By Raïssa Robles
Here is the video and text of my speech on My husband’s lovers: Why Martial Law babies to the present generation love and hate Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, for the forum sponsored by the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center .
I would like to thank the Third World Studies Center, its director Dr. Ricardo Jose, the forum moderator Dr. Luisa Camagay, and Dr. Teresita Maceda for inviting me to speak at the forum.
My speech was based on documents and my personal experiences during and after Martial Law.
There are, however, some variations between the text and my actual speech since I inserted some additional explanations and anecdotes during the speech.
I also added a third reason to explain why the Marcoses are back in power.
Good morning. Before I begin, let me tell you a personal story.
This building, once upon a time, was where I first met Imee Marcos. She was the main actor in a Tagalog version of Animal Farm directed by Prof. Jonas Sebastian. And I was the play’s stage manager.
I recall that Jonas had to change some of her lines because these would hit too close to home. Because Animal Farm was about a revolution that went bad. Just like what was then happening with Marcos’ “Revolution from the Center.”
Well, Marcos was overthrown. And slowly, succeeding governments turned into versions of Animal Farm.
Today, the Marcoses are back, and behaving as if the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution never happened.
A growing number of Filipinos – many of them born after EDSA – are even hoping to put Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos in Malacañang Palace two years from now.
Let me try to deconstruct how Ferdinand Marcos, a brutal, murderous and greedy dictator, could even be considered a hero by a number of Filipinos 25 years after his death and 28 years after his tyrannical rule.
Let me try to deconstruct how his widow Imelda and their three children are now back in the highest rungs of society. And much admired.
It’s a key lesson to all grafters: Steal small, you end up in jail. You’ve got to steal big like the Marcoses.
I use the word “steal” without equivocation because the Swiss Federal Court itself described in its 2003 landmark ruling that returned close to US$1 billion dollars of what the Marcos loot had become – that all that money was – and I quote – “of criminal origin.”
If that is the case, why is no Marcos in jail? In fact, why are three of them in positions of power?
Let me offer
two three reasons.
ONE – The foremost reason is that the generation that overthrew the Marcos conjugal dictatorship thought that the regime was so brutal and so greedy in its accumulation of wealth and power, that people did not need further reminding of it.
The People Power generation forgot to document all these for future generations.
Sure, Nick Joaquin came out with the book Quarter of the Tiger Moon. And there was that coffee table book on People Power.
But to this day, the History of the Filipino People written by UP historians Teodoro Agoncillo and Milagros Guerrero – which a lot of schools continue to use as their history textbooks – has not been updated to include the Marcos years and the years afterward.
Consequently, the succeeding generations really have no idea why si Malakas at si Maganda – the Powerful and the Beautiful – that was the myth propagated by the Marcos couple about themselves – are really si Marahas at si Mapurot.
In Waray, “mapurot” means ugly and undesirable.
Part of the reason is that many intellectuals who could have written about that era were co-opted by the dictatorship to become propagandists or to turn out think tank reports. They are therefore ashamed to reveal what they did during Martial Law.
The building where the UP Asian Center used to be was the seat of Marcos’ think tank. It was called the Philippine Center for Advanced Studies or PCAS. Its head was Col. Joe Almonte. Whatever study Marcos wanted, it churned out.
I know because as a young graduate, I was hired to do radio scripts for its Kasaysayan ng Lahing Pilipino series. I quit before the series touched on Marcos.
In the absence of an extensive history covering the Marcos regime, the Marcos family was able to hawk the following myths to new voters:
1.That Martial law was a “benevolent dictatorship”
2.That there were no human rights abuses during the period. As Senator Bongbong Marcos said, the alleged victims are only after money.
3.That the economy boomed under Marcos
4.That Marcos was the greatest president since he built the most number of infrastructure, notably the Cultural Center, Folk Arts Theater, Film Center, Heart Center, Kidney Center, Lung Center and San Juanico Bridge. You can see this particular claim all over the social networking sites Facebook and Youtube.
I’ll take these up now one by one.
Marcos called his regime a “benevolent dictatorship”, a “smiling Martial Law”. The reality was that fear prevailed throughout the country and the smile was grotesque.
In the Catholic school which I attended, a directive came down from the nuns after Martial Law was declared. Henceforth, during lunchtime, we were banned from eating three or more to a table. Because that would be a form of “illegal assembly.”
What do girls not even in their teens know about subversion? I had no idea what it meant at that time.
But that was how much Marcos controlled the population.
The military and the police could also pick up anybody at will on the street or right in their homes.
And one had to be very careful about making jokes about the Marcoses and the “New Society” in public.
It was really only after the Marcoses fell that Filipinos got to know the full horror of his New Society. There were at least 10,000 human rights victims who were killed, or were tortured and survived.
Just to give a rough calculation of how bad the human rights situation was and the extent of dissent against his New Society – for every month that Marcos held on as a dictator while his wife, Human Settlements Minister Imelda Marcos, indulged in shopping sprees abroad, 700 human rights victims would be added to the roster.
Or for each day he was in power as dictator, there were 23 new victims. Or almost every hour of the 14 years he remained a dictator, nearly one citizen was killed or tortured.
Even the beautiful Governor of Ilocos Norte, Imee Marcos, has blood on her hands. A student from Mapua named Archimedes Trajano once questioned her – whether the daughter of the President had to head the Kabataang Barangay.
Trajano was later found dead. Investigators claimed he died in a frat rumble.
Trajano’s mother filed a lawsuit in the US against Imee Marcos. The mother won the lawsuit.
Although I was never an activist I knew arrests were going on, because my father, who was a UP Law Professor, played a role in getting some of them out of jail. One was Gerry Barican. I’m not sure if another was Herminio Sonny Coloma. Another was someone who I believe would have made my father turn in his grave today. His name was Gary Olivar – President Gloria Arroyo’s propagandist.
This is interesting. All three became presidential spokesmen.
I can laugh about this now. But at that time, my father’s actions had serious consequences for my family. The Bureau of Internal Revenue suddenly told my father they could not believe he was that poor. If only the BIR had conducted a home visit, it would clarify what they thought was his unexplained poverty.
The BIR kept hounding him for high tax payments. In desperation, my mother turned to a neighbor employed at the BIR. He told her that the assessment for that year would be settled provided she paid something “for the boys”.
Every time that happened, my mother had to take it out of our food budget. I remember there were times that we were able to eat only because a customer of my mom, who sewed dresses, would suddenly pay her.
And so, even though I wasn’t an activist, I knew first-hand the consequences of dissent against Marcos.
And that’s not all. Marcos and his in-laws, the Romualdezes, had nearly total control of Philippine media – the TV, Radio and newspapers.
The Marcos-Romualdez-controlled media did not show the true extent of the Mindanao wars – the wars when Nur Misuari, Hashim Salamat and Murad Ebrahim fought as one under the banner of the Moro National Liberation Front.
An estimated 60,000 to 80,000 civilians and rebels died in Mindanao between 1972 and 1976. Over one million residents fled.
Marcos redrew the southern Philippine map, wrenched Palawan away from Mindanao, partitioned the south, and gave these to his various military commanders to govern.
Marcos’ actions in Mindanao and the ignorance of the people of Luzon about these, would fuel mistrust between the two populations and add to the misunderstanding of why the Muslim south wants autonomy.
Let me go now to Marcos’ “achievements” during Martial Law. It is true that he built those buildings and that bridge in the 20 years he was in power – from December 30, 1965 to February 25, 1986.
But at what cost? And how much was his commission? His tongpats?
When he became president in 1965, the Philippine foreign debt was less than US$1 billion. By the time he and his family fled, this had ballooned to US$27 billion – a nearly US$26 billion increase. That’s over US$1 billion per year.
The Presidential Commission on Good Government that was formed in 1986 estimated that the Marcoses had managed to loot up to US$10 billion. That’s 40% of what his regime borrowed.
But those who love him never talk about the foreign debt his government left behind. Nor do they talk about one other key achievement of his governance – the substantial devaluation of the Philippine peso.
When Marcos was elected in 1965 on the promise that “This nation will be great again”, the value of the peso was P3.90 to the dollar.
When he proclaimed Martial Law in order to build a New Society in 1972, the peso had sunk to P6.77 per dollar. When Senator Benigno Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in 1983, the peso plummeted to P11 per dollar. And when the Marcoses fled in 1986, it was P20 per dollar.
Those are the real achievements of Marcos – a US$25 billion increase in foreign debt; a nosediving peso from P3.90 to P20; and possibly US$20 billion in payoffs.
On top of that, there is the grinding poverty symbolized by Manila’s Smokey Mountain and the export of Filipinos as slave labor to the Middle East.
Please consider this: According to the 2003 judgment issued by former Supreme Court chief Justice Renato Corona on Civil Case 0141 or the civil forfeiture case against the Marcoses’ Net Worth was US$957,487.75 or under ONE MILLION DOLLARS when they fled in 1986.
So how do the Marcoses even account for the US$356 million which the Swiss government unilaterally froze in 1986 and later gave back to the Philippine government with interest?
In addition, how does Imelda Marcos account for her three jewelry collections worth a combined US$4 million? Last month, one collection was awarded to the Philippine government. But last week, Senator Bongbong Marcos submitted an appeal to have the decision reversed, saying the government never specified this particular collection in its forfeiture suit.
He also said a curious thing last week – he said Pres. Benigno Aquino should apologize for the botched rescue of Hongkongers who were taken hostage in a tourist bus in 2010. He said, “the refusal to apologize I find hard to understand.”
Bongbong Marcos and his family have never apologized to the human rights victims. They don’t exist as far as they’re concerned.
This raises serious questions why Bongbong Marcos wants to be president in the first place. Is it to quash all pending cases against the Marcos family and to retrieve the assets?
The government has hinted it will auction off the jewelry.
That would be a gross mistake. The jewelry belongs to the Filipino people. It was acquired with the blood of human rights victims, and the shattered promise of a better future. It is part of our process of remembering as a people the grand-scale plunder and corruption that took place during the dictatorship, and that should never ever happen again.
Do you know that I tried to obtain photos of the jewelry from PCGG and I was told not yet because this is under litigation? But do you know that the same pieces of contested jewelry have been published in a coffee-table book called “Thoroughly Imeldific”?
The public does remember Imelda Marcos’ jewelry but in the wrong context. The jewelry projects her as a patroness of the arts and a lover of “the true, the good, and the beautiful.” It does not remember her as the shopaholic who diverted for her own pleasure the tax money that should have helped the poor.
For Marcos lovers like Irene Vinluan, such displays of corrupt practices apparently does not matter. She wrote on the Facebook page of Marcos’ daughter, Imee:
“I love the Marcoses! During the time of his Presidency, despite of his corruption, at the same time, he also did good for the country, the streets was cleaner, not much street crimes, the Philippines was one of the richest in Asia.”
Let’s replace the word “Marcos” with Hitler; and use Germany instead of the Philippines, and see how that reads:
“I love Hitler! During the time of his Chancellorship, despite of his corruption, at the same time, he also did good for the country, the streets was cleaner, not much street crimes, Germany was one of the richest in Europe.”
Not at all. Marcos himself disclosed that one of the things he studied in preparation for declaring Martial Law was how Hitler took control of Germany.
By the way, it is not true that no Marcos was ever criminally convicted. Imelda Marcos was convicted of corruption on September 24, 1993 and sentenced up to 24 years in jail. But President Fidel Ramos’ solicitor general inexplicably – some would say explicably – threw the case away by telling the Supreme Court ti was wrong to accuse her.
TWO – Another reason why we have this serious memory gap about the Marcoses’ evil deeds is that they and their supporters are exploiting certain cultural norms and Filipino values to help them propagate their own version of reality.
Here are four such norms:
The first norm is – Respect your elder.
Ferdinand Marcos exploited this by calling himself “Apo” , which in Ilocano means “elder person in authority.”
And Imelda Marcos, no matter how foolish she sounds and how much in debt she sunk the Philippine treasury because of her wanton shopping sprees, is still accorded similar respect because she’s old.
One of the things I vividly remember the day after the Marcoses fled was my visit inside Malacanang Palace. As a political reporter for Business Day newspaper, I was able to get inside the palace and I could go anywhere.
Bea Zobel, wife of Jaime Zobel and and her friend Mercy Tuazon were both inside helping to tally up the goods that had been left behind.
“Have you seen Rustan’s”, I remember one of them telling me. “No,” I said.
They led me to a room beneath Imelda’s room. All her shoes were there. Plus stacks and stacks of underwear and brassieres. But one thing that struck me was inside her bathroom. It was a HUGE bottle of branded perfume which was nearly as tall as I am and which was nearly full. I don’t think you could have finished it by spraying it in one lifetime unless you bathed in it.
I also remember that every room had bunches of wilting flowers. Imelda Marcos spent a princely sum on imported flowers, according to PCGG findings.
When Ferdinand Marcos died in 1989, his family and supporters exploited a second cultural norm: Do not speak ill of the dead.
This one goes against the very writing of history. I understand that the history major in UP is now an endangered specie. This is crazy. This is sad. This is pathetic. A nation cannot move forward without drawing lessons from its past.
I salute those who continue writing history despite financial challenges.
The third cultural norm that Marcos lovers throw at critics is – Forgive your enemies.
A person who does not forgive his enemies is often labeled vindictive. And if he’s a politician, he’s called politically vindictive.
I remember that during the presidency of Corazon Aquino, the board of censors chief Manoling Morato said the public should stop demonizing Marcos in the spirit of reconciliation.
We are now reaping the consequences of that advice. Marcos’ children and his wife to this day insist their father did no wrong; there were no human rights abuses; and he is the country’s greatest president.
The fourth cultural norm has very serious implications for the country’s future. And this is – Do not bring the sins of the father on his children.
Even the left-wing activist, former Congressman Satur Ocampo, justified Bayan Muna’s strange political alliance with Bongbong Marcos in 2010 using this very argument. Ocampo said, “We are not collecting from the son.”
But the son has long been in cahoots with his father and mother. He early on tried to get someone to withdraw the stash from Switzerland. In fact the son is now the legal executor of his father’s estate. And long before that, the son was one of the named beneficiaries of the US$356 million Swiss bank accounts.
You see, the Marcoses’ secret Swiss accounts were all under pseudonyms. But the Marcos couple had to sign separate documents saying they owned these accounts. They also had to sign another set of papers naming their beneficiaries in case they died.
In February 2011, I was lucky enough to be seated at the same luncheon table as Senator Bongbong Marcos during a press conference of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines. I was also able to ask him questions.
In answer to my questions, he told me he would continue to pursue a compromise settlement with the government on the Marcos cases and frozen assets. But he refused to confirm that he was named a beneficiary in the Swiss accounts.
Here is a direct quote of what he said when I asked him to confirm that he was a named beneficiary of multi-million dollar accounts in Switzerland:
“I cannot confirm because I haven’t seen or read them. We – I don’t know. I cannot – I cannot say that I know. Definitely the Swiss money were there. Or are there now. It’s for us – again this constant – that people are saying – more and more participating in that –”
Poor boy, he hasn’t read them. And yet I have read copies of those documents which his father forgot in Malacanang Palace as they left in haste in February 1986.
Understandably, the dictator’s children are trying to reinstate their father politically.
But they are doing it with our tax money.
For instance, many key activities of Governor Imee Marcos for Ilocos Norte is intended to praise her father Ferdinand Marcos. Last year, she held the:
- “President Marcos cup” for practical shooting;
- A rock concert called “DaReal Makoy Concert 2”;
- A “Marcos fiesta 2013 Flash Mob Full” which details the life of Marcos in dance; and
- “The First Ferdinand Marcos Sirib Intercollegiate debates 2013.”
September 11, Marcos’ birthday, was dubbed “Marcos Day”.
Imee Marcos held a “Little Macoy and Imelda sing-alike”, a “Marcos quiz”, a “Marcos heritage trail free tour.”
In 2012, the family published a book on the arts and culture of the Marcos era.
And of course there is the year-round exhibit of Marcos’ waxed figure as well as a museum of remembrance.
All these are intended to project the Marcos version of history. Before Facebook and Twitter came about, such goings-on would have been confined in Ilocos. But not anymore.
The Marcoses are now using Facebook and YouTube to project their father as the greatest president this country ever had.
How attitude to the Marcoses have changed
The Social Weather Stations has tried tracking public sentiment regarding Ferdinand Marcos. By 1998, 12 years after he was booted out, SWS took a poll and compared it with previous similar polls it had taken.
SWS said it found the following:
- On the statement that Marcos was a “thief of the nation’s wealth”, public opinion “shifted from unfavorable in 1986 to neutral in 1995 and 1998.”
- On the statement that he was a “brutal and oppressive president”, public sentiment shifted “from a split opinion in 1986 to a favorable opinion in 1995 and 1998.”
- On the statement that Imelda Marcos was definitely guilty or not guilty of graft, SWS found that half thought she was “definitely guilty” and only 14% said she wasn’t.
Remember the cultural norm, do not speak ill of the dead?
In 1998, SWS’ Dr. Mahar Mangahas wrote about “a remarkable softening of public opinion towards Ferdinand Marcos”.
Mangahas gave two reasons.
“Part of the softening towards Marcos is simply due to demographics. The old pass away, and the youth take their places.”
He added that:
“Another part, in my view, was due to the fact that in 1986 Marcos was still alive and unrepentant in exile, whereas in 1995 he was already dead.” He added that the survey results were “not about the character of Marcos but about the character of the Filipino people. Not many of us would care to hold a grudge against someone long dead, not even someone like Ferdinand Marcos.”
Dr. Mangahas talked about holding a grudge against Marcos.
But what about keeping a historical truth constant? Making sure the truth survives generations?
By 2011, Ferdinand Marcos had made a remarkable comeback in public consciousness. When SWS asked respondents to identify their “top three most identified Filipino heroes,” Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Ninoy Aquino topped the list in that order.
However, Marcos even made the list – cited by 5.1% of respondents. One could say that is the loyal Ilocano vote at work. However, he even bested Ramon Magsaysay and Lapu-Lapu.
A third reason, I believe, why Marcos has been rehabilitated and the Marcoses are back in power is the kind of leadership we have had since 1992 – or six years after the Marcos fall. As soon as President Fidel Ramos warmed his seat in Malacañang, plans were afoot to forge a compromise settlement with the Marcoses.
By 1993, one was drawn up and it went something like this: 75% of the Marcos loot would go to the government. But the Marcos family would keep 25%, tax free. All their cases would be dropped. And who’s to say what the total loot really was.
Just think. If the late Atty. Frank Chavez had not petitioned the Supreme Court to stop this deal, the Marcoses would have walked off with billions of pesos, no sweat.
President Joseph Estrada, who succeeded
Marcos Ramos, tried to push the same deal. Fortunately in December 1998 the Supreme Court threw out the deal and all future talks of compromise.
Associate Justice Artemio Panganiban who penned the decision wrote then that:
“The waiver of all claims against the Marcoses would be a virtual warrant for all public officials to amass public funds illegally, since there is an option to compromise their liabilities in exchange for only a portion of their ill-gotten wealth.”
That is the message of Marcos to all politicians, actually. If you must steal, steal big.
What we can do as Filipinos
My husband, who is also a journalist, has repeatedly pointed out to me that Berlin has a documentation center for Nazi crimes. We need to have the same that document what the Marcoses did: especially the actual records of torture, Amnesty International reports of that era and first-person accounts from all sides , including those of the Marcoses.
My husband has compiled a short list of sources in his satirical website hotmanila.ph. But he has been unable to work on it. Hotmanila is the oldest satirical site, put up 14 years ago. It broke the story on the Love Bug virus.
A Berliner told me last October that school children are told of Hitler’s crimes. The Marcos crimes should be written down as well – in black and white – in our history books.
Besides writing such books, academics can compile – online and offline – a list of credible references about Martial Law. A historiography of Martial law.
The Marcoses destroyed our country and now they are covering up for their crimes.
Please note that during Martial Law, a seminar like this would have been impossible. All of us would have been arrested within an hour.
That we are speaking freely now is a testament to how far we have gone in our democracy. That we are still talking about the Marcoses’ probable comeback to center stage shows how dangerously we are regressing and forgetting.
I would now like to show you two souvenirs from that era.
On the night the Marcoses fled Malacanang Palace, my husband scrambled over the gates of Malacanang. But before that, he took this piece from the barb wire outside Malacanang.
Marcos was afraid of his own people.
This is what I call my “Macky watch.” It’s a gold watch that was given to guests during his birthday celebration in 1977. It was given to me by a dear friend.
The barb wire symbolizes the impunity of the Marcos dictatorship. The watch symbolizes the extravagance, especially of Imelda Marcos.
Remember the Marcos myth – si Malakas at Maganda?
That should be changed to – si Marahas at Mapurot – ugly and undesirable.