I recently finished reading a book by someone who is widely regarded as the most honest politician in the Philippines. Yes, yes, I know you’re going to tell me that the words honesty and politician rarely can sit on the same line, let alone side by side – especially in the Philippines; but everything I have seen of Miriam Defensor Santiago appears to support the view that here indeed is one of those rarities – a politician that you can actually believe in.
She is notable for having served in all three branches of the Philippine government – judicial, executive, and legislative. She was named one of The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World in 1997 by The Australian magazine; and in 1988, she was named laureate of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service, with a citation “for bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a corrupt-ridden government agency.”
In 2012, she became the first Filipina and the first Asian from a developing country to be elected judge of the International Criminal Court, but later resigned the post, citing chronic fatigue syndrome, which turned out to be lung cancer.
The fact that she had run in the 1992 presidential elections but was defeated in what was widely regarded as a rigged election is yet another blot on the history of the Philippines. Here one feels is someone who would have cleaned up Filipino society in a way that no other politician could ever do.
I was thinking about this amazing lady when I had the occasion to visit Ilocos Norte in the north of Luzon. Not only is there a museum dedicated to the memory of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, in the small town of Batac, but you can also visit the “Malacañang of the North” in Paoay – what used to be his official residence whenever the family travelled further up the coast.
Philippine society still seems divided on whether Ferdinand Marcos was a hero or a villain. No one can deny the excesses and corruption that were rampant under his rule; and most critics consider Marcos was the quintessential kleptocrat, having looted billions of dollars from the Filipino treasury.
(In the 2004 Global Transparency Report, Marcos appeared in the list of the World's Most Corrupt Leaders. He was listed second behind the late President Suharto of Indonesia, and was said to have amassed between $5 billion to $10 billion in his 21 years as president.)
According to a poll of over 13,000 people published on thetoptens.com, when asked “Do you believe that Marcos was the best president the country ever had?” 70.59 per cent said yes, with only 21.36% registering “of course not” and 5.82% saying they really couldn’t care less.
“The only president that made me define myself as Filipino,” wrote one. “The best, smartest, disciplined, tough, true Filipino president of all time!” wrote another, while a third explained he was “like a father who spanks his child not because he's abusive but he loves that child and wants that child to grow up successful. If he didn't implement martial law, we would probably not be #2 in Asia during that time and worst of all, the United States would probably try to invade us again!”
Well, I have talked of Paoay before in my blogs. It’s a lovely little place, dominated of course by San Agustin Church — which is hardly surprising given its stunning architecture that is not just a showcase of Spanish-era churches in the Philippines but also listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Just along the shores of Paoay Lake stands the Malacañang of the North – an imposing structure that remains true to the old-rich Spanish architecture of the province. It’s a constant reminder of the Philippines’ not-so-distant past, when the Marcoses wielded power during Martial Law, ending with his ouster during the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986.
It only costs 10 Peso (about 15 pence) to get in, which has to be one of the best values for money I have come across so far in this country. It’s a huge house which gives one an impression of the style to which the Marcoses accustomed themselves. The detailed hardwood touches, the marbled floors, spacious halls and shell windows still give visitors an impression of how it must have looked during its heyday, though with so many tourist feet tramping through the place it’s amazing that it is in as good a condition as it still is. As well as a home, this house also provided a venue to entertain affluent local personalities and foreign dignitaries.
The best part is probably the luxurious view of Paoay Lake…
which the Marcoses would have gazed down upon each morning as they padded their way to their massive bathroom.
Naturally there are pictures of the Marcos family at every turn. This, after all, is a shrine to the Marcoses, in all but name. Short old Ferdi…
… positioned opposite glamorous Imelda…
With pictures drawn by the likes of Bong Bong – their son, who is still active in Philippine politics to this day …
… as well as Ferdinand the statesman…
with a well-kept study office showing how the great man must have toiled away when not counting his ill gotten gains.
By anyone’s standards, it’s a beautiful building, faintly reminiscent of the Coconut Palace that Imelda had had built for the Pope’s visit to Manila (but which he had turned down!).
Some of the pictures, too, are really rather nice. I quite liked this painting of Paoay Church, for instance.
And for those with a curiosity that knows no bounds, who cannot but marvel at the size of the Marcos marital bed – I mean Ferdi was diminutive, as I might have mentioned. So what hanky panky did Imelda get up to at night time that demanded such a big bed, one has to ask oneself!
Perhaps making more of an impression than the Malacañang of the North, though, is the Marcos Museum in the City of Batac, which showcases memorabilia of the late President. Within this property, which still belongs to the Marcos family, is a cluster of three houses.
Ferdinand Edralín Marcos was the tenth president of the Philippines, serving from 1965 to 1986, until removed from office by the “People Power” EDSA Revolution. He studied law at the University of the Philippines, attending the prestigious College of Law. He sat for the 1939 Bar Examinations, receiving a near-perfect score and graduating cum laude despite the fact that he was incarcerated while revising, having been prosecuted for the murder of a political rival along with his father, brother and brother-in-law. (The Marcos family took their appeal to the Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court's decision, acquitting them of all charges except contempt.)
Naturally the museum is stuffed full of artefacts such as this saddle…
… and family photographs…
… and there is much trumpeting of what an amazing law student Marcos was.
I guess one can hardly be surprised by the loving adoration heaped on the late President. This is, after all, a museum put together by his relatives, many of whom are still in the very epicentre of Filipino politics. But just occasionally, one feels they may have heaped a little too much froth on top of the cappuccino. For instance: “When his beloved Ilocos demanded his service, he could not refuse. From being a lawyer, Ferdinand became a lawmaker representing the second district of Ilocos Norte. The young representative was working for the people who entrusted their fate to the 'golden voice of the north'.”
Those who love historic photographs will be delighted to see such pictures on display as the Japanese destruction of the old Intramuros sector of Manila
But what is perhaps more eye catching is a display of some of the medals he was awarded as a staunch anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter during World War II.
His tales of daring-do must have been sheer poetry to listen to – especially the tale of when he led a 9,000-man guerrilla force into northern Luzon. Indeed, by the mid 1960s Marcos touted himself to be the most decorated guerrilla leader of World War II, having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart among his many medals. Golly Gosh!
Such a shame that the Americans should then have chosen to trample over his fantasies and expose many of his claims as either false or inaccurate, with historian Alfred W. McCoy delving into United States Army records to show most of Marcos's medals were fraudulent. What spoilsports the yanks can be at times!
Early in his career, Marcos found the number 7 to be auspicious for him. In numerology the number seven represents perfection. So good old Ferdi insisted on practically every car number plate assigned to him to include the number 7. Later in his political career, he prevailed against Vice President Pelaez in the Nacionalista Party Convention with a striking 777 vote. Such an amazing coincidence!
The romantic tale of the promising statesman of Ilocos and the statuesque Rose of Tacloban is almost legendary. F&I came to epitomise what seemed to be the ideal Filipino couple. Aged 18, Imelda had been dubbed The Rose of Tacloban, Leyte, in the town's local flower festival. (She had also been given the monika of Muse of Manila at the Philippine International Fair and Expo of 1953.) On April 6, 1954, Ferdi fell in lust with her in a cafeteria and after just 11 days of chasing her, he got her to sign a marriage licence making her Mrs Marcos. How romantic!
Well, I don’t need to go into all the details about Ferdi’s life as a senator, president and thoroughly good egg. If you really want to find out about that, I guess you can always turn to Wikipedia.
To the right of the museum is a large house – but it’s well and truly locked up. Certainly not meant for the likes of the plebs – such as your favourite blogger – to visit.
But no worry. It’s also good to see that the commercial business ethic of your average Filipino still has a place in this most holy of memorials. Just along the path you can get a coffee (or rather you could if they had bothered to open) at the local “Storebucks”.
But that’s not the third building I was talking about earlier. (We are not told if the late great FM was a coffee drinker – though I somehow imagine he was more into a soothing mug of Milo or Ovaltine before he hit the mattress of a night with rumpy-pumpy Imelda.)
No. Building number three is much more sombre; and I for one was totally unaware that that very afternoon I would be coming face to face with El Presidente himself.
On September 28, 1989, Marcos died of lung, kidney and liver complications in Hawaii, three years after he and his family fled the country in the face of a nonviolent revolution which set an end to his regime. In a spirit of spitefulness, one can’t help but feel, the government of President Corazon Aquino denied the return of Marcos' remains to the Philippines; so they were interred in a private air conditioned mausoleum at Byodo-In, a Japanese Buddhist temple, on the island of Oahu.
But in September 1993, after having been kept in a refrigerated, glass-topped coffin inside an air-conditioned crypt for four years, Marcos' remains were finally taken to the Philippines after Fidel Ramos allowed Imelda Marcos to bring her husband's body home but refused her demand for a hero’s burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes' Cemetery) in Manila.
So his remains were interred in a mausoleum in Batac in building number three, next to the museum. And that’s where it will stay until the government yields to Imelda's demand for a hero’s burial (or not as the case may be).
Frank Malabed, Marcos' mortician, (this has to be a joke surely! Translate it into Franglais and you’ll see what I mean … mal à bed … tee hee hee) says it took him three weeks to restore Marcos' body so that Filipinos would recognize it. Hmmm must have been a pretty disgusting sight by then, I reckon. Local morticians apparently maintain it regularly, and everyone swears blind that the corpse is real, although many suspect it is a wax replica, and the real body was secretly buried.
Unlike the time I went to pay a visit to the late Mao Zedong (who also looks like a waxwork), I didn’t have to wait for more than about 10 seconds in Batac to be able to get in to see old Ferdi. Everywhere there are signs forbidding you to take any pictures, and there are a couple of bored looking security guards ready to pounce if you so much as think of getting your camera out of your pocket. Plastic flowers add a tasteful touch in the dim light, and distant canned music plays softly to put you in the right sombre mood.
All tiptoe softly through the moving tableau, wary of disturbing the great (diminutive) man’s sleep. I am sure that until such time as Imelda gets her wish for her hubby to receive a hero’s send off, FM’s many fans will be relieved to know that he is at least laid to rest in a termite-free zone.