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Mining treasure in presidential papers

President Aquino must be counting the days before his return to private life and the renovated family home on Times Street, Quezon City. As an historian, I want to know what will happen to the mountain of documents that detail the six years of his presidency: What will be retained in the Malacañang Records Office? What will go to the Presidential Museum and Library? What will be discarded? What will he bring home and consign to the Aquino Center in Tarlac, to join the many records of his mother’s presidency that remain in boxes, unpacked?

While historians enjoy the thrill of the chase, research will be more efficient if we had a system like that in the United States for establishing presidential libraries. Concerning our presidents, historians have to seek out stray documents in various places: the National Library for Osmeña, Quezon and Garcia; the University of the Philippines Library for Roxas; the Magsaysay Center; the JP Laurel Foundation; and the Filipinas Heritage Library that has an organized digitized set of Quirino papers, thanks to the initiative of Ruby Q. Meyer.

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Diosdado Macapagal’s papers are split between the University of Santo Tomas and his former home in Forbes Park, Makati, while the papers of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are said to be in her home in La Vista, Quezon City. Fidel V. Ramos maintains all his files after his presidency in his Makati office and everything else in his Alabang home. While Finding Guides for these papers are available, most of the fun is to be had in the physical research.

Historians and students cannot thank Manolo Quezon and his diligent elves enough for organizing historical material and posting these online in the elegant websites of the Official Gazette and the Malacañang Presidential Library and Museum. Surfing the internet recently for material on President Ferdinand Marcos and US presidents, I found the detailed schedule followed by the White House Press Corps that covered US President Gerald Ford’s overnight state visit to the Philippines in December 1975.

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If we are to go by the Official Gazette, Marcos signed two decrees on Dec. 6, 1975—one amending articles of the Labor Code, and the other transferring ownership of public domain in Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte, to the National Shipyards and Steel Corp. His day was recorded as follows:

“THE PRESIDENT and visiting United States President Gerald R. Ford held their first talks at Malacañang. No announcement was made after the talks which lasted 45 minutes in the Music Room of the Palace. Escorted by the President and the First Lady, the Fords, together with daughter Susan, arrived at Malacañang at 6 p.m. at the head of a long motorcade from the Manila International Airport.”

To supplement the bare bones of that report, we have, online from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, the Pool Report of the State Dinner by Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“The 180 formally dressed guests passed one by one through a metal detector, of the sort used to thwart hijackers but decorated with ferns and ribbons, before proceeding to the second floor of the presidential palace for the dinner. Security at the palace had been tightened generally since the murder of a presidential assistant in his office in the palace compound three weeks ago, but local press said the metal detector was newly installed, especially for tonight’s dinner.

“Sword ferns lined the red carpet leading up the stairs and into the grand old-fashioned Maharlika Hall with its dark wood paneled ceiling. It was decorated with ferns and tropical flowers, and each table had a floral centerpiece with crossed flags and a candelabrum. Service included four gold-rimmed plates and four gold-rimmed glasses at each place.

“The guests, most of the men wearing the barong Tagalog, were greeted in a receiving line by the two presidents, their wives and Susan Ford. President Ford wore a black tuxedo with plain white dress shirt.

“Guests included the Rumanian charge d’affaires but not the Chinese charge. Philippine reporters had been told that China would not be represented at the dinner because the ambassador had not yet arrived in Manila. The Soviet Union does not have relations with the Philippines, but a TASS correspondent was in the press pool. Sixteen members of the Ford traveling press corps had been invited, but only nine showed up. President Ford spoke several sentences to one attractive young woman; she said afterward that he had told her he enjoyed being here but added, ‘Yes, I’m tired.’

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“The fourteen persons at the head table, seated under an embroidered awning, included [Henry] Kissinger, Imelda Marcos, President Ford, President Marcos and Mrs. Ford, in that order at the center. US Ambassador William Sullivan was at one end and Susan Ford was near the other.

“There was only one untoward incident. Milton Friedman was sitting near a huge candelabrum standing on the floor. Just as President Marcos was commencing his toast, one of the glass shields, like the glass of a hurricane lamp, shattered and fell—possibly someone had tripped on it—and Friedman’s head and shoulders were showered with glass and melted tallow. He left the table but stood at one end of the hall and did not appear to be hurt.

“The menu, in French, included l’essense de call[?] ‘Jenny Lind,’ filet of sole, and la cote de boeuf ‘perigourdine.’ There followed an hour of folk singing and folk dancing.”

A talented historian can weave all these details together into an engaging narrative that brings us back to just one day in history.

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 Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Aquino, Benigno Aquino III, History, museum, Noynoy Aquino, opinion, presidential paper
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