In 1983, the Washington Post printed an article by John Sharkey, questioning the claims of wartime heroism of then President Ferdinand E. Marcos. This led to Minister of Information Gregorio Cendaña writing a rebuttal in a book Documents on the Marcos War Medals published by the Office of Media Affairs, Malacañan. Through 1985 to 1986, the issue once again made headlines when the New York Times published an article byJeff Gerth and Joel Brinkley, unveiling the research of American Historian Alfred McCoy and Richard J. Kessler.
The image of Ferdinand Marcos as not just a bemedaled veteran, but the most bemedaled veteran of World War II was integral to his presidential image.
What follows is the story of President Marcos’ military awards and the controversies surrounding them. The question that comes out of this is how did Marcos garner so many accolades during the postwar era? Were there any ulterior motives in awarding Marcos with different distinctions as he rose in the ranks of the political arena?
Ferdinand Marcos was undoubtedly a veteran of the Second World War. He claimed membership in the resistance efforts against the Japanese. In honor of his alleged meritorious service, the Philippine Army and Philippine officials awarded Marcos 27 medals. A review of the circumstances under which these awards were made show they were based on affidavits secured by Marcos, and awarded, first, on the basis of requests to be awarded the medals filed by Marcos himself, and second, during a period that coincided with Marcos being Chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations and serious contender for the Philippine Presidency.
Controversies Surrounding the Marcos Medals
The least controversial medals that then-Major Ferdinand E. Marcos had garnered were those given to him by the United States Army. Although these medals were awarded for his action in the defense of Bataan, Marcos obtained them through self- serving requests.
In February 1945, Major Marcos wrote a letter addressed to the Commanding General of the United States Army and claimed that in 1942 he was awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross in February and March, respectively, which he never officially received. These awards are the second and third highest in the U.S. Army, to which the Philippine Army was joined with the creation of USAFFE. Along with the letter, Marcos attached several affidavits of fellow soldiers attesting to the awarding of the medals and a request for him to finally be furnished these.
In December that year, in ceremonies held in Camp Murphy (now Camp Aguinaldo), Quezon City, Marcos was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star he requested and in addition, the Purple Heart.
This was followed by a second request in 1947, this time for the Gold Cross, the fourth highest military award of the Philippines. Affidavits also accompanied this request and sought to establish Marcos’s valor and gallantry in the field, albeit retroactively. He was awarded the Gold Gross in the same year and the Distinguished Conduct Star (the second-highest Philippine military award) the year after.
In 1949, Marcos at the age of 32, ran for and won the seat his father once held in the lower House of Congress. Representing his home province of llocos Norte, he promised his constituents an llocano president in 20 years. Marcos’s meteoric rise in Philippine politics can be tracked with the equally stellar haul of medals, awards, and decorations conferred on him by the Philippines.
Two medals were conferred on him in the 1950s while he served as Chairman of the Defense Committee in the House of Representatives. This crucial position allowed him a great deal of influence in the Armed Forces due to his control over the AFP budget. The two medals were the Philippine Legion of Honor, rank of Legionnaire (specifically awarded for his lobbying efforts for veterans in Washington), and the country’s highest military honor, the Medal of Valor.
After serving three terms in the House of Representatives, Marcos was elected to a six-year term in the Senate with the most number of votes in the 1959 elections. Already a considerably bemedaled veteran while serving in the House, Marcos’s biggest haul of medals was actually as a Senator while sitting as Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee that effectively controlled the national budget.
Halfway through his Senate term, Marcos’s political star was decidedly on a collision course with fellow Liberal Party stalwart and incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal who was inclined to seek re-election in 1965. In an attempt to appease the ambitious Marcos and avoid a possible challenge for their party’s nomination for the Presidency, Alfred McCoy in his book “Closer than Brothers,” suggests that Macapagal awarded Senate President Marcos an astonishing 10 medals in 1963. Nine of these on a single day, December 20, 1963: two Distinguished Conduct Stars, two Distinguished Service Stars, three Gold Cross Medals, three Wounded Soldier’s Medals. Earlier, on October 31 of the same year, Marcos received his First Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the Distinguished Conduct Star.
Several other decorations were also conferred on Marcos, which were not for his personal achievements, but rather, the grant of campaign medals to all servicemen. The decorations for his service during the war were The World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippine Defense Service Medal, American Defense Service Medal, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Badge, Philippine Independence Medal and the Distinguished Unit Badge from the US army. These medals and citations were bestowed upon soldiers who served during the war and lived through it. At this point, Marcos’s medals totaled 25 and this purportedly well-documented, stellar military career would eventually serve as the cornerstone for Marcos’s successful presidential campaign in 1965 against his erstwhile ally Macapagal. In his own re-election bid in 1969, Marcos again paraded his war medals and his carefully crafted war hero image carried him to victory against Sergio Osmeña, Jr., against whom he successfully raised the issue of Collaboration with the Japanese (as he had similarly done versus Macapagal in 1961, further contrasting his fighting veteran image with that of his opponents).
The final and most controversial medal conferred prior to Martial Law on then-President Marcos is the Philippine Legion of Honor, rank of Chief Commander received in September 1972 – a few weeks before the proclamation of Martial Law. The General Orders state that Marcos was awarded this distinction because of his “invaluable service to the AFP as its Commander-in-Chief.” However, at this time, Marcos was already serving his second term as President and would be sole authority in conferring awards. Essentially, Marcos awarded himself his second Philippine Legion of Honor.
The first person to question the Marcos war medals was former confidential press man Primitivo Mijares who, in his 1976 book, The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos I, alleged that Marcos perfected the craft of collecting and amassing affidavits and controlled their official filing.
“It is easy to see how useful the experience and expertise that Marcos obtained from this business of benefiting from the war became to him. When he decided, twenty years after the war, to claim and collect the medals which were to make him, in his words, ‘The most decorated Filipino soldier of World War II mastery of the production of affidavits and documents came in handy,” Mijares wrote.
Following Mijares, Alfred McCoy and Bonifacio Gillego conducted their own pioneering research on the Marcos war medals especially on those he allegedly received from the United States. McCoy subsequently described his findings in his book. Closer than Brothers, while Gillego’s articles, according to Raymond Bonner’s 1987 book, Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the making of American Policy, were printed throughout 1982 in the We Forum, a small opposition newspaper that dared oppose Marcos. Its publisher- editor, Joe Burgos, along with its entire editorial staff, was jailed.
In response to the articles on his medals, President Marcos caused the conferment of another military award: a second Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the Distinguished Conduct Star, on December 20, 1983. This followed the precedent established in 1972 when he was awarded, ostensibly by the Minister of National Defense, but who could only do so by authority of the President of the Philippines.
While the actual awarding of medals was at most, put in limbo, it was the research of McCoy and Kesler, published in the New York Times, shattering the claims of Marcos that he commanded a guerrilla unit called “Maharlika” during the resistance movement against the Japanese, that hurt him the most politically. Maharlika, according U.S. military records unearthed by McCoy, was a dubious organization.
Later on, John Sharkey a reporter for the Washington Post, also exposed controversies regarding Marcos’s claims of guerrilla valor in 1983. He said that despite Marcos’s numerous affidavits attesting to his valor and gallantry in the field, Marcos’s name never appeared in US Government lists and General Douglas MacArthur never mentioned him in any of his biographies. These findings were explosive because of Marcos’s claims that his Medal of Valor was based on a recommendation for the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military award, issued from Corregidor by Gen. Jonathan Wainwright. McCoy’s research not only found no record of this but also revealed highly negative reports on Marcos as a soldier, filed away in Washington. Marcos had even claimed a second Distinguished Service Cross medal personally pinned on him by Douglas MacArthur during a visit on the ageing General in New York, but the only evidence was a photograph of Marcos with the General, in which he was wearing a lapel pin: proof only of his 1946 award.
I had sought to protect the sacredness and preciousness of my memories of the war with the sanctity of silence. So I had refused to talk or write about them except in an indirect way when forced to as when I offered my medals to the dead for I believed all such medals belonged to them.
But the sanctity of silence has been broken by the pettiness and cynicism that overwhelms the contemporary world. And the small souls whose vicarious achievement is to insult and offend the mighty and the achievers have succeeded in trivializing the most solemn and honorable of deeds and intentions. Their pettiness has besmirched with the foul attention the honorable service of all who have received medals and citations in the last World War. They have not excluded me. But instead have made me their special target as the most visible of those who offered blood, honor and life to our people.
So I must fight the battles of Bataan all over again. We must walk our Death March in the hot April sun once again. The Calvary of the USAFFE must again be told.
For we bleed and die again. This time in the hands of men who claim to be our countrymen.
Another author who wrote about the war medals of Marcos and the experience of Filipinos under the dictatorship was Raymond Bonner in his 1987 book, Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the making of American Policy.
These exposés show the unraveling of Marcos’s military myth that fueled and propelled his political ambitions. But as Marcos started losing his grip on power in the mid-1980s, even George Will, a conservative columnist who had echoed the support of US President Ronald Reagan for Marcos, wrote about the war medals issue. According to Bonner, Marcos alleged Japanese Emperor Hirohito had written about his military exploits in his memoirs to which Will quickly rebutted by pointing out the Emperor had yet to publish his memoirs.
Marcos’ faith in medals continued almost up to the final moments of his stay in power. He conferred on himself the decoration Hero of the New Republic, a civilian award patterned after the USSR’s Hero of the Soviet Union, in 1985.
In summary, we can see that Marcos never received any war medal in the field: his awards were received postwar. We can also conclude that his claims to these medals were based solely on requests supported by affidavits filed after the war, detailing exploits that were questioned and not accepted by American military authorities. The United States refused to comment on the validity of the awards they allegedly conferred on Marcos.
What we do have complete records of are Marcos’s Philippine awards the vast bulk of which were awarded in increasing volume the further, in time and space, Marcos was from the actual battlefield, all this culminating in Marcos awarding himself the Philippine Legion of Honor in 1972 and a second Distinguished Conduct Star in 1983.
Here lies the ultimate problem, and it is one that falls solely into the lap of the Armed Forces of the Philippines: whatever historians say, the Armed Forces continues to recognize Ferdinand E. Marcos for his military service. None of the awards conferred on Marcos, whether military or civilian, have been withdrawn. He continues to be commemorated as a recipient of the Medal of Valor and numerous other armed forces awards. While it it was a military rebellion that helped turned the tide against the dictator in 1986, institutionally-speaking, the AFP continues to honor the dictator it helped kick out.
(Note: This is to gratefully acknowledge the help of Kristoffer Pasion, Coline Cardeño,Sarah Wong and Jad Arcinas in putting this together!)
POSTSCRIPT, August 11, 2016
Upon reading this entry, Francis Xavier Manglapus said he would send me the copy of an affidavit that was signed in the Shoreham Hotel on September 9, 1982 by Bonifacio Gillego, based on information provided by Romulo Manriquez, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, and “the only Filipino regimental commander among Col. Volckmann’s senior commanders,” and Vicente L. Rivera, “who served the 14th Infantry both as a staff anda line officer at various times.” The affidavit aimed to achieve was to “subject to inquiry, therefore… not the authenticity of [Marcos’] awards but the basis of these awards and the production of the records and citations.”
According to Gillego, “Col. Manriquez left the service in 1947 and came to the United States in 1954. He finished law at the GW University… ” He ended up working in the U.S. Veterans Administration and at first refrained from speaking out as in-laws and relatives had been beneficiaries of Marcos (including his brother-in-law, Gen. Zosimo Paredes). Angered by an officially-sanctioned account of Marcos’ exploits, and his having been cited as a member of Marcos’ “Ang mga Maharlika” unit, he decided to speak out. He asserts that during the time he knew him, Marcos’ guerrilla activities were in Civil Affairs and that Marcos “was never involved in any patrol or combat operations.”
Gillego says that Capt. Vicente L. Rivera was “a lawyer who also has a Master’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan,” and a “respected leader of the Fil-American community in Detroit” who became chairman of the Awards and Decorations Committee of the USAFIP NL, Inc., a veteran’s organization. According to him, Marcos discharged his weapon on two instances –once at rustling leaves, in the direction of his own men, and on another occasion, when he was issued a gun –to test it. He also provided details on the organization of the Maharlika unit. Rivera asserted Marcos “at no time was he ever given any patrol or combat assignment all during his service with the 14th Infantry.”
Here is the affidavit, signed by Bonifacio Gillego, “concurred” in by Manriquez and Rivera, and witnessed by Benjamin Maynigo and Benigno S. Aquino, Jr.