Former President Ferdinand Marcos portrayed himself as an accomplished war veteran throughout his political career. He also labeled himself as the most decorated war hero in the Philippines with about 33 war medals and decorations he supposedly received for his contributions during the Second World War.
Throughout his presidency and his further ascension to dictatorship after his martial law declaration, some of his speeches and publicity materials contained references about his role as a leader of a guerilla faction that strong-armed the Japanese forces in northern Luzon.
But was Marcos a war hero? Contentions against the aforementioned claims have emerged since the 1980s. Former military officials, historians, and other scholars have concluded that the wartime stories of Marcos were either inaccurate or untrue. They argued that the former president exploited tall tales of heroism as propaganda.
Debunking the Claims: Controversies and Contentions Against the Wartime Participation and Accomplishments of Ferdinand Marcos
Both The New York Times and the Washington Post ran separate stories in January 1986 that exposed the asserted inaccuracies and untruthfulness in the wartime stories of Marcos, including the war medals and decorations he purportedly received.
Several other reports and publications followed suit since then, thus providing individual and supplemental contentions against some of the specific claims of Marcos. The findings have been identified, summarized, and discussed according to the pointers below:
Concerns Over the Terms of Release of Marcos as a Japanese Prisoner of War
Marcos was part of the American and Filipino troops held captive by the Japanese after the Fall of Bataan on 9 April 1942 and the Bataan Death March. The former president claimed that the Japanese eventually freed him on 4 August 1942. However, he did not explain the terms behind his release.
In a report published by the Washington Post, journalist John Sharkey noted that the claim of Marcos was not only dubious but also controversial. He explained that the Japanese government had confirmed that they released prisoners of war during WW2 from the Bataan Death March based on either one of the two conditions: the prisoner had severe health problems, or he or she had a family that cooperated with the Japanese military authorities.
Sharkey also obtained several lists of ailing prisoners furnished and published by the Manila press in the summer of 1942. The name of Marcos was not included in any of these lists. Hence, it was logical to assume that his family connived with the Japanese.
The assumption seems factual. Documents from the U.S. National Archives and the National Archives of Australia contained unreported details about the activities of Marcos and his father, Mariano Marcos, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Marcos himself wrote some of these documents.
As revealed in the documents, then Ilocos Norte Governor Mariano Marcos worked as a propagandist for the Japanese authorities. This was specifically disclosed in a diary by a Japanese interpreter assigned to the elder Marcos, as well as in a report by an American colonel who commanded a Filipino guerilla faction. The colonel also noted that the guerillas executed Mariano for his involvement with the Japanese.
On the other hand, the younger Ferdinand Marcos allegedly worked explicitly on behalf of Filipino politicians who schemed against the Americans and connived with the Japanese authorities. His primary objective was to support the cause of Jose P. Laurel who later became the president of the Japanese-controlled Republic of the Philippines in October 1943.
No Evidence to Support the Existence of the Guerilla Force “Ang Mga Maharlika”
Marcos built most of his tales of heroic feats around his role of leading an anti-Japanese guerilla resistance faction called “Ang Mga Maharlika” during WW2. He penned the history of the group in 1947 and submitted it to the U.S. Army in an attempt to gain recognition from the American government.
However, there is no supporting evidence attesting to its existence. The report of Sharkey mentioned that American military officials investigated the veracity of claims presented in the document submitted by Marcos and concluded that these were unfounded. Hence, the American government refused to recognize the faction officially.
Journalists Jeff Gerth and Joel Brinkley investigated further the findings surrounding this guerilla force supposedly led by Marcos. In their report published by The New York Times, numerous U.S. Army officers from 1945 to 1948 described the group as a “fictitious creation” and the claims as exaggerated, contradictory, and absurd.
A 1950 report by the U.S. Veteran’s Administration, completed with the help from the Philippine Army, revealed that some people who claimed membership in “Ang Mga Maharlika” had been linked to nefarious activities during WW2. Some of these activities include operating a black market and selling contrabands to the Japanese authorities.
Doubts About His War Medals and Decorations by Army Officials and Historians
Remember that Marcos labeled himself as the most decorated war hero in the Philippines with about 33 war medals and decorations supposedly given to him for his contributions during WW2. However, these feats have been challenged by army veterans, Filipino and American journalists, and historians.
Military veteran and former congressman Bonifacio Gillego wrote a series of articles published on WE Forum in November 1982 debunking the claims of the former president. According to him, out of the awards given by the Philippine government, only two were given to Marcos during WW2. These were the Gold Cross and the Distinguished Service Star. His interview with former military officials refuted the citations in these supposed medals.
An exploratory report by Mikas Matsuzawa and an opinion article by Jarius Bondoc noted that critics questioned why these medals and decorations were awarded long after the war. In referencing Gillego, the report mentioned that 11 medals were given in 1963 to Marcos when he was still Senate President. 10 of these medals were awarded on the same day.
Another 8 medals from the American and Philippine governments were campaign ribbons given to all those who participated in defense of Bataan and resistance against the Japanese during WW2.
The tell-all book “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos” by Primitivo Mijares, the former chief propagandist of the Marcos administration, mentioned that the former president presented affidavits in 1962 attesting to his wartime exploits. However, it revealed further that these documents were signed by already dead witnesses.
Note that after the publication of the articles by Gillego, the Marcos regime ordered the shutdown of WE Forum, as well as the arrest of 13 staffers and contributors. Also, after Mijares published his book in 1975, he disappeared and was never found again.
A study conducted and published by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 2016 concluded that three of the war medals Marcos claimed he received were unfounded. These are the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and the Order of the Purple Heart.
Story About the Bessang Pass was Allegedly Stolen from Another Soldier
The Marcos-commissioned biography “For Every Tear a Victory” by Hartzell Spence claimed that Marcos defended Bessang Pass all by himself, thus earning him his second Silver Star. However, the historical Battle of Bessang Pass took place from 9 January to 15 June 1945. Marcos service formally ended in May 1945.
In December 2016, several media outlets ran reports stating that the story of Marcos about Bessang Pass came from the war story of another soldier. A report published by ABS-CBN featured the story of Col. Conrado Rigor Sr. According to one of his sons, Manuel Rigor, their father was the real hero of Bessang Pass.
Manuel further explained that his family was acquainted with the Marcoses. Ferdinand Marcos even gave a eulogy when Conrado died. The Rigor family maintained their silence over the years, even when the allegations about the dubious war medals and decorations of Marcos surfaced during the 1980s.
Nonetheless, in the real story, Conrado fought alongside Filipino soldiers and some American soldiers in Bessang Pass, the last Japanese stronghold in Luzon. Their victory finalized the fall of the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. As noted by Manuel based on the stories of his father and fellow soldiers, Marcos was never in Bessang Pass.
Marcos was a Non-Combatant during the Second World War
It was also hard to believe that Marcos participated in the front lines during the war. In a quoted statement from history expert Ricardo Jose that appeared on the exploratory report of Matsuzawa, the former president served as an assistant intelligence officer and not an infantry soldier who engages in combat. Hence, his primary duty was confined within desk works or behind the scenes and not in the frontlines of the battlefield.
In the statements from Col. Romulo A. Manriquez and Capt. Vicente L. Ribera given to Gillego, they attested that the former president was a non-combatant and a civil affairs officer. Note that Marcos claimed to have served under these two high-ranking officials.
Marcos was a recipient of a “Medal For Valor” certificate dated on 16 October 1958 for his wartime exploits. The document mentioned that he worked as a “combat intelligence officer.” Journalist Buddy Gomez explained that there was no such position or occupational specialty used in the entire WW2 military nomenclature.
Gomez also noted that the “Medal For Valor” certificate remains dubious because “Medal of Valor” should be the proper title. He contended that personnel follows protocols and regulations using exact and proper military language and forms. Hence, for Gomez, either the document was fake or military officials were coerced to sign a certificate prepared by an outsider.
In his book “The Marcos File,” Charles McDougald also made a compelling argument against the heroic assertions of Marcos. He specifically argued that if these claims were true, then why they were not recorded in the official history of the Battle of Bataan by the U.S. Army, mentioned by war veteran Carlos P. Romulo, and discussed in the book “The Rising Sun” by John Toland. Essentially, there are no other records or documents verifying the purported extraordinary participation and accomplishments of Marcos in the Second World War.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Bondoc, J. 2011, April 29. “Marcos Medals: Only 2 in 33 Given in the Battle.” The Philippine Star. Available online
- Gerth, J. and Brinkley, J. 1986, January 23. “Marcos’s Wartime Role Discredited in U.S. Files.” The New York Times. Available online
- Gomez, B. 2016, December 2. “OPINION: Marcos, the Monumental Fraud.” ABS-CBN News. Available online
- Matsuzawa, M. 2016. “Was Marcos a War Hero? Imagined Heroism?” 31 Years of Amnesia: Stories on the Myths that Made Marcos. The Philippine Star. Available online
- McDougald, C. 1987. The Marcos File: Was He A Filipino Hero or a Corrupt Tyrant? San Francisco Publishing. ISBN: 978-0940777057
- Mijares, P. 1975. The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. 2016 Reprinted Edition.
- National Historical Commission of the Philippines. 2016. Why Ferdinand E. Marcos Should Not Be Buried At The Libingan Ng Mga Bayani. National Historical Commission of the Philippines. Available online
- Sharkey, J. 1986, January 24. “New Doubts on Marcos’ War Role.” The Washington Post. Available online
- Spence, H. 1964. For Every Tear A Victory: The Story of Ferdinand E. Marcos. 1st ed. McGraw-Hill. ASIN: B0006BM87Q