Former Philippines President Ferdinand E. Marcos, during a period in the 1970s when he publicly presented himself as a champion of democracy, was secretly formulating elaborate plans to “eradicate” all dissent, according to documents described as part of Marcos’ heretofore undisclosed personal diary.
The hand-written documents describe in extensive detail Marcos’ design, worked out a few years before he seized dictatorial power, for what he called a “total solution” to the “deadly peril” of communism--an elaborate scheme to “liquidate” Communists and silence opposition political leaders and media critics through mass arrests.
“I have that feeling of certainty that I will end up with dictatorial powers if the situation continues--and the situation will continue,” Marcos wrote in 1970, about a month after taking his second oath to defend the Philippine constitution, according to the documents.
At one point in his drive for power, Marcos went so far as to foster civil unrest against his own administration as part of a calculated campaign in the early 1970s to justify imposition of authoritarian rule, the papers show.
The documents, running to more than 2,000 pages and obtained by The Times through sources in the Philippines over the past six months, are part of a larger manuscript that sources say was discovered in the presidential palace months after Marcos fled Manila in the bloodless rebellion that carried Corazon Aquino to power in February, 1986.
Marcos, through a spokesman in Honolulu on Wednesday, blasted the release of the personal papers as “an invasion of privacy.” Marcos aide Gemmo Trinidad said that “if private documents like these have been released, we might be compelled to go to court.”
James Miller, an independent handwriting analyst retained by The Times, compared random pages from the journal to formal decrees written by Marcos and found that “virtually everything was consistent.”
One former U.S. official, knowledgeable on Philippine affairs who said he had seen portions of a Marcos diary, said Marcos kept such a journal because “he was a man concerned with his image in history.”
And the document, which deals not only with Marcos’ political plans and philosophizing but with the minute details of his medical and other personal concerns, correlates closely with independent accounts of events in the Philippines during the period.
The remarkably revealing papers--whose existence has been treated as a state secret by the Aquino government--provides the most intimate look thus far at the views of Marcos, a man who long cast himself as a defender of democracy and friend of the United States.
In addition to boldly stating Marcos’ dictatorial ambitions, hinting at sanctioned vote fraud and candidly expressed desire to seize absolute power, the papers reveal a clearly duplicitous relationship with American officials carried on over a period of two decades.
Bent on Gaining Power
The image of Marcos that emerges, apparently in his own words in page after page of handwritten manuscript, is that of a man bent on gaining absolute power by whatever means were required--and prepared to deceive U.S. officials repeatedly in the process.
As such, the Marcos’ of these documents stands in potentially embarrassing contrast to the often-glowing portraits of the Philippine leader drawn by American Presidents from Lyndon B. Johnson to Ronald Reagan. Good relations with the Philippines, strategically located in the South Pacific and home to vast American military installations, have been considered a matter of national security by a succession of U.S. governments.
For Reagan, the disclosures could complicate an already difficult decision on what to do about Marcos. The former president was granted haven in this country as part of a U.S. effort to avoid bloodshed and turmoil in the Philippines during the 1986 revolution, but he and his wife, Imelda, now face possible indictment in a massive criminal fraud case prepared by federal prosecutors in New York.
As President, Reagan could block the indictment.
The Times reported Tuesday that the State Department is pressing federal prosecutors to give Marcos a chance to negotiate a plea bargain before any indictment is issued, an action that could spare Reagan having to make a decision.
Private Views of U.S.
Marcos’ relationships with U.S. officials were tinged with duplicity over a period of about 20 years. They show, for example, that while Marcos was portraying himself publicly as America’s best friend in Asia, he was privately contemptuous of the United States and darkly paranoid about imagined plots by U.S. ambassadors and the CIA to topple him.
In fact, the papers show, he once abruptly reopened delicate negotiations on U.S. military bases in a fit of pique over public disclosures of his intimate relations with an American B-movie actress--embarrassing accounts he blamed on the CIA.
The portions of the manuscript obtained by The Times open on New Year’s Eve of 1970. Marcos had just been reelected to his second--and legally his last--term as president in a campaign marked by allegations of widespread vote fraud.
“I start a daily written record of my second (last) term. . . ,” the papers begin. But before the month was over, Marcos was already musing about ways that he could “be perpetuated in power” beyond this constitutionally limited tenure.
Over and over throughout the next 2 1/2 years, leading up to his proclamation of martial law in September, 1972, the papers assert there was only one hope for Philippine survival in the face of student riots and Communist insurgency: Marcos himself.
No Foreign Assistance
The papers express an expectation that Maoist rebels would try to push the Philippines into revolution but acknowledge that it was apparent from the crudeness of their weapons that they were not getting any outside or foreign military assistance. Later, this view is dropped amid accusations that the “Red Chinese,” the CIA and other outside forces were aiding subversives in the Philippines.
Nonetheless, in 1970 the papers acknowledged that subversive and radical groups were weak, a fact that did not suit Marcos’s goals. Only near-paralyzing civil unrest and a perception of the breakdown of civil authority could justify repressive measures--from mass arrests without formal charges to martial law.
So, shortly after midnight on Feb. 17, 1970, an entry in the Marcos papers states: “We should allow them (the Maoists and other radicals) to gather strength, but not such strength that we cannot overcome them.”
When student demonstrations did in fact grow in intensity, Marcos ordered his military leaders to draw up the first of a series of “Contingency Plans” noted in the papers--plans that turned out to be the early blueprints for martial law.
Sterner Measures Urged
Later that month, the papers show that Marcos’ barber, Conrad, apparently reflecting a view shared by the president’s inner circle of advisers, “tells me the overwhelming opinion outside (the palace) is that it is about time I took sterner measurers against the demonstrators that are violent.”
However, still 31 months away from installing himself as dictator and apparently still unsure about the degree of public support for heavy-handed action, Marcos maintained a cautious approach.
“I must continue to restrain myself lest we lose the support of the people by a stance of tyranny,” the papers say.
The document indicates that Marcos was impatient with that strategy. After meeting with a group of loyal members of congress, the president wrote that they all agreed the “peaceful demonstrations” were disrupting business and debilitating the economy.
“The disorders must now be induced into a crisis so stricter measures can be taken,” an entry states on March 3, 1970. In fact, one of the congressmen even offered to “provoke violence” by introducing legislation tightening the nation’s anti-subversives act.
‘I Can Do Anything’
“A little more destruction and vandalism, and I can do anything,” Marcos noted on another page, describing a meeting with Latin American ambassadors who, he said, “are all for a dictator coming out of this confusion.”
The first reference to a Marcos scheme for a “total solution” appears barely a month after the papers began.
“I feel that ultimately we must have a confrontation with the Communists in this country and that their eradication as a threat to our free way of life may be one of my main missions,” Marcos wrote on Feb. 4, 1970. He noted that with proper planning, he could “liquidate the movement in one clean sweep.”
When anti-Marcos students demonstrated peacefully in downtown Manila about a week later, the president expressed disappointment that they had not marched on his recently fortified palace at Malacanang.
“For a time, I secretly hoped that the demonstrators would attack the palace so that we could employ the total solution,” he wrote. “But it would be bloody and (messy).”
It seems clear from the papers that to Marcos, almost anyone critical of his authority could be subjected to his “total solution.” In a March 7, 1970, entry in which he described who should be arrested in a sweep of subversives, Marcos identified Communist activists “as well as those who have in any way helped in the cause of communism.”
He told different stories in the documents and to U.S. officials. For example, in seeking American support in his anti-subversive campaign, Marcos told Ambassador Henry A. Byroade that he suspected China of supporting Maoist revolutionaries. This was only a few months after he noted in the document that it appeared no foreign powers were supplying arms.
And when the United States “bluntly told (Marcos) that the Philippine government has overestimated the aid” to local Communist groups flowing from China, Marcos seemed enraged. One Communist student group that Marcos touted as a threat to his nation’s free way of life actually had fewer than 100 followers, according to a CIA estimate.
U.S. ‘Record of Error’
“The U.S. State Department has a consistent record of error in the assessment of Asian situations and judging Red Chinese intentions,” according to a document entry dated Aug. 27, 1972. “It is preposterous, therefore, for them to lecture to us on their estimates of the threat we face from the local Communists. . . . How stupid can they get?”
Marcos also withheld information from the U.S. Embassy. After learning that offshore oil deposits had been discovered outside Philippine waters, he sent the Philippine navy to occupy a small island west of Palawan, “outside the territorial limits” of his nation.
He wrote that he had reassured a “worried” Byroade that he took the action to combat illegal fishing and smuggling activity in the area. “I didn’t tell him about . . . the oil,” Marcos noted.
Marcos also ignored Byroade’s apparent warning not to impose martial law in September, 1972. Marcos said the U.S. Embassy was concerned that if he declared martial law before November, it might “help (George) McGovern” in his presidential campaign against President Richard M. Nixon.
On Sept. 23, 1972, martial law was declared in Manila and hundreds of Marcos’ political opponents and journalists were rounded up. “I am some kind of hero!” he wrote in the aftermath.
On Sept. 24, his second full day as dictator, Marcos talked with an adviser to Nixon. “His first advice,” Marcos noted, was to call a news conference and tell the world that he was “not a dictator.”