Debunking the WW2 Exploits of Ferdinand Marcos

The War Medals of Marcos: Real or Fake?

As one of his selling propositions to the voting public during the 1959 Midterm Election, then-senator aspirant Ferdinand Marcos banked on being the most decorated Filipino war hero. He claimed that he received 33 war medals and decorations, including the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor, for his contributions during the Second World War.

Supposed Medals and Decorations of Marcos from His WW2 Activities and Accomplishments

The former president claimed that he received a number of medals and decorations for his wartime participation, particularly his exploits during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Some of these military honors have been regarded as top-tier merits awarded either by the U.S. Army or the Philippine Armed Forces.

Below are some of the war medals alleged given to Marcos by the U.S. government due to being a member of the U.S. Armed Force in the Philippines or USAFP during WW2:

Medal of Honor: The highest and most prestigious military award given to a U.S. military personnel for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Sometimes informally referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Distinguished Service Cross: The second highest military award that can be given to a member of U.S. Army for distinguishing himself by extraordinary heroism not justifying the Medal of Honor, while engaged in an action against a U.S. enemy force.

Silver Star Medal: The third highest military award from the U.S. Army given to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces for valor in combat, specifically for gallantry in action against an enemy force of the U.S.

Purple Heart: A military decoration awarded to any military personnel who was wounded or killed while serving the U.S. Army while engaged in any action against a U.S. enemy or as s a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces

Based on several reference materials about the former president, including a 1964 biographical book commissioned by Marcos himself and authored by Hartzell Spence, Gen. Douglas MacArthur pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on him while Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright pinned the Medal of Honor.

Further claims noted that he received the Distinguished Service Cross “for extraordinary heroism in action on or about 18 January 1942” in a “commando action” at Mount Natib, Bataan.

He received two Silver Star, one “for gallantry in action during February 1942 in Bataan while serving as Assistant G-2, 21st Division, Philippine Army” and the other for his central role in defending Bessang Pass from the Japanese forces.

On the other hand, the following are some of the war medals supposedly awarded to Marcos by the Armed Forces of the Philippines:

Medal of Valor: The highest and most prestigious military award of the Armed Forces of the Philippines given to a member of the Philippine military for a conspicuous deed of personal bravery or self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty that distinguishes the recipient from his comrades.

Distinguished Service Star: The third highest military award of the Armed Forces of the Philippines given for eminently meritorious and valuable service rendered while holding a position of great responsibility.

Gold Cross: The fourth highest military award of the Armed Forces of the Philippines given to a member of the Philippine armed forces for gallantry in action not warranting the award of the Distinguished Conduct Star.

In the citation for the Distinguished Service Star, it read: “for outstanding achievement as a guerrilla leader.” The citation for the Gold Cross read: “for gallantry in action at Kiangan, Mt. Province, in April 1945.”

Debunking the Claims: Criticisms and Contentions Against the War Medals and Decorations of Marcos

Several reports have discussed the controversies about and contentions against the participation and accomplishments of Ferdinand Marcos during the Second World War. Included in some of these reports were specific criticisms that debunked or challenged the supposed war medals and decorations he allegedly received.

One of these reports came from military veteran and former congressman Bonifacio Gillego. In 1982, he published a series of articles debunking the claims made by the former president. The following were his critical findings:

• 11 of the 33 medals were given nearly 20 years after WW2, particularly when Marcos was already a Senate President with plans to run for President. From these 11 medals, 10 were given on the same day, and 3 of which were given under only one General Order.

• Eight of the 33 war medals and decorations Marcos claimed he received were actually campaign ribbons given to those who participated in defense of Bataan and the resistance to the Japanese occupation.

• Some of the awards were duplicated for the same action on the same day and place. For the Medal of Valor and Gold Cross award from the AFP, Col. Romulo A. Manriquez and Capt. Vicente L. Ribera debunked the citations. Note that Marcos claimed to have worked under these two officials.

Journalist Buddy Gomez also reputed the supposed Medal of Honor awarded to Marcos in 1958. He explained that the certificate mentioned that the former president worked as a “combat intelligence officer.” The document also had the title “Medal For Valor.”

In explaining his doubt, Gomez said that there was no position or occupational specialty called “combat intelligence officer” used in the entire WW2 military nomenclature. Furthermore, “Medal of Valor” should be the proper title of the certificate. He contended that personnel follows protocols and regulations using exact and appropriate military language and forms. Hence, for him, either the document was fake or military officials were coerced to sign a certificate prepared by an outsider.

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 already dead witnesses singed these documents.

With regard to the honors he received from the U.S. Army, investigations by journalists John Jeff Gerth and Joel Brinkley mentioned the fact that these medals have never been addressed in the records of the U.S. Army. When challenged by American and Filipino journalists, the Marcos government explained that the records validating the claims were destroyed in a fire.

There was also doubt about the other Silver Star medal Marcos said to have received from his role in the Battle of Bessang Pass in May 1945. In 2016, the son of Col. Conrado Rigor Sr. came forward to the media and claimed that his father was the real hero of the event. Marcos was never in Bessang Pass.

A study by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines or NHCP 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.

The NHCP also referenced reports made by journalists and historians. These reports collectively concluded that there was no evidence confirming the exact wartime participation and heroic feats of Marcos, including his alleged leadership of the guerilla force “Ang Mga Maharlika,” as well as records of military officers conferring military honors to the former president.

FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES

  • Bondoc, J. 2011, April 29. “Marcos Medals: Only 2 in 33 Given in the Battle.” The Philippine Star. 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
  • 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
  • Spence, H. 1964. For Every Tear A Victory: The Story of Ferdinand E. Marcos. 1st ed. McGraw-Hill. ASIN: B0006BM87Q
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