Bunye: Reflections at the Libingan ng mga Bayani

ALL Saints' Day -- traditionally observed as a day of remembrance and celebration of the lives of our dear departed -- somehow stirred, once more, questions which will never die.

Was former President Marcos a hero? And did he deserve to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani?

Pre-burial, I conducted an online survey via Facebook which asked: "Should Marcos be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Why or why not?" Admittedly, it was a very crude survey because it was open to all -- including trolls. But unlike professional surveys, which usually had a sample of only 1,200, I received more than 16,000 responses.

Eight to two, the respondents agreed to Marcos's burial. The 20 per cent who disagreed were very vehement. The Libingan is only for heroes!

When I wrote about the survey results, I withheld my own opinion. Almost, three years after the fact, let me now state my qualified opinion.

Was Marcos a hero?

If being part of the Death March and being confined in Capas for several months under subhuman conditions make one a hero, then I will count Marcos in. Official records and some former internees in Capas attest to the fact. And because of that, his burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani can be justified.

But here is my caveat. Was Marcos the veritable one-man army portrayed by his biographer Hartzell Spence in his 1964 book "For Every Tear, a Victory"?

The answer is a big "No."

Pre-Martial Law, National Artist Nick Joaquin immediately branded "For Every Tear a Victory" as "mostly hocus pocus."

During Martial Law, a former very close aide of Marcos, Primitivo Mijares, in his 1976 book "The Conjugal Dictatorship," was among the very first to publicly question the Marcos myth.

"Immediately after World War II," said Mijares, "when Filipinos talked about their heroes, the names mentioned were Villamor, Basa, Kangleon, Lim, Adevoso and Balao of the Bessang Pass fame. Marcos was totally unknown."

Mijares also questioned why Marcos was never mentioned in the writings of Generals Carlos P. Romulo, MacArthur, and Wainwright, among others, even if Marcos's hagiographers claimed that the latter two recommended Marcos for high military honors.

Unfortunately for Mijares, he went overboard when he testified later before a US Senate Committee on the excesses of Martial Law. What became of Mijares, one can only guess. He disappeared never to be heard of again.

Curiously, Marcos's Audie Murphy-like heroics did not merit any mention in an earlier profile of Marcos prepared by the Department of National Defense. The DND's profile simply stated:

"During the outbreak of the Second World War, Marcos joined the military, fought in Bataan and later joined the guerilla forces. He was a major when the war ended."

Subsequently, tales of Marcos's super-heroism were debunked by several credible investigative writers and sources: John Sharkey of the Washington Post; Jeff Gerth and Joel Brinkley of the New York Times, quoting the works of historians Dr. Alfred McCoy and Richard Kessler; Army Captain Ray C. Hunt, who directed guerrilla activities in the supposed area of operation of Marcos's "Ang Mga Maharlika."

Such reports never saw print in Manila's muzzled press.

Retired Colonel Bonifacio Gillego, after digging through War Department records and obtaining affidavits from veterans of Bessang Pass, concluded:

"Those who actually fought at Bessang Pass say that they had never seen Mr. Marcos there or his whereabouts....There are those who attest to the fact that Mr. Marcos was during all that time at Luna, La Union, attending to military cases as a judge advocate."

This and other damning revelations of Gillego were first published in 1974 in the US-based Philippine News. In the Philippines, it was not until November 1982 that Gillego's expose was published in We Forum, an opposition newspaper which was published by Jose Burgos Jr.

Burgos's audacity resulted in the immediate closure of We Forum, and the incarceration of Burgos and 14 of his staffers for subversion and rebellion.

Post Edsa, Tomas "Buddy" Gomez III, a former Ayala senior executive and a close friend of Ninoy Aquino, shredded Marcos' claims about the wounds Marcos received in Bataan which supposedly earned Marcos at least two Purple Hearts.

Hartzell Spence had written almost word for word what Marcos dictated to him.

* "In January 7, 1942 he was struck in the left kneecap by shrapnel. He was out of commission for several days but refused to go to a hospital.

* In January 12, 1942, sniper fire in the right thigh...bullet grating on his thigh bone...he cut out the bullet with his knife...again he refused to be hospitalized.

* In January 22, 1942 he was captured and tortured... but escaped.

* Then one more wound...by shrapnel and sniper fire in the abdomen..."

Gomez just could not believe it. This can only happen in a Rambo movie. With all those wounds suffered in the days leading to the fall of Bataan and the death March, how could Marcos have survived the brutal Death March where supposedly more able-bodied soldiers fell on the wayside?

Years later, Gomez remembered the well-publicized photos of Marcos taken around 1970 on Fuga Island beach in the company of US Ambassador Henry A. Byroade. One showed the two ogling turtle eggs. Another showed Marcos water skiing. But for his black swimming trunks, the hunkie Marcos was bare. Gomez observed: "His knees, thighs, abdomen, torso, upper and lower body laterals were all visibly unblemished, smooth and clean. No wounds! No scars!"

Gomez, a former Consul General to Hawaii, wrote the US War Department and got a reply: No soldier by the name of Ferdinand E. Marcos received the Purple Heart.

So how does one explain the numerous medals, including the Medal of Valor, that Marcos was flaunting?

Writer Manolo Quezon had a simple explanation. Marcos received most of his medals several years after the war ended. At that time, Marcos was already serving as the Chairman of the Defense Committee in the House of Representatives and later as Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. In both positions, Marcos had a great deal of influence in the armed forces due to his control over the AFP budget!

Lutong Macoy!

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