The Marcos karate chop | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

The Marcos karate chop

/ 12:08 AM January 14, 2015

When I asked the eminent Filipino historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo how he managed conflicting sources, he answered that often those not meant for public consumption were best. The more secret or private the document, the more reliable it is. But what if the private document is itself questionable, like the diaries of Ferdinand E. Marcos?

Our elaborate (some would say “overacting”) security arrangements for Pope Francis’ visit this week is a continuing reaction to the attempt on the life of Pope Paul VI at the Manila International Airport in 1970. Much has since been written about who really saved that pope. Here is Marcos’ version as written in his diary on the evening of Nov. 27, 1970:


“This has been an eventful day. I probably saved the life of Pope Paul VI this morning five to ten minutes after his arrival at 9.30 a.m. at MIA via Alitalia.

“A certain Benjamin Mendoza of Bolivia, a painter who has been in the Philippines for about two years which included a one-man show at the National Museum under the sponsorship of the Museum and Asst. Director Andres Cristobal Cruz, tried to stab the Pope with a foot-long Arab-looking kris-dagger with an eight-inch-long blade which was blackened deliberately.


“This happened after we had passed through the line of high government officials ending with Sec. Manuel Collantes, Acting Sec. of Foreign Affairs, and the Pope was extending his hand to Cardinal Kim of Korea who was kneeling. I was slightly behind and to the left of the Pope.

“Suddenly this Benjamin Mendoza pushed his way to within one meter to the right front of the Pope. He was dressed as a priest and was holding on the palm of his right hand a box with a crucifix on top of it. What attracted me was the point of a dagger barely beginning to show underneath. I have the habit of looking at the hands of people around me when I am in a crowd, and my security is trained to do the same.

“I ran or took two steps to the right rear of the Pope, parried the hand of Mendoza which had lunged towards the Pope, with my left hand, and hit the arm with a karate right hand chop and at the same time pushing the Pope backwards and out of the way of the dagger thrust with my left hand. There was a bishop to my front who blocked my way and must have received the right foot kick that I threw at Mendoza afterwards (towards his scrotum). I did manage to kick Mendoza in the shin of the left leg and he lost his balance as NBI Director Jolly Bugarin and another security wrestled with him.

“My karate chop had dislodged the dagger from his hand and the Pope whom I pushed a second time lost his balance backward into the arms of Imelda, who was right behind, who held him up, otherwise he would have fallen to the ground.

“Later Capt. Doliva, Imelda’s aide-de-camp, picked up the dagger and Imelda picked up the cross of Mendoza.

“There is a still picture of me hitting the man with a karate chop from behind and to the right of the Pope.

“We were supposed to shake hands with the diplomatic corps and cabinet members as well as other religious leaders (Muslim, Protestant, Independent, etc.) but because of the upsetting incident, I led the Pope to the dais where we delivered our speeches. Incidentally, I addressed him as Pope Pius VI instead of Pope Paul the first time that I named him. This was the only slip I made in what listeners called an impressive welcome speech.


“Later we went round to shake hands.

“But this incident would not have occurred if the Pope’s staff had allowed our men to put in close-in security.

“Then the garb of the priest misled everyone. Now every priest is suspect. Whether the Vatican staff allows it or not we are guarding the Pope.

“I have had to bandage my right hand as my old sprain was worsened by the strong karate chop. It was worth the pain. What a tragedy it would have been if Mendoza had succeeded in killing the Pope!

“And what a relief the attempt was not by a Filipino!

“The Pope is happy with what he termed the ‘explosive enthusiasm’ demonstrated by the people in welcoming him in the route he took.

“When I apologized in the afternoon when he visited us at 5.30-7.00 PM, ate merienda with the four of us and conferred with me alone with Bishop Matchinkos interpreting, for pushing him so hard and for the incident of someone attempting against his life, he waved it off and said it could have happened anywhere and he is overwhelmed by the spontaneous and riotous reception. Millions must have welcomed him.

“… I feel that I have been an instrument of God in saving the life of the Pope.

“When the assassination attempt was made, my mind and body functioned automatically. Of course, there was no time for rationalization and deliberation, but I felt myself move as if guided by an Unseen Hand. As I write this, my hair stands on end as I realize what this means.

“There was no hesitation in my movements. It was as if there was a script I was following which I had been made to memorize long, long ago which I merely executed—the role and action coming naturally as to a well-rehearsed actor.

“And there was no feeling of anger or fear or any other emotion on my part.

“It was if I was just an instrument—unfeeling, unthinking, and unhesitating.”

The news reports the next day, however, were conflicting, with different actors on the airport red carpet giving different versions of the same event. (More on Friday)

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: marcos, Teodoro A. Agoncillo
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