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Catching oral history

/ 05:04 AM October 01, 2021

Thinking aloud in my last column,

I wished that younger Filipino historians would dig up the primary source materials on Ferdinand Marcos and the Marcos period (1965-1986), now declassified in the US National Archives and elsewhere, I kick myself for having failed to interview participants in the events of martial law in 1972 and Edsa revolution in 1986 that I met and knew. Most of them are gone now.

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While my area of expertise is the 19th century, I should have made an effort to catch oral history when it was literally within grasp. The few times I met Cardinal Sin, I just listened to rehashed jokes instead of leading him to reminisce. I missed the chance to spend a day with Cory Aquino when I failed to take her up on a personal guided tour of the Aquino Museum in Tarlac. Doy Laurel was more interested in his memories of his father J.P. Laurel and the Japanese occupation. With Armando Malay, we talked books and Filipiniana with his wife Paula Carolina or Lola Ayi, who also talked of fruit juices and cake. Blas Ople talked books and his pre-Cabinet life as a journalist. I never asked Eggie Apostol, Letty Magsanoc, and Max Soliven about martial law. With Marcos himself long dead and finally buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, that leaves us with the immortal Juan Ponce Enrile, whose image has launched a thousand memes.

I came across a transcript of an interview with the late Alejandro R. Roces, National Artist and former education secretary, in my files. Roces was a legendary raconteur, and some of his stories are preserved in a recorded conversation from 1988 where he reminisced about those who escaped Marcos and found sanctuary abroad.

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One story: Ernesto Maceda, like Crisostomo Ibarra in the “Noli,” met with an armed stranger in a banca at the Manila Bay breakwater. He was rowed to a waiting ship bound for Hong Kong.

Then there was Charito Planas who ran with Roces in the 1978 elections: “During the campaign rallies, Charito would show the audience a photograph of Imelda Marcos that the government mass-produced and distributed to prospective voters. Charito would ask the crowd to look at the size of Imelda’s earrings, telling them how many carats the diamonds in them weighed, how much they cost, and how many homes for the poor these were equivalent to. Well, during the campaign, she used the same photograph of Imelda all the time, and yet the size of the diamond earrings kept getting bigger and bigger. She got carried away and later was not talking about carats. She was saying the diamonds were the size of lizard eggs! At the next rally, they were the size of pugo [quail] eggs, and much later they were the size of duck eggs! So I told her to leave the country while she could because papatayin siya [they will kill her].

“Charito hid for a while, at a time even in my house, and we were quite nervous. She insisted on staying in the Philippines, saying she could always hide in my house, to which I said: ‘My gosh, Charito, it’s like hiding a giraffe! Sa laki mong iyan, makikita ka agad!’ [With your size, you’ll be easily spotted]. So we had to make arrangements for her to escape through the back door, meaning from Mindanao into Sabah. And you know how big she is…”

I interrupted and asked Roces: Did she wear a bad suit and impersonate a transvestite goon? Anding replied: “Close to that, she disguised herself as a Muslim and hid under a veil.”

Speaking of disguises, Anding related how Heherson Alvarez turned up at his office one day accompanied by a “bakla” (gay man) and asked to use his bathroom. To Anding’s surprise, the pair entered the bathroom together!

“They stayed there for almost three hours! My God, what were they doing there? I knocked and asked, ‘What are you doing in there?’ The door swung open and Sonny came out with false teeth and a contorted face. The bakla happened to be one of Cecile’s make-up people at Peta (Philippine Educational Theater Association). My God, you should have seen Sonny, he was so ugly. After this, they had to rush to have his photograph taken with that ugly face so that it could be put in his passport. Oh, I wish they had kept that passport with that face. It was so ugly. Sonny got through the Immigration People at the Manila International Airport!”

Smartphones have made interviews easier. I hope someone is documenting Edsa 2, 3, and more recent Philippine history before they fade from memory.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, EDSA, History, Looking Back, marcos
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