Following the resurgence of the decades old issue of burying Former Philippine President and Dictator Ferdinand Marcos to the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Filipino Heroes Grave), the interest of the Filipino people, especially the internet generation young Filipinos, have spurred to know more about the dictator that they only know through books and news. Filipino bloggers in particular have dug up from an old Australian newspaper article Marcos’ Aussie mistress and Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth in Down Under.
In this week’s issue of PH.CN, I would like to spur even more the interest of young Filipinos about Ferdinand Marcos by sharing to my readers an account of the life and times of the former dictator and the nearly forgotten controversy about Ferdinand Marcos’ Chinese benefactor, his supposed real father – Ferdinand Chua, a wealthy Chinese mestizo who helped Ferdinand Marcos in financing his education, his acquittal from the Nalundasan murder case, and in advancing his political career. In “Ferdinand Marcos, The Man Himself”, an essay on the family, youth, and military and political life of Ferdinand Marcos, author David Steinberg wrote:
Ferdinand Marcos, brilliant, charismatic, wily, was a confident man, a human being who believed his own falsehoods. Marcos lied to himself, his cronies, his nation audaciously. He was able to dominate his people for two decades, first as a symbol of hope and progress, later as an omnipotent dictator, and finally as a worldwide symbol of corruption and decay. He and his flamboyant wide, Imelda, created a “conjugal dictatorship”.
Ferdinand Edralin Marcos was born on September 11, 1917, in the town of Sarrat in Ilocos Norte, the poor and rugged northern area of Luzon. He was part of the provincial, Chinese mestizo elite. His mother was a grade-school. Her ancestors were cabezas de barangay under the Spanish rule. Marcos’ grandfather, Fructuoso Edralin, owned about 80 hectares of irrigated rice land and coffee plantation and additional 50 hectares outside of Sarrat. During the early part of American rule, Edralin expanded his property to include 100 hectares of virgin forest. He sold the lumber to Chinese mills linked to his wife’s family, the Quetulios, wealthy Chinese mestizo merchants in Ilocos Sur. Both Marcos’ mother, Josefa, and his father, Mariano, were educated in Laoag, where they had been taught by the American educators – Thomasites. Mariano Marcos’ grandfather was an illegitimate son of a Spanish provincial judge. Ferdinand Marcos’ family thus was both Chinese and Spanish mestizo. Ferdinand Marcos’ paternal grandfather, Fabian, served as mayor of a provincial town, Batac.
As with most things connected to Ferdinand Marcos, however, there is unsubstantiated rumor suggesting that his mother actually became pregnant by Ferdinand Chua, the son of one of the major Chinese families in Ilocos. The story, chronicled by hostile biographer, Sterling Seagrave, claims that the Chua family blocked the marriage, encouraging instead an arranged marriage between Josefa Edralin and Mariano Marcos, who was seven years her junior. In exchange for this, the Chua are claimed to have assisted Mariano Marcos’ career dramatically, and Ferdinand Chua, known later on in life as Fernando, became young Ferdinand’s godfather. The Chua family according to Seagrave, encouraged and perhaps paid the Marcos family to move to Manila, where Mariano graduated from the University of the Philippines in 1924, running for the Philippine Legislature that same year. Josefa became a schoolteacher in Manila, and the family thus developed ties to the city as well as to the provinces. In 1930 young Ferdinand enrolled in the University of the Philippines High School, and later, the University of the Philippines. (Seagrave mentioned that it was Ferdinand Chua that supported the schooling of Ferdinand Marcos.)
Mariano Marcos for years sought reelection to the Legislature. In 1935, he aligned himself with Bishop Gregorio Aglipay, who ran for president against Manuel Quezon. Quezon won by a landslide even in Ilocos, and Marcos’ opponent Julio Nalundasan, won easily. Mariano Marcos was ridiculed by Nalundasan’s supporters. Shortly after the election, someone assisinated Nalundasan. One of Mariano Marcos’ supporters was accused, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Three years thereafter, Ferdinand Marcos, his uncles, and, later his father were arrested for Nalundasan murder. Ferdinand, then in his last year of law school, petitioned the Philippine Supreme Court for release on bail, which was granted, permitting him to complete his education and get his degree. The case received national attention. At the end of 1939, Ferdinand Marcos found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, was sentenced to a minimum ten years in prison. There, he wrote his own appeal brief, took the bar exam, and emerged as topnotcher. Later in 1940, in a well-publicized Supreme Court hearing presided over by Jose P. Laurel, Marcos defended himself vigorously. Laurel, having been in an almost comparable case early on in his career, ruled that the evidence offered at the original Marcos trial was insufficient and contradictory. Ferdinand Marcos was freed. (According to Seagrave, it was Ferdinand Chua who worked behind the scenes and really managed to influence the Supreme Court to dismiss the solid testimony that had earlier convicted Marcos of murder.)
Much of Ferdinand Marcos’ later political success was based on his claims that he was a war hero, a guerrilla leader, and one of the most highly decorated combat veterans of World War II. These boasts like many others, were made often and proudly without the slightest suggestion of doubt. Domestic and foreign audiences, including presidents of the United States accepted the claims at face value. They have since been recognized as highly suspect. Marcos was called into active service as an ROTC reserve officer, he was at Bataan, and he did have some sustaining involvement with several guerrilla organizations. But it is also possible that he was at some point he was involved with Jose P. Laurel (the puppet president of the Japanese-sponsored Philippine government).
Did Ferdinand Marcos discern himself from truth to fiction? From the puffery Filipinos call palabas? Could he genuinely separate reality from what he wished reality to have been? All great confident men must themselves believe what they say in order to be believed by others. The Marcos mythology suffused his life with those attributes required to lay claim to the regalia of leadership. Every story, every tale, even his anting-anting added an element of legitimization. The path down the yellow brick road to the presidency was clear. The marriage to a beauty queen from the Visayas, Imelda Romualdez, strengthened his appeal and gave him a formidable partner, one who, in her youth, appeared to embody of all the Filipina charms – beauty, talent, ambition.
Ferdinand Marcos was elected to Philippine Congress in 1949. After three terms he ran for the Senate in 1959. Charming the Filipino people that “Philippines would be great again”, Filipinos made him president in 1965. Seven years later, in 1972, Ferdinand Marcos placed the Philippines under dictatorship and plunged the nation into abyss.