An epic story on Ferdinand Marcos, medals, and an American historian’s claim he engaged in what today we’d call identity theft to create a wartime hero persona.
It begins with this Jan. 1, 1983 entry in FM’s diary:
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.Jan. 1, 1983 — The Philippine Diary Project — philippinediaryproject.com
You can find the story of the research and articles, and Marcos’ reactions, in this briefer on the Marcos medals:
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.Notes on the Marcos Medals — Manuel L. Quezon III — www.quezon.ph
Of interest is an affidavit that Francis Manglapus sent me, after I posted that briefer. It was put together in 1982, which shows the digging around happening back then: so, one could also conjecture FM was reacting to intelligence on the affidavit. See a precis and the affidavit’s 12 pp. below:
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 and a 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.
The story of Marcos’ claims, relying on affidavits, is detailed by scholars in UP’s Third World Studies Center:
The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s exploits during World War II have became part of the narrative of his political career. US records prove them to be more imaginary than real.File ?60: Marcos’ invented heroism | ABS-CBN News — news.abs-cbn.com
But here’s something that troubled me even back in the 1990s, which is that I knew FM had some wartime experiences in the guerrillas
Back in the 1990s, asked about Ferdinand Marcos and his wartime record, my aunt Nini (Zeneida Quezon Avanceña) said that while it may have been exaggerated, she knew for a fact he had been with the guerrillas, because she had received a letter from him by submarine in 1943. Two decades later, sorting through family papers, I found two letters that confirm this recollection. One ostensibly dated December 3, 1942 and the other, dated December 2, 1943. The envelope is postmarked “Posted in the Free Philippines, Mindanao,” December 17, 1943. Both are on exactly the same paper.
The first FM letter, is supposedly dated Dec. 3, 1942 (but same paper as 1943 later makes me doubt it; in the PDF, it comes second because the 1943 letter claims the 1942 is an enclosure).
The second FM letter, dated Dec. 2, 1943 (aligns with the envelope itself). Oddly enough, Marcos asks for acknowledgments of the “dragoons teeth” he sent to Malacañan in January, 1942, when MLQ and family had left Manila on December 24, 1941. Here is the second Marcos letter:
The first Marcos letter mentions Tony Aquino, son of Benigno S. Aquino, who’d been slated to become Speaker of the House as a result of the November, 1941 elections (he became Speaker of the Japanese-sponsored National Assembly). Tony Aquino rather famously swam the shark-infested waters to Corregidor, to report to MLQ on racial prejudice by Americans against Filipinos in Bataan (Fr. Francisco Avendaño would make a similar report to MLQ).
A close reading of FM’s letters is interesting but let’s move on to another letter, also sent from the field, via the guerrilla network, to my aunt Nini’s sister, my other aunt, Baby. It was from Primitivo San Agustin Jr. who was a co-founder of President Quezon’s Own Guerrillas. It’s dated Nov. 17, 1943.
Transcript of the San Agustin letter
The late Teddy Benigno recounted his column why this connection is relevant and important. Writing in his column (August 16, 2004) the late Teddy Benigno recalled that,
I remember Marcos as a young man, a UP law student, who every now and then ventured into our Lourdes St. neighbohood in Pasay. Two of his close friends resided there, Priming (Primitivo) and Tony (Antonio) San Agustin. I don’t know if I see any linkage here, but the San Agustin family was close as lips and teeth with President Manuel Quezon’s family. Marcos was then assiduouly courting one of the Quezon daughters. The San Agustin brothers, who later headed the PQOG (President Quezon’s Own Guerilllas) during the Japanese occupation, were probably Marcos’ entrée to the two celebrated daughters of The Great Castila.
In a 2016 article on how Marcos had his war claims rejected by the U.S. government, the authors (Joel F. Ariate Jr. and Miguel Paolo P. Reyes) pointed out that,
Listed as affiants supporting Marcos’s request for reconsideration were Brig. Gen. Macario Peralta Jr., commanding officer of the Panay guerillas; Maj. Gen. Rafael Jalandoni, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; Col. Vicente Umali and Col. Primitivo San Agustin Jr. of the President Quezon’s Own Guerilla; Maj. Leopoldo Guillermo, signal officer of the East Central Luzon Guerilla Area; Maj. Salvador Abcede of the Negros Guerillas; Consul-General Modesto Farolan of the Philippine Consulate at Hawaii; Col. Margarito Torralba, Armed Forces of the Philippines; and Narciso Ramos, minister-counselor of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC.
Primitivo “Priming” San Agustin would die in the ambush that also claimed the lives of Mrs. Quezon and Ma. Aurora “Baby” Quezon.
So this gives some indication of how Seagrave could have come up with his strange theory. Marcos had enough political promise as a young veteran to serve as a technical assistant to President Roxas after the war.
And here is where an American historian controversially enters the picture.
An American historian, Sterling Seagrave, whose writing, as time went on, became rather controversial, wrote a book about Marcos and theorized that Marcos, who’d been a friend and hanger-on of Priming San Agustin, later adopted San Agustin’s exploits as his own. Below are highlighted excerpts.
In this particular theory, I think Seagrave was on to something. It’s possible his sources were people like Teddy Benigno. Seagrave makes an important distinction between Marcos having at best, a marginal guerrilla record and his other claims it was a disreputable one; but his appropriating his dead friend’s wartime exploits and passing them on as his own, is convincing to me. His 1942 letter, IMHO, suggests a lot of embroidering of whatever might have been the actual tale — not to mention saying he hung on the letter for a year.
Postscript: My aunt and my dad sued FM over his campaign biography, for which he wrote a letter of apology (but they did not drop the suit which however did not move forward in the courts during the dictatorship).
Marcos would leave a postscript in his diary: