Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Purpose into my life

‘She put purpose into my life - the life of a spoiled bachelor congressman who was also a successful trial lawyer and a hero of the last war who tended to be too carefree and frivolous. In 11 years I jumped from congressman to President.’ This is Ferdinand Marcos, the president of the Philippines, writing in a diary about his wife, Imelda. Marcos was soon to introduce martial law, and the couple’s increasingly lavish lifestyle would also lead to them both being reviled. Although Marcos died in exile 30 years ago, Imelda returned to the Philippines eventually, continued a political career, and is celebrating her 90th birthday today.

Imelda Remedios Visitacion Romualdez was born on 2 July 1929 in Manila, Philippines. She was the oldest child of her father, a lawyer, and her mother, a dressmaker, though she had older siblings by her father’s earlier marriage. Her mother died when she was nine, and her father moved the family back to his own home city of Tacloban in the province of Leyte. She attended Holy Infant School from 1938 to 1944. She was crowned a local beauty queen when aged around 18. While studying at the Divine Word University, also in Tacloban, she taught at a local Chinese high school. She also enrolled for a while at a college of music. In the early 1950s, Imelda moved to Manila to live with a cousin who was a politician. She worked as a sales girl before her relatives found her a job at the Central Bank. She also came joint first in a Manila beauty contest, and continued singing lessons.

In 1954, Imelda met Ferdinand Marcos, a member of the House of Representatives, and 11 days later they were married in a small civil ceremony. Over the next decade or so, they had three children, and established themselves as one of the country’s most important political couples. In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was elected president, and glamorous Imelda was likened to John Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline. However, the couple’s popularity started to wane as Marcos, in his second term, declared martial law, and Imelda’s spending on lavish projects seemed out of control. Chief among their critics was opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr, an old friend of Imelda’s. He was imprisoned, and then exiled to the US. Despite warnings from Imelda, he risked a return to the Philippines in 1983 but was assassinated by government forces at Manila airport.

When an election was called in 1986, opposition to Marcos rallied around Aquino’s widow, Corazon. Although Marcos claimed victory in the elections, the military withdrew its support from him when evidence of massive voting fraud emerged. The Marcos couple fled to Hawaii, and an extraordinary collection of shoes left behind by Imelda came to symbolise the excesses and corruption of the Marcos regime. Marcos died in 1989, and Imelda was subject to various ongoing embezzlement and graft charges (in the US and Philippines). However, she eventually made a return to her home country, where she unsuccessfully campaigned for president. She did win a place in Congress between 1995 and 1998, and was again elected to congress in 2010 and 2013. In 2018, she was convicted of seven counts of graft and sentence to 42 years in prison, though it is considered unlikely she will see any jail time (given her age, and the appeal processes). Further information is available from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia, Biography.com, The New York Times.

Although I can find no evidence that Imelda Marcos kept a diary, her husband certainly did, from the beginning of 1970. His manuscript diaries appear to have been left behind when the Marcos couple went into exile, and were discovered at the MalacaƱang Palace. They then found their way, mysteriously it seems, into the hands of the American journalist William C. Rempel, who then based a book on them: Delusions of a Dictator: the mind of Marcos as revealed in his secret diaries (Little, Brown, 1993).

In a 2013 article for Rappler, Rempel says this: ‘It was nearly 25 years ago that I got my first look at the diary of Ferdinand Marcos. I was an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times when about 3,000 pages of diary and other presidential papers were delivered to me in instalments - on street corners, at a restaurant, in the lobby of an office building - all very cloak-and-dagger. The documents were a journalist’s gold mine. I found bribery receipts and coded accounting reports recording official corruption. There were poems and love notes to First Lady Imelda and the Marcos children interspersed among Ferdinand’s plans for repression and dictatorship. The diary itself contained the president’s private musings about power and his messianic calling to “save the Philippines” from an exaggerated threat of communist insurgency. Here, too, was compelling evidence of Marcos plots against political rivals, the press, and anyone who dared to criticize his administration. But what caught me most by surprise were the lies - blatant, bald-faced, and occasionally comical. It turns out that while Ferdinand Marcos was lying to the world and to the Philippine people, he was also lying to his own diary.’

Rempel maintains his own website, but there is very little activity on it, nor is there any further information about the diaries. The celebrated Filipino historian Ambeth Raymundo Ocampo is said to be editing the diaries for publication, and he has spoken in public about them on several occasions. A selection of extracts from Marcos’s diary can be found online at the Inquirer.net; and even more can be found at The Philippine Diary Project. The diary extracts provided by The Philippine Diary Project come from ‘xeroxed copies of the diaries’ that were ‘written in longhand, more often than not, on official stationery.’ Indeed, alongside the transcribed diary extracts, it includes images of the diary pages. The following extracts, all mentioning Imelda, come from The Philippine Diary Project, except for those dated 2 and 12 June 1972 which I’ve taken from Inquirer.net.

13 January 1970
‘Imelda has a mass in the right breast and worries us because the doctors say that while there has been no change, an operation to remove it and to find out if it is malignant may be necessary.

I am suffering from pain in the right groin after golf. I hope it is not hernia. I see the doctor tomorrow.

And we were on a project to have another baby, a boy if possible. Massive injections of hormones for Imelda is necessary if we are to have a baby and this is not good for her growth in the breast which might develop into something serious with these hormones.’

19 January 1970
‘Imelda is strong enough to play host to her crowd nightly. We have just eaten Chinese lugao and lumpia brought in by Joe and Betty Campos. I liked most the bajo or powdered beef tapa and the seeweed for the lumpia. It is now 11:00 PM. Last night we went to bed at 11:30 PM. Read De Gaulle’s war memoirs up to 1:30 P.M. after writing my diary.

I must soon write my war memoirs while the events are still fresh in my mind.’

2 June 1972
‘Imelda is suffering from pain and from a deep sense of loss and sorrow for the abortion about which I have told her. She feels inadequate and has been crying her eyes out.

I have shed no tears for my unborn child, but I have vowed that I shall cure this sick society that has brought about the anguish of my wife, which caused the abortion. For the media has been vicious - it has condemned for a crime not charged, foisted gossip as truth and disregarded the rights of fair and impartial trial.

And this sick man who has committed perjury, libel and bribery has done me at least one favor. He has opened my eyes to this illness of our society that may yet destroy it. And my duty and mission is now to cure that illness.’

12 June 1972
‘Imelda and I have been reminiscing in bed - the long tortuous road from Congress to the presidency, the sacrifices, her tears, pain and hard work that went into our struggle for power.

She put purpose into my life - the life of a spoiled bachelor congressman who was also a successful trial lawyer and a hero of the last war who tended to be too carefree and frivolous.

In 11 years I jumped from congressman to President.’

17 September 1972
‘We escaped the loneliness of the palace for this old Antillan house now known as Ang Maharlika, the State Guest House several blocks from the palace. It has been restored beautifully by Imelda and is a symbol of Philippine culture in the last century. Almost all our antique valuables have been transferred here.

The departure of our children has made the palace a ghostly unbearable place.’

21 September 1972
‘Delayed by the hurried visit of Joe Aspiras and Meling Barbero who came from the Northern bloc of congressmen and senators who want to know if there is going to be Martial Law in 48 hours as predicted by Ninoy Aquino.

Of course Imelda and I denied it.’

22 September 1972
‘Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile was ambushed near Wack-Wack at about 8:00 pm tonight. It was a good thing he was riding in his security car as a protective measure. His first car which he usually uses was the one riddled by bullets from a car parked in ambush.

He is now at his DND office. I have advised him to stay there.

And I have doubled the security of Imelda in the Nayon Pilipino where she is giving dinner to the UPI and AP as well as other wire services.

This makes the martial law proclamation a necessity.

Imelda arrived at 11:35 PM in my Electra bullet proof car to be told that Johnny had been ambushed, it is all over the radio.

Congress is not adjourning tonight as the conference committee on the Tariff and Customs Code could not agree on a common version. They adjourn tomorrow.

I conferred with Speaker Villareal, Roces, YƱiguez and Barbero who are going to Moscow and they are ready to leave on Sunday. So they are decided to finish the session same.

Senate President Gil Puyat insists that the next special session be early January.

And they will not be able to pass the urgent bills like the rehabilitation bill.’

23 September 1972
‘Things have moved according to plan although out of the total 200 target personalities in the plan only 52 have been arrested, including the three senators, Aquino, Diokno and Mitra and Chino Roces and Teddy Locsin.

At 7:15 PM I finally appeared on a nationwide TV and Radio broadcast to announce the proclamation of martial law, the general orders and instructions.

I place them in Envelope XXXV-C

I was supposed to broadcast at 12:00AM but technical difficulties prevented it. We had closed all TV stations. We had to clear KBS which broadcast it live. VOP and PBS broadcast it by radio nationwide.

The broadcast turned out rather well and Mons. Gaviola as well as the [illegible] friends liked it. But my most exacting critic, Imelda, found it impressing. I watched the replay at 9:00 PM.’

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