THE face of the dictator is “very pink, with the texture of a Barbie doll’s…There is something touching about how small he is.”
That comes from a passage in which the writer James Hamilton-Paterson recalls the first time he saw Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in his refrigerated crypt in Batac. Sometime this month, unless the Supreme Court forbids it, Marcos may be interred some 27 years after his death, alongside some of our country’s heroes and patriots. Next Sunday will be his 99th birth anniversary.
Let me make one thing clear before we proceed. I don’t hate Marcos. I don’t believe he should be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and I remain convinced that the State should keep pursuing its long and lonely campaign to recover the Marcoses’ ill-gotten billions. But I feel no loathing toward him. If anything, I’m curious to find out more about this mysterious figure, not only to understand how he became who he was, but also how his particular tragedy unfolded.
The problem is, in most of our bookstores, there are no biographies of Marcos. The available biographies and autobiographies of other political figures from that time read more like hagiographies, difficult to believe and probably embellished. I am sure we had a copy of “Today’s Revolution: Democracy,” which Marcos wrote, in my parents’ bookcase in the late Seventies. But like so many other things from that period, we have lost it. To termites or time itself, I’m not so sure.
In Hamilton-Paterson’s “America’s Boy,” published in 1998, one of the details I found memorable was this: when the Americans whisked Marcos and his family away from Malacañang in February 1986, they allegedly told Marcos that he was being taken to his home province of Ilocos Norte. I wonder if he believed them or saw through their ruse. Only later, when they were airborne, was he told that they were actually being spirited away to Hawaii. Did Marcos have an inkling that he would never see his country again?
Some of the details about Marcos are so outlandish that they seem plucked out of some myth. (Hamilton-Paterson’s retelling of them is riveting.) There’s the matter of how the young Marcos had been convicted of the murder of his father’s political rival, Julio Nalundasan, but declined a presidential pardon. Instead, he supposedly returned to a prison in Laoag, where he wrote his own 800-page appeal and took the Bar exams.
And topped it.
The book is full of other details like this, including his 11-day courtship of Imelda Romualdez, followed years later by his allegedly obsessive monitoring of her meals (so she would remain slim) and his betrayal of her with the actress Dovie Beams. This sounds like a bad combination of sentimentality and gossip, I know, but this kind of record helps me see a historical personality a bit more clearly.
The point of all this armchair digging isn’t to demonize Ferdinand Marcos Sr. It’s more an acknowledgment of the fact that we barely understand our political figures, because memory can be so unreliable, and also because we tend to swing from one extreme to the other when we regard those who have governed us. We cynically dismiss most of them as crooks, except for the rarefied few who we think are saints.
But like most human beings, they’re probably somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. They operate against a complex background—with facets like post-war American foreign policy, a weak Philippine political party system, and the collusions of our business and political elites—that they often manipulate in their favor, but which sometimes makes victims of them as well.
(For comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @isoldeamante.)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 03, 2016.
Latest issues of Sun.Star Cebu also available on your mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. Subscribe to our digital editions at epaper.sunstar.com.ph and get a free seven-day trial.