended this to contact with Colonel Volckmann in the northern mountains …”
In April 1944, he staggered into his mother’s house in Manila and collapsed, violently ill. Once more, Pacifico diagnosed his brother’s condition as Blackwater fever, and took Ferdinand to the same Japanese military hospital where he had been treated the previous summer. According to Spence, this time Ferdinand was hidden behind bookshelves in the hospital library. While he recuperated over the next four months, he said he was able to receive a long string of high-level visitors, including Manuel Roxas, General Capinpin, and General Vicente Lim, and managed to make his way freely through the hospital corridors unsuspected by Japanese guards posted everywhere. President Laurel and other officials of the puppet government were all said to be aware of his hiding place, and to have conspired to keep it secret. Ferdinand quotes General Capinpin, who was then Laurel’s military adviser, as saying that Laurel knew he was in the hospital: “Otherwise you’d have been routed out within a week.” Altogether, Ferdinand spent a total of eight months of the war receiving treatment in a Japanese high-security military hospital, which is only plausible if he had the protection of Laurel or the Kempeitei.
He was definitely in the hospital, because one visitor he did have was Amparo Males, a woman active in the resistance and an agent for Colonel B. L. Anderson’s guerrilla unit who was visiting the hospital posing as a relative. Her intelligence report is in the U.S. archives:
During our brief meeting he [Marcos] told me of his outfit in … Manila. That he had a radio receiver operating … That he had boys doing intelligence work. That he had trigger boys … in charge of eliminating persons loyal to the enemies … He said he had different groups of men assigned to each branch of work, but did not specify to me how many men in each group. No intelligence report was submitted to me whatsoever. On my way back to our headquarters, two of his men came with me to contact our commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel B. L. Anderson. These two boys went as far as Captain A. C. Bello’s post at Piyapi. After a brief stay in the said camp these boys left for Manila. That was the last time I heard of this unit.
“These boys” did send a written message from Ferdinand to Colonel Anderson. In it, he again claimed falsely that the Maharlika had been given Fertig’s blessing. Anderson was suspicious and asked MacArthur’s headquarters for instructions: “LIEUTENANT FERDINAND E. MARCOS CONTACTED UNDERSIGNED WITH REQUEST THAT HE AND HIS UNIT (AS HE SAYS IS AUTHORIZED BY COLONEL FERTIG) COME UNDER THIS COMMAND. HE ALSO REQUESTED FUNDS AND OTHER AID. REQUEST AUTHENTICATION AND VERIFICATION.”
Since Bataan, Ferdinand had been passing himself off first as a captain, then as a major. In his letter to Colonel Anderson he referred to himself prudently as a lieutenant.
That August, Ferdinand said he was forced to flee for his life because his mother came to visit him in the hospital and the Kempeitei followed her. He said he hid in the office of the hospital secretary until they gave up their search, then made a harrowing escape, crawling under barbed wire and into the night, his pockets bulging with vitamin pills. When he reached Josefa’s house, a new identification card was awaiting him with the name Pascual Esguerra (literally a nom de guerre), a lieutenant in the puppet Constabulary. Also waiting was a bodyguard named Inigo Ventura. Putting on a full Constabulary uniform, Ferdinand got into a Japanese staff car with Narciso Ramos, Ventura, a PC colonel, and a captain, and they all drove to a Constabulary barracks in Malolos, Bulacan. They were stopped at two Japanese checkpoints along the way but passed through without difficulty. In Malolos they were warmly received because the two PC officers in the car were Colonel Fidel Cruz, commander of the barracks, and Captain Alfredo Santos, senior inspector for the province of Bulacan. A few days later, an old car with a converted charcoal-fed engine picked up Ferdinand, this time clad inconspicuously in a gris peasant shirt with baggy pants and bare feet.
He claimed that he was on a secret mission to clear a small airstrip so that Manuel Roxas could be spirited out of the country to join MacArthur; but the autumn passed with no airstrip being started. Instead, he was observed trying to organize bands of armed men, villagers, and country folk in the manner of a political agent. Other officers of Maharlika were similarly engaged in provinces farther north. Mariano Marcos was busy around Ilocos Sur, Simeon Valdez of TESCO in Ilocos Norte, assisted by Juan Crisologo, another commander of Laurel’s Constabulary. At that same time, President Laurel appointed another Maharlika/TESCO officer, a jai alai sports promoter named Modesto Farolan, to be the new governor of Ilocos Norte. The appointment is just one of many indications that Laurel was well acquainted with key people in Maharlika and made use of them.
An American invasion was expected at any time somewhere in the Philippines. It appears that Jose Laurel was taking whatever steps he could to prepare for it by dispatching agents throughout Luzon. As a far-sighted man, he was certainly looking beyond the immediate threat to his presidency, and laying the groundwork for what might follow. If the Allies were successful in recapturing the Philippines, it would spell the end to his Japanese-backed regime, but he was a man accustomed to setting long-range objectives and working his way through the political labyrinth to attain them. It was known that the exiled President Quezon was near death from tuberculosis, which meant that a scramble for power would soon be under way in any event. Laurel had to believe he would survive whatever reprisals he suffered at American hands, to resume his political career eventually. Meanwhile, there was time to get his followers into positions of leverage in key constituencies, time for them to enlist their own followers and to prepare for the political struggle ahead. The Laurel family stronghold of Batangas was not in question, but other power centers in northern Luzon needed to be secured while there was still time. Control of the Ilocano constituency, scattered throughout the central and mountain provinces, had fragmented under the intense pressures of the occupation. The Ilocano officers of Maharlika, all identified with Laurel and the Quirinos, evidently were given the job of rallying and reorganizing in the north.
This sudden outburst of political activity angered the American guerrilla officers under Colonel Volckmann’s command, who were busy tightening their own ranks in preparation for MacArthur’s invasion. Volckmann’s men were under orders to crack down on any suspicious undertakings. On the list were spies, racketeers, men who changed sides too often, men promoting spurious schemes, and men attempting to organize new guerrilla bands, private armies, or political movements.
One of the first to be captured in Ilocos Norte was Ferdinand’s uncle, Simeon Valdez. He was arrested by Captain John P. O’Day.
“The rivalry between the guerrilla groups,” Governor Farolan reported, “had broken into open warfare …” There were killings on both sides. Down at the southern end of the Ilocos, near the border of La Union, another Volckmann guerrilla force under Major George Barnett arrested Mariano Marcos. His days as a Japanese propagandist were over. Barnett’s unit included a number of friends and relatives of the late Julio Nalundasan, bent on revenge.
In East Pangasinan, Ferdinand’s Maharlika comrades where attempting to undermine guerrillas under the command of two American officers, Major R.B. Lapham and Captain Ray Hunt. Captain Hunt met Ferdinand once. “He was barefoot, unarmed,” Hunt recalled. “We talked for 15 or 20 minutes about this or that. He was never identified to me as a guerrilla, and we didn’t talk about guerrilla activities. I had no further contact with him.” Later, Hunts men intercepted a message from Ferdinand to two of Hunt’s best guerrilla units. From the message it was clear that Marcos was trying to steal the two units away. The message was signed “Major” Ferdinand Marcos. Hunt discovered that Ferdinand was trying to raise money, claiming it was to pay for clearing a small airstrip so that Manuel Roxas could be flown out of the country. Since Roxas could be slipped out any time by U.S. submarine, Ferdinand was raising money under false pretenses. On October 9, 1944, Captain Hunt ordered his arrest. The order read: “I want you to arrest every organizer operating in Pangasinan without the authority of this office and turn said individuals over to this H.Q. I want Ferdinand Marcos specially …”
Major Lapham later filed a brief report stating that Captain Hunt had arrested Ferdinand, adding “It is quite obvious that Marcos did not exercise any control over a guerrilla organization prior to liberation.”