Marcos diaries: A September to remember
Long before 9/11 became a date to remember, I always associated it with Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s birthday. September is a red-letter month for the Marcoses. Aside from the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21, there were three birthdays to celebrate: Ferdinand Sr. on the 11th, Ferdinand Jr. on the 13th, and Irene on the 16th.On Sept. 11, 1973, Marcos noted in his diary:
“My birthday—The theme was austerity no frivolity. Mass, Ecumenical blessing at the landing in front of Maharlika, Dept. exhibits of accomplishments, Diplomatic toast (We found the use of the power all of Hydrazine which is under experimentation by our experts, to power a TV to see the Mohammad Ali-Ken Norton fight which Ali won on a split decision).
“Received visitors—Tondo slum dwellers (distributed 96 apartments). The heirs of Sultan Kudarat, University heads and scholars … The International Students, Boy Scouts, Barangays, the Quezon Guerillas and USAFIP, NL [United States Army Forces in the Philippines-Northern Luzon].
“Cabinet meeting from 1-3 PM.”
While he noted that his 62nd birthday was to be marked by austerity, some people didn’t get the memo and organized an evening birthday program in Luneta with 500 movie, television, and radio stars. The person who organized the asalto on the eve of Marcos’ birthday likewise missed the memo on “no frivolity” because at dinner on Sept. 10, the program had top brass of the Armed Forces of the Philippines appear in drag. “Pounded the table to splinters from hilarity,” said Marcos who declared that the generals, “looked so credible—as street walkers.” According, to the late Fidel Ramos, that drag show exposed the AFP generals to public ridicule, and the ill feelings sown that night probably contributed to his downfall in 1986.
Reading the Marcos diaries in retrospect helps put things in perspective. For example, one of the birthday presents he received that year was a bronze bust from the University of the Philippines, through its president Salvador P. Lopez, that prompted him to remark: “[T]he downfall of leaders often start when they acquire a feeling of indestructibility and infallibility.” Those were prophetic words.
The diary entry for Sept. 13, 1973, reads: “Bongbong’s birthday! He is now 16 years old. And as of now he’s put his mark on my diary.” If one is just reading a transcription or printed version of the text without any annotations, one would not know that the remark is literal as Bongbong actually wrote a line on the pages of his father’s diary and even initialed it “FRMII.”
The Marcoses took time off at Lido Beach where the president went water skiing, when Tina Revilla was stung by a jellyfish that prompted an allergic reaction. Marcos wrote:
“Drama! Crisis! Including injections of Adrenalin (Bongbong says Edralin for short!), Chlor Trimeton (anti-histamine). She called it the Aquamarine. Most women go through life guided by colors—a helicopter dash to MMC [Makati Medical Center] hospitalization under the nursing care of Lt. Col. [Corbatir?] and Mari Tess in short shorts which probably distracted the medical staff more than the ailment.
“Threatened Tracheotomy, then Intensive Care Unit at Makati Medical. Dra. Cua Lim, Internationally recognized allergist.
“The relative of the patient next door casually observing death usually follows such sensitivity to jellyfish—(It was probably a Portuguese man of war) to Tina’s hysterical matter.
“Actually a nephew of Tito Yulo died of jellyfish sting after a week. Dr. Cua Lim says the toxic substance has a curare-like effect. Paralyzing the respiratory muscles and nervous system.
“Bongbong was in a greater state of shock than anybody else.”
At this point in the diary, Bongbong interjected by writing: “This statement has caught my attention and I am suing for libel FM II.”
End of the story had Marcos noting that: “But at 5:00 PM Tina was wisecracking in bed already—low decolletage and all!”
The Marcos diaries are not all about state affairs but sometimes show the president at play, the president in a pensive mood, the president documenting gossip, or enjoying the company of his two children, on holiday from their studies in London. “But we are stimulated into a frenzy of grabbing at the joy of having the two children, Bongbong and Irene because they leave Monday for England,” Marcos wrote. He ended wistfully: “And loneliness shall settle once more upon our lives.”
The Marcos diaries give us a front-row seat into the goings-on in Malacañang. They must be read critically because they are a self-serving, self-referential document. Reading the above made me wonder: If the presidency is a heavy responsibility and a very lonely job, why do people aspire for it?
Comments are welcome at email@example.com