This is the title of an unpublished research paper for a college political science class that I wrote in 1978. It is still very much apropos in 2021. The article which follows, however, is a new composition.
I was in the Philippines when President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. I was in Hawaii when he fled the Philippines for here in 1986. I was involved in the U.S. Customs processing of his possessions and those of his family both in 1986 and upon their ultimate disposition a few years later. I encountered several members of the Marcos family on the job over the years.
Though my last visit to the Philippines was in 1993, my wife whom I met in the Philippines 51 years ago and I have family and friends there. My life has been very much intertwined with the destiny of the Philippines for over half-a-century.
Though I have no such personal observations of present Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as I do of Marcos, there are many lessons from an elected president becoming a dictator a generation ago that are still very applicable today.
There are adequate references on the Marcos era, but what I will submit here is a personal perspective not recorded in any history books or previous articles. These are lessons not only for the good people of the Philippines in the 21st century, but also for the United States of America.
MARTIAL LAW UNDER MARCOS
The first time I ever recall seeing Ferdinand Marcos on television was in the 1960s when I was a teenager as he was giving a speech at the United Nations. I remember being impressed with his eloquence but had no inkling of things to come.
When I first arrived at Clark Air Base in the Province of Pampanga in the Philippines in April 1970, the United States was engaged in a war 800 miles away from that Island archipelago in Vietnam. I did my service in the Philippines and on Okinawa but was never in a combat zone.
However, as a young Airman, I soon became aware that the environment outside the base could be very perilous unless due caution was exercised. The New People’s Army / Huks were involved in an active insurrection based there in Central Luzon.
There were some of my fellow members of the U.S. Air Force who met with tragedy. One I recall went hiking in an off-limits area into the mountains behind Clark and was discovered some time later buried in a shallow grave. One was shot in the back of the head while sitting in a local movie theater in downtown Angeles City. Another had ventured on his motorcycle into the adjacent province of Tarlac to the north into another off-limits area. His motorcycle broke down and he left it there but when he went back to get it the next day, something happened and he didn’t return alive.
I bring up these incidents to set the scene for what the lack of law and order situation was in the Philippines at that time which was bordering upon anarchy. I remember one situation where several local barrio officials in Tarlac had been lined up along the highway and assassinated. The Philippine Constabulary (or PC) which has now been rebranded as the Philippine National Police were on every corner carrying armalites. We were warned to keep our distance from them in case they were the target of the rebels so we wouldn’t become collateral damage.
In September of 1972, I had recently returned to the Philippines for another assignment after spending nearly a year on Okinawa and a few months back stateside. We had experienced a devastating typhoon and record-breaking flooding. My wife and young son had just joined me back in the Philippines. I remember that her American green card was stolen out of her purse during those days.
Yet, none of this situation deterred me from getting off base at every possible opportunity. It was there that I had met my wife in a missions church where she grew up and was the pianist and organist. To this day, we have many wonderful Christian friends in the Philippines.
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Here is an article which I wrote two years ago about the historic friendship between the Philippines and the United States:
America’s good friends in the Philippines
Which brings us to the key question: why did President Marcos declare martial law? I will leave it to the historians to fully answer that. But, he certainly had good reason to see that only a strong hand would get his country under control.
It may have been a false flag operation in which his defense minister was the target of an assassination. It may very well be that was a setup as an excuse for the declaration of martial law.
It’s not my purpose here to go into the more far-reaching consequences of martial law such as the abolishment of Congress and the judicial system, suspending the Philippine Constitution. Dictatorship is by definition one-person rule. That is what Ferdinand Marcos exercised for nearly 14 years.
I will interject here that these memories are a large part of the reason I so adamantly opposed the imposition of martial law in the United States after the recent foreign interference in our national elections. Sometimes the so-called cure can be worse than the problem at hand.
To this day, I remain somewhat sympathetic toward Ferdinand Marcos. I believe he was a legitimate hero of the Filipino resistance during World War II during the Japanese invasion and occupation. My own uncle, Ottis Ware, Mvskoke (Creek) and patriotic American, died last year at age 101. He had told me that he had been a U.S. Army soldier in Bataan prior to the time of the Death March. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity during his long life to really find out more of the details of his service there, but this was coincident with the time that Marcos was fighting probably farther to the north since he is from the province of Ilocos Norte.
My wife’s father lived through that World War II era in the Philippines. I did have the opportunity to talk to him briefly about some of his experiences, including jumping off Abacan Bridge in Angeles City to escape the enemy soldiers.
Most of the friends we have here in Hawaii are from Marcos’s home province of Ilocos Norte and he is universally admired. The man had many years of faithful service to his country. I refuse to totally condemn him for the obvious excesses of what happened during the martial law regime.
The only obvious impact of martial law for myself as an American serviceman in the Philippines was the national curfew which was imposed between midnight and 5 a.m., that did not apply once we set foot inside the base which was under American control at that time. I went out with a missionary friend to churches in the neighboring province of Tarlac many times and we always had to be sure that he dropped me off at the main gate of the base and that he got inside his house before midnight so as not to violate the curfew.
Otherwise, the existence of martial law did not have any significant detrimental impact upon U.S. military personnel in the country. In early 1973, I participated in an operation called Egress Recap later renamed Operation Homecoming in which the former American POW’s were released from Vietnam, including John McCain and many others who did their time in hell. I disagreed a lot with what McCain did as Senator, but I still give him a bye due to his prior service.
That’s much like how I feel about Marcos. I don’t want to put total blame upon his wife Imelda who has been likened to the infamous Marie Antoinette [“Let them eat cake”], wife of King Louis XVI of France. It is undoubtedly ironic coincidence rather than intentional, but I just now realized that the French monarchy was overthrown on 21 September 1792 and Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines on 21 September 1972.
THE PEOPLE POWER REVOLUTION OF 1986
After the assassination of opposition politician Benigno Aquino Jr. on a tarmac at Manila International Airport in 1983, it became obvious that Marcos’s days as dictator were nearing an end. I’m limiting my narrative here to observations from my own interactions with events so I will not go into great detail about that.
If you have read any of my previous articles you know that I am a student of history, but there are rare occasions in which the writer becomes not only an observer but also a participant to some limited degree. Such was the case in 1986, when President Marcos was overthrown and fled the Philippines.
My knowledge blends personal experience with professional involvement. When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, I was on active duty in the United States Air Force in the Philippines. When he fled to Hawaii in 1986, I was a U.S. Customs Inspector here in Honolulu.
There is some question whether Marcos and Imelda knew when they boarded a U.S. military aircraft exactly where their destination was to be. Some speculate that he thought they were taking him to his home province of Ilocos Norte in Northern Luzon.
However their first stop was at Andersen Air Force Base on the Island of Guam, which is a United States territory only 3 or 4 hours flight from Manila. They were processed there by United States Immigration and Naturalization Service which at that time was still separate from the United States Customs Service. It is an anomaly that Guam is part of the USA for immigration purposes, but not part of the U.S. Customs territory.
It is my understanding that loads of cash as well as jewelry were found mostly in the Pampers boxes of Marcos’s grandchild while they were in Guam, but they were allowed to proceed for Customs processing at Hickam Air Force Base here in Hawaii. It was in my capacity as a U.S. Customs Inspector that I was assigned to help inventory her jewelry on the Customs examination counters at the MAC Terminal at Hickam.
I did not personally get involved in counting or inventorying the money, which was handled mostly by Special Agents of U.S. Customs Office of Investigations, whereas we of the Inspection and Control Division sorted out the valuables, most of which belonged to Imelda Marcos.
For those unfamiliar with the transformation that took place with the development of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2003, U.S. Customs inspections were merged with immigration inspections [formerly part of the Justice Department] into U.S. Customs and Border Protection, whereas investigations of the formerly separate agencies were merged under Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Most of my recollections in this article are from when U.S. Customs Service was a separate agency under the Treasury Department.
Along with the currency, the agents also inventoried documents in the briefcase of Marcos’s Aide, General Fabian Ver. What I remember is just seeing all the expensive jewelry which Imelda brought with her, which we will talk more about in the next section.
It was quite a dramatic and unforgettable experience when all of these high value items were taken from the Customs examination area at Hickam Air Force Base and placed into World War II bunkers on the other side of the flight line near the ocean on the base. U.S. Air Force Security Police had their automatic weapons at the ready during the transportation process as though they were expecting an assault to try to take the items. I have no idea whether such a threat actually existed, but they obviously had reason to think that it might. Either that, or else just an abundance of caution is better than an absolute disaster.
Not long after that experience at Hickam, I transferred on the job to the U.S. Mainland, or CONUS as the military would call it. I worked both at LAX and at Los Angeles / Long Beach Harbor for several years. Then I spent a similar period at U.S. Customs Service HQ in Washington DC doing outbound enforcement.
I was working there barely three blocks from the White House when the Mt. Pinatubo Volcano awakened from over 600 years of dormancy to destroy Clark Air Base in 1991. I returned to Hawaii on Friday the 13th of December of that year.
FINAL DISPOSITION OF IMELDA’S JEWELRY
In the early 1990s, probably 1992 or 1993, I don’t recall the exact date, all of the valuables which had been stored in a huge safe behind the desk of U.S. Customs Service District Director George Roberts in the old Federal Building on Merchant Street in Honolulu were finally returned to their rightful owners.
I am speaking here about my own personal direct knowledge of events so I’m not going to extrapolate about court orders that led to that event. My role was very simple. I did not have to participate in the inventory. That was the job of the lawyers for Imelda Marcos and those of the then-Philippine government under President Fidel Ramos, ironically a cousin of Ferdinand Marcos who had been instrumental in relieving him of power.
All I had to do was just to make sure none of these prodigious attorneys stuck anything in their pocket. That was it. However, I will note here, before we talk about the jewelry, that among all the items that were held by U.S. Customs over the years was some sort of kidney dialysis device. I don’t remember exactly who made the statement, but it was basically that we all now know for sure whether the rumors about Marcos’s health were true or not. In fact, he had succumbed in 1989 while I was on the Mainland. So, Imelda was basically representing herself through her surrogates.
The one item that stands out in my mind was an emerald and diamond necklace valued at that time at 1.5 million U.S. dollars. I frankly don’t know whatever happened to her legendary collection of shoes. The jewelry was divvied up as designated between those representing Imelda and those representing the Philippine government on behalf of the Filipino people.
I won’t speculate about how Marcos robbed the Philippine Treasury with bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. But a presidential salary would certainly not support the acquisition of such expensive items for his wife. As of this writing, Imelda Marcos is still alive at age 91. She has been involved in political intrigues of her own since the demise of her late husband. But that Marie Antoinette analogy really is worth considering.
I should note that the legal status of the Marcos family valuables after they arrived in Hawaii is not something of which I am personally aware. It is obvious that as a former head of state who had lost power in his home country, he was not accorded diplomatic immunity. Otherwise all of these items would have been exempt from examination even. I don’t know under what immigration status he and his family were admitted at Guam. Likewise, whether U.S. Customs actually seized [confiscated] the items or merely detained them for a legal determination is beyond the scope of my own personal involvement. What I do know as a fact is that they were here in Hawaii under the control and protection of the U.S. Customs Service for more than a half-dozen years.
CONTACT WITH MARCOS FAMILY MEMBERS
During my long career in uniform with U.S. Customs before I did a lateral transfer to become a plain-clothes Field Analysis Specialist to round out my combined 42 years military-civilian federal service to America, I did have some occasions to encounter not only Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos on a trip they made to Hawaii while he was still in office, but also with his daughter Imee and son Ferdinand Jr.
Early in my career, then-President Marcos and his wife traveled to Hawaii and had a public event on behalf of the large, significant Filipino Community here in the 50th state. It was held at the Blaisdell Arena in downtown Honolulu. In my capacity as a private person, off-duty, I attended the event simply as a spectator. Both were very adept in public appearances.
I recall once when Imee Marcos came to the counter at our U.S. Customs office when I was working the night shift at Honolulu International Airport, since renamed as Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. As I recall, she was requesting a visitor pass to come in and greet some arriving dignitary from the Philippines which was denied by the U.S. Customs supervisor on duty.
The one recollection I have after the inception of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, after the merger of customs and immigration processing, as a Customs Supervisor, I was overseeing the immigration primary process when the son of the late Ferdinand Marcos arrived. “Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Romualdez Marcos Jr. is a Filipino politician who most recently served as a senator in the 16th Congress. He is the second child and only son of former President and dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and of former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.”
I don’t think all the details of that arrival are in the public domain, however it was a very high-profile event of which everybody in the press and the community was well aware. Bongbong Marcos ran unsuccessfully for Vice President of the Philippines in 2016 in an election which I understand he still contests.
DUTERTE AND BIDEN
That concludes my personal recollections of the Marcos era in the Philippines and of him and his family members. However, we should take a moment to consider the lessons which we can learn both on behalf of the United States and the Philippines.
Who happens to be in power in a given country at a given time makes a world of difference.
If there is one take away from this article, that last sentence was it.
I have followed the events in the Philippines ever since my first arrival there in 1970. That includes subsequent Philippine presidents as well as subsequent American presidents. A lot has happened from Nixon until Biden. Just as much has happened from Marcos until Duterte.
I have written at length about the differences between Donald Trump and Joseph Biden. But it is worth our while to consider and contrast Ferdinand Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte.
Here are two background articles which I wrote early last year that will provide you some insights, which I will not attempt to repeat at this time.
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Philippines: United States is on the brink of losing our long time friend and ally to China and Russia unless we act very soon
Filipinos must deal with their volatile leader Rodrigo Duterte (Du30) who hates the United States
From my latter article:
QUOTE FROM A VERY RELIABLE SOURCE
“Duterte is a flat out sociopath with likely narcissistic personality disorder. He is an incredibly dangerous and unstable man.”
I will herewith conclude this instant treatise with an admonition that we realize that what happened in the Philippines before could happen again. There is concern as I write these words at the present moment that President Duterte has not been seen publicly for a while.
Whether he is ill, or in hiding, or perhaps seeking medical treatment in China, even as the Chinese Communist Party invades Philippines’ sovereign territory in the West Philippine Sea, remains to be seen. The problematic factor is that Duterte is not a person with a historical respect for and friendship toward the United States as was Marcos. Therefore, whatever his own personal ambitions, they are not now mitigated by our long-time alliance between two nations.
Compound that with the fact that Joe Biden may or may not continue supporting our Filipino allies as did Donald Trump. Antony Blinken is not Mike Pompeo. Our best hope comes that members of the government in Manila, both civilian and military, are much more in touch with a shared history and destiny of the Philippines and the United States than is their current president from Davao on the southern island of Mindanao, with his connections to Islamic and Communist foes of both our republics.
My greatest concern goes beyond the alleged extrajudicial killings and overly-authoritarian regime of Rodrigo Duterte. The excesses and abuses of the Marcos regime related to corruption on behalf of a ruler and his own family. But what we see today threatening is a failure to recognize the Chinese Communist Party as the avowed enemy of the Filipino people as well as of America.
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Partly it is Duterte’s lack of understanding and respect for the historic connection between his country and ours. General Douglas MacArthur who was the military hero that fulfilled his promise to return and liberate the Philippines was born and raised there. Filipinos in America have contributed greatly to the fabric of our own society. We have no greater friends anywhere on Planet Earth.
I will conclude here with one personal anecdote. My late brother-in-law was of Chinese-Filipino ancestry, having been born and raised in the Philippines, with a Filipina mother and a father who fled at the time of the Communist Revolution in China of 1949. Shortly after we sponsored them and they immigrated legally to the United States in 1992, he showed me some war bonds which were issued by the former Nationalist Government in China under Chiang Kai-shek before he fled to the island of Taiwan.
We took them to both the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China and the liaison office, whatever name they were using at that time, of Taiwan here in Honolulu. Both disclaimed any responsibility for redeeming them. While that doesn’t surprise me about Beijing, it is a bit disappointing for Taipei. Just as Confederate currency in our country has no monetary value today, neither do financial instruments issued by the government that lost the war and established a Chinese Republic in Exile. That is my term for Taiwan and I will stick with it.
Rodrigo Duterte fails to comprehend that China is the enemy of the Philippines and America is the friend of the Philippines. At least, whatever evil Ferdinand Marcos did, that particular transgression was not held to his account.
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CONSIDERING THE TITLE OF THIS ARTICLE
“The Genesis of a New Philippine Legacy: Self-Determination”
If Marcos did nothing else of lasting value, it was that he determined that his country would not be the pawns or victims of any other nation on Earth. The Filipino people would determine their own course forward.
To all our Filipino friends today, I encourage you to go forward with that same determination. You have absolutely nothing to fear from America. But, whether they are building artificial islands in the Spratlys not far off shore from your own Island of Palawan, which I had the honor of visiting in 1973, or exploiting the natural resources of your own country and those on your other Southeast Asian neighbors, whether they are chasing away Filipino fishing boats or news crews, China is poised to do you harm.
You did what you had to do in 1986 after years of exploitation under President Marcos. Follow your own constitutional process and due course of law to ensure that the governance of the Philippines is in the best interest of all Filipino people. President Duterte’s one 6-year term is due to expire next year in 2022. I am on record about my admonitions to my own fellow Americans about the results of our own recent presidential election, and I sincerely hope you will do better than we did next time.
One of the key founders of my own country, James Madison, reminded his constituents that the people are the only legitimate fountain of power. Look at the sacrifices of Dr. Jose Rizal and his dedication to your country. Just as Madison is a better role model than Biden, Rizal is far better for you to emulate than Duterte.
The world will soon find out whether you really learned the lessons of the Marcos era. My heart is with you but the responsibility is yours alone. I hope the insights I have provided here will in some small measure be of value to you in that quest for true self-determination and liberty for all.
Mabuhay ang Republika ng Pilipinas!
‘The Purge’ by Big Tech targets conservatives, including us
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For the last few months, NOQ Report has appealed to our readers for assistance in staying afloat through Covid-19 lockdowns. The downturn in the economy has limited our ability to generate proper ad revenue just as our traffic was skyrocketing. We had our first sustained stretch of three months with over a million visitors in November, December, and January, but February saw a dip.
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