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Looking Back

Marcos’ ‘gift’ to Filipinos

Many years ago, over an extended dinner that started with Via Mare takeaway made impressive on fine China and crystal, Imelda Marcos caught me impolitely looking at a large yellow diamond sparkling on her hand. “This was my engagement ring,” she said, as she moved the rock toward me. Then, reading the doubtful look off my face, she added: “Marcos did not need to steal. He was rich long before he became President.” This is one of the few truths that have been spun into the web of lies in the Marcos legend that the gullible believe to this day.

Contrary to popular belief, the ill-gotten Marcos billions was not amassed during the martial law years 1972-1986, but much earlier, to the time when he was a wet-in-the-ears Ilocano congressman eyeing the road to Malacañang. Mrs. Marcos claims the foundation of her husband’s wealth was a lucrative law practice and successful gold trading. However, critics insist Marcos built his fortune from kickbacks in government projects, import licenses, war reparations and the Ilocos tobacco industry. With little or no documentation, an estimate of his wealth before he became President remains a wild guess, but papers that have come to light since they fled from the Palace in 1986 provide some clarity.

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On Jan. 1, 1970, Marcos began a daily written record of his second term as President, and titled it: “A treatise on the elections of 1969 … composed of my critique as well as the commentaries on the technique of victory.” Marcos’ diaries, despite being a primary source for history, need to be read with extreme caution, to ferret out the truth from the half-truths and lies that abound.

For New Year 1970, he wrote: “Yesterday I finally transferred all of my worldly possessions to the Filipino people through the Ferdinand E. Marcos Foundation. I have been planning this for many years but I felt that the beginning of my second term was the most propitious time. This was a decision arrived at after a long deliberation and was not the result of pique, anger, despair or emotion — nor is it just a political stunt. I have no further political plans. [He was to remain in power beyond his constitutionally mandated term until he was deposed in 1986.] … And it seems a burden has been lifted from my shoulders.”

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Negative public reaction to his magnanimity prodded him to note: “The surprising thing is that the reaction of people seem to be of no consequence to me. It was a noble act waiting to be done. I feel I am above all the pettiness of men and I look down on them with some contempt but with a counter balance of understanding.”

Public disbelief in his magnanimity rankled, so he wrote on Jan. 3, 1970: “Some people asked me why I have given away my earthly possessions. I invariably answered that I did not need them but that the people did … But I have been asking myself why has the world become so vile, so materialistic, so dirty. All is pragmatism, selfish and unedifying. Why is there no more tenderness — all sex? Why is there no more charity — all malice? Even the clergy has become self-centered. They do not sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake but for self-gratification like the seven bishops who had their appeal to me published in the front pages of the metropolitan dailies. If their motivation was sincere change, they could have come to me first — but they sought publicity first. The worst part is their premises were all false, I hope from ignorance not malice.

“During the war in some critical phase of a battle I always asked myself what could I do which others dare not do and which would change the tide of battle.

“Now after the 1965 elections I kept asking myself this — until I decided that giving my properties to the people was the answer. This would be exemplary. No one dares to do it. It will change the tide of the times.”

Toward the end of this entry, Marcos added: “Satisfying, but I must exert effort so I am not myself dragged into self-glorification. I remember after the war I concealed everything about my medals. I wish I could do a similar anonymity now.”

Marcos’ medals have since been proven to be fake, his gift to the Filipino people a pittance compared to his hidden ill-gotten wealth.

(Conclusion on Friday)

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