The Marcos Diary : A Lust for Power, an Eye on Glory

Times Staff Writers

It came to Ferdinand Marcos like a shiver in the dawn.

“I am president. I am the most powerful man in the Philippines. All that I have dreamt of I have,” he wrote one April morning early in his second term as president.

“More accurately, I have all the material things I want of life--a wife who is loving and is a partner in the things I do, bright children who will carry my name, a life well lived, all.

“But I feel a discontent.”

At the pinnacle of his political career, Marcos remained a man hungry for power and the validation of history--a man frustrated by the limitations of democracy. Whispering the future, his discontent would grow into the full misery of defeat and disgrace.


Special Ally, Special Problem

Ferdinand E. Marcos, special ally of the United States, would become its special problem. He would turn an American-tailored democracy into a dictatorship, be driven into exile, take refuge in Hawaii and, finally, be accused by a U.S. grand jury of plundering his homeland and the Filipino people.

A photocopy of more than 2,500 pages of his handwritten diary was obtained by The Times through Manila government sources. A spokesman for Marcos said the former president could not comment because of ill health. In the past, Marcos objected to The Times’ publication of excerpts from this diary as part of a story detailing his plans to declare martial law. He called that story an “invasion of privacy.”

The Marcos diary, apparently abandoned when he fled Manila in February, 1986, was discovered about a year ago, sources said, by Philippine government investigators. The journal was known to exist because Marcos previously had shown portions of it to diplomats and at least one journalist. Its original pages, handwritten mostly in blue and black ink, were found in 30 file boxes stored in the care of presidential security officials, the sources told The Times.

Issue of Security

Most of the entries after the mid-1970s are missing. The sources who provided the documents deleted additional pages, in part, they said, to protect Philippine national security.

Sample pages of the photocopy have been inspected by an expert in document authentication, who found “virtually everything” about the samples consistent with documented examples of Marcos’ handwriting. Because the sources could provide only photocopies--and no access to the original diary pages in Manila--the expert could not rule out the possibility of some inauthentic pages being added. However, to ensure accuracy, The Times independently verified details from historical accounts and through interviews with participants in events Marcos described.

The diary offers a unique insight into the Marcos personality. It shows the hidden traits of a dictator whom the United States and five of its Presidents--beginning with Lyndon B. Johnson and ending with Ronald Reagan--considered a valued Pacific partner. It demonstrates that it was Marcos’ personality, as much as his country’s overwhelming social problems, that made this alliance problematic from the start.


Marcos’ journal reveals an insecure but ambitious man who fell easy prey to the temptation of unchecked authoritarian power.

The attraction of authoritarianism haunted Marcos for many months before the end of 1972, when he finally imposed martial law, arrested hundreds of his critics and political opponents and established what he would call a “democratic dictatorship.”

When he expressed his discontent on that morning of April 3, 1971, he was already well on his way toward declaring martial law. Here, from the diary of a dictator, is a story of how his fascination with authoritarian rule moved from fantasy to reality.

Despite a landslide victory in his campaign for an unprecedented second term as president, Marcos did not enjoy any honeymoon in the days following his Jan. 1, 1970, inauguration.

The press reported allegations of corruption and election fraud; a soothsayer predicted he would be assassinated before spring; there were rumors of a planned U.S.-supported military coup, and violent street demonstrations drove both Marcos and his wife, Imelda, into seclusion inside Malacanang Palace in Manila.

Outside, workers hastily constructed fortifications against mob assaults. Inside, Marcos tried on bulletproof vests. He was a virtual prisoner of Malacanang when, shortly before midnight, Marcos wrote:


January 28, 1970

“The pattern of subversion is slowly emerging. The danger is now apparent to me but not to most people. (I see) the conspiracy to grab power and assassinate me ... the terrorism ... the pink intellectuals, writers, professors and students and fellow travelers.

“And I am certain this is just the beginning. The newspapermen I have on my list are busy placing the government in disrepute and holding it in contempt before the people. . . . The slow chipping at the people’s confidence in government authority (will continue).

“If we do not prepare measures of counteraction, (Communist subversives) will not only succeed in assassinating me but in taking over the government. So we must perfect our emergency plan.”

This “emergency plan” became a constantly evolving contingency plan for martial law. And Marcos became ever more suspicious of others--so much so that he began to believe that even priests and nuns were dangerous.

Nuns, he wrote, reportedly have threatened taxi drivers with bodily harm to force them to demonstrate against the government.

“A little unbelievable, but . . . now the priests and nuns are using goons.”

Throughout the year Marcos flirted with the notion of dictatorship. At one point, when anti-Marcos protests reached a peak, he wrote:


February 17, 1970

“I have that feeling of certainty that I will end up with dictatorial powers if the situation continues--and the situation will continue.

“The (leftist radicals) will continue to try to bring about a revolutionary situation. Massive sabotage is indicated by the crude bombs they are manufacturing. . . . They are not getting any aid (military) from outside.

“We should allow them to gather strength but not such strength that we cannot overcome them.”

According to the diary, many of Marcos’ closest aides encouraged “sterner measures” to put down the unrest. Imelda told him that dictatorships were the best form of government for developing nations; his military advisers endorsed martial law, and he was told that Latin American ambassadors were “all for” a Philippine strongman.

Marcos drew up secret plans for a military takeover and slipped an unsigned declaration of martial law into a palace safe. It would be signed, he said, if anyone tried to assassinate him.

As the new year approached, fraught with problems, a self-righteous Marcos blamed everyone but himself:


December 30-31, 1970

“Undoubtedly our society is sick and the government muddles on . ... The legislature (is) . . . arrogant and vain. The city people are more interested in gossip than in achievements. The media is sensationalist and deliberately distorts and even falsifies news in order to raise a headline. The businessmen are not interested in the plight of the common people but are obsessed with amassing wealth. The oligarchs are at their favorite pastime to get the levers of power. The opposition party is irresponsible and didn’t care less whether what they do would prejudice the people provided it enhances their chances to return to power. All our attempts at progress are deliberately blocked. Even the radicals seek nothing but power for power’s sake.”

In the pre-dawn darkness of New Year’s morning, he wrote:

“I am reviewing the contingency plan for the proclamation of martial law if the occasion demands it. ... As we were gathered to await the new year .. I wondered whether the year 1971 would usher in an authoritarian government in the Philippines.”

By early 1971, Marcos believed not only that the country needed a “benevolent dictator,” but also that martial law was the “Christian solution.” If massive sabotage and terrorism occurred, he would impose authoritarian rule. It seemed inevitable, and Marcos was, by then, entranced by the prospect. He wrote:

March 21, 1971

“Played golf this morning. I must be out of form. The coolness of the past several weeks has given way to a humid sultriness that weakened me in the second nine when I was practically dragging myself.

“But I go through these days with a feeling of unreality, as if it were a dream or drama of which you already know the ending.

Thus we all go through the required rituals or ceremonials of our respective roles when we know that ultimately there must be a military confrontation and the Communists or revolutionists who have already pledged to mount a revolution must do so while I wait for the right moment when I must proclaim martial law and practically take over the government.


“In the meantime we must fence and hedge and dissimulate.

“I also have a feeling that all these tentative efforts of ours are futile and that all further efforts will be frustrated . . . . So there actually is no alternative but to push the situation into its logical conclusion--the denouement of a military confrontation . . . .”

During the spring, Marcos convened a secret meeting in the palace library with his top military advisers and predicted that Communist radicals would try to burn Manila during the summer. He told his generals that he intended to meet this violence with a declaration of martial law. He noted: No one objected.

But when months went by without the predicted trouble, Marcos authorized the military to “stimulate” the radicals “into violence.”

Violence came in August, but it was directed at his political opponents. Unidentified assailants threw grenades into a crowd of 10,000 at Plaza Miranda during a campaign rally in Manila for Liberal Party Senate candidates. A bomb exploded beneath the speaker’s stand. Nine people were killed, including a child. All eight Liberal candidates were seriously hurt.

A Marcos loyalist defected to the Liberals, saying publicly what American intelligence agents were saying privately: The bombing was the handiwork of the Philippine military.

Marcos insisted that a Communist insurrection had been launched. He curbed civil liberties nationwide, authorizing arrests without warrants. The next afternoon, he wrote:


August 21, 1971

“I have declared by proclamation No. 889 a suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

“This after the police ... and others agree that the bombing of the LP rally at Plaza Miranda ... was caused or done by subversives... .

“Such a grave and heinous crime must be met with decisive action on the part of government. Otherwise our democracy is doomed. ( Defense ) Secretary ( Juan ) Ponce Enrile was for outright declaration of martial law . . . .

“Gen. Ramos drew up the list of persons to be arrested. . . . Sen. (Benigno S.) Aquino who was absent from the platform during the bombing (suspiciously so) is the prime suspect as the mastermind . . . of the whole dastardly plot. . . .

“Aquino is the most ruthless man in the Philippines today.”

Years later, Aquino, then husband of current Philippine President Corazon Aquino, would be shot to death--it is widely alleged by Marcos’ supporters.

In the fall, less than three months after suspending civil liberties, Marcos was stunned by an election debacle.

Liberal Party senatorial candidates, wounded in the Plaza Miranda bombing, campaigned in wheelchairs, splints and bandages. Marcos had declared that the election would be a referendum on his leadership and the policies of his Nationalist Party.


The Liberals won overwhelmingly, even defeating Marcos candidates in the president’s home province.

At first, Marcos blamed sympathy for the bombing’s victims, soaring prices, a rice shortage, the clergy and a “vicious media.” But a week after the election, Marcos decided that the Philippine public was not smart enough for democracy. He wrote:

November 14, 1971

“For the last several days, I have been overwhelmed by a sense of frustration because of the implications of the senatorial elections .

“While the emotional issue of Plaza Miranda and the bombing was something that would catch the imagination of the people, we underestimated the capacity of the media to spread it all the way down to the barrios.

And the results indicate that the people still do not have the wisdom and the discrimination required for a truly democratic republic.

For the demagogues and the simpletons were elected instead of the highly qualified.

“So the consequences may be dangerous.


“I now fear for our Republic.”

As the year waned, Marcos wondered whether anyone could solve the nation’s economic and social problems unless he is a “dictator for at least a short period.”

Marcos turned to history for the counsel of past conquerors. He read about Napoleon and how he ascended to dictatorship. He studied the lessons of Hitler’s failures. Frequently, he came back to one of his favorite historical figures--Julius Caesar.

After viewing a John Gielgud-Marlon Brando film of Caesar’s life and assassination, Marcos noted:

“Reminded me of the conspiracy going on now against me by all the envious men who have failed. Remind me to have my guards around me always. I have often wondered why Caesar had no protection when he was assassinated.”

And while discussing violence and social unrest in the United States, he mused:

February 20, 1972

“At what point of anarchy would a Julius Caesar take over the (U.S.) government as a dictator? Although . . . it may be difficult to control the U.S. from one central point as it has too many centers of power.”


He wondered whether in the United States, the Philippines or any other country “the old concepts of democracy and freedom are still valid or whether dictatorship or authoritarianism is not demanded for survival.”

Earlier, he read a book about how, 2,020 years before, Caesar had led his army across the Rubicon River to seize dictatorial control of the Roman Empire. And Marcos pondered the rhetorical question:

“Who waits beyond our Rubicon?”

In other pages of his diary, he associated himself with De Gaulle, Prometheus, Alexander the Great, Christ and Churchill. And he grew increasingly preoccupied with his own historical self-importance.

“I often wonder what I will be remembered in history for. Scholar? Military hero? Builder? The new constitution? Reorganization of government? Builder of roads, schools? ... Uniter of the variant and antagonistic elements of our people. He brought light to a dark country? Strong rallying point or a weak tyrant? . . .

“History should not be left to the historians. Rather be like Churchill. Make history, and then write it.”

But he remained painfully aware that he was the ruler of a lesser power.

He hired a scientist who had a “new way to split the atom”--it sounded like a scheme closer to alchemy than physics.


And he started a missile program.

“We have a launcher on a dump truck.”

In the spring of 1972, Marcos became obsessed with the business of a constitutional convention that was considering changes in the Philippine system of government. The old constitution barred him from a third term. Without a change, Marcos could not retain the presidency unless he invoked martial law to seize the government.

Drafting the new constitution was a slow, frustrating and scandal-ridden process. An impatient Marcos turned to God for a sign that martial law had the blessing of providence.

It came at a religious retreat--a priest’s theological lesson on the subject of authority was interpreted as “the sign.” And Marcos, in a rambling “Spiritual Exercises on the Specific Problems of Martial Law,” wrote:

March 28, 1972

“I asked the Lord for a sign. And he has given it. In the meditation this morning the following thoughts were brought out.

“ ‘My job is too heavy. But your will and not mine be done.’


“The permissiveness of society must be balanced with authoritativeness . . . .

“Is it for the glory of God that there be authoritativeness? Yes, for we return order where there is chaos . . . .

“And the permissiveness of our society has spawned the many evils that will wreck our Republic. It must now be balanced with authoritativeness--and that is martial law. However, I put as a condition the occurrence of massive terrorism, which would alarm the people as well as the authorities.”

Adapting another religious exercise to his martial law meditations, Marcos compared freedom with a diet of meat, which sometimes may not be healthy.

“So I conclude that freedom is not always good. There may be periods in a country’s life when it is like meat. For the time being, it must be curtailed or denied.”

He waxed messianic.

“ ‘This is your principal mission in life--save the country again from the Maoists, the anarchists and the radicals.’ This is the message that I deduce from the visions that I see asleep and awake. ‘Subordinate everything to this,’ God seems to be saying to me. ‘And you are the only person who can do it,’ He says. ‘Nobody else can. So do not miss the opportunity given you. ...’ ”

His messianic visions took on an eerie mysticism.

At Mass on his birthday, Marcos wrote, “I could feel I was in communication with my Creator. The sermon on being alone was apropos. And as I prayed, I felt tears springing to my eyes from the joy of communication. I was on the verge, I believe, of one of those mystic seizures where the spirit lifts up from the body.”

Publicly, Marcos denied he would try to extend his term in office, either by pushing for a temporary extension through the constitutional convention or by having Imelda run as a surrogate presidential candidate. Privately, however, he was gripped by a paranoia that his very life might depend on retaining the presidency. He wrote:


May 25, 1972

“I am now convinced that even if we retire peacefully we will be hunted and killed by the Communists or the political opposition.

“So there may be no other option but to wait until the Communists start their urban operations making it necessary to declare martial law.”

Marcos’ fear of physical danger became a preoccupation that verged on hypochondria.

Again and again, he measured his blood pressure.

He complained of a pain in the groin, broken teeth, indigestion-- “relieved by three doses of Gelusil.”

One weekend he watched a pornographic movie. “The girls were completely nude, pubic hair and all, which disgusted me and actually gave me a stomach ache.” He took two doses of Gelusil and an electrocardiogram.

He got a backache and summoned a doctor. “His diagnosis . . . is the soft, lumpy bed.”

He got a summer cold. “I called a conference of doctors.”

Finally, Marcos yielded to the temptation of dictatorship.

Under his direction, martial law planning shifted to a frenetic pace. An enemies list was drafted of “target personalities” to be arrested. The most loyal generals were to monitor other less-trusted generals. The military would oversee the media. The plan was code-named (and misspelled): “Sagittarius.”


Marcos asked American Ambassador Henry A. Byroade whether the Nixon Adminstration would “atleast remain neutral” if martial law was needed to curb Communist expansion in the Philippines.

“He answered that his government will support my move. But I noticed a hesitancy . . . indicating that he would prefer to have (the controversy ) avoided.”

Marcos was irritated by U.S. intelligence reports that there were no more than 100 armed rebels in the Philippines, that Red China was not helping the rebels and that Communist insurgents posed little, if any, threat. An angry Marcos wrote:

August 27, 1972

“The U.S. State Department has a consistent record of error in the assessment of Asian situations and judging Red Chinese intentions. It is preposterous, therefore, for them to lecture to us on their estimate of the threat we face from the local Communists. . . .

“How stupid can they get?”

Rumors swept Manila and Washington that martial law was imminent. The United States sent a fact-finding mission led by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), to assess the aftermath of a typhoon--and the political storm warnings over the Philippines.

At the palace, where Marcos aides were drafting takeover plans in another room, Inouye pressed Marcos about reports that he would try to retain office despite the constitutional limit. A disingenuous Marcos recorded:


“He asked me what is going to happen. He explained that he has been told there are four options: 1. Extension of my term, 2. A parliamentary form of government, 3. I run for reelection, 4. Martial law.

“I immediately countered that I do not need martial law to win an election and that in the present situation anybody I supported would come out (winning); that I would not agree to allowing the First Lady to run since it would be unfair to her. ‘We are too old in this game to need martial law to get votes,’ I said, and he smiled with understanding.

“ ‘However,’ I explained, ‘do not misunderstand me. If the Communists sow terror in Manila; if they bomb and burn, kill and kidnap , if they use the Viet Cong tactics, then I will not hesitate to proclaim martial law.’ ”

Bombs went off around the city, causing damage but few injuries. Critics said the military had done it. Marcos said “there is hysteria in Manila” that might force him to put his plans for martial law into effect soon.

In a speech on the floor of the Philippine senate, Benigno Aquino revealed the existence of “Sagittarius,” igniting a new burst of press and political criticism. Public support for Marcos appeared to be slipping. It was time for Marcos to wade into the Rubicon.

After a four-hour meeting with top military aides he wrote:

September 13, 1972

“We finalized the plans for the proclamation of martial law.... They all agreed (that) the earlier we do it the better because the media is waging a propaganda campaign that distorts and twists the facts, and they may succeed in weakening our support among the people if it is allowed to continue.


“We finalized the target personalities, the assignments and the procedures.”

They also set the date: martial law would be declared Sept. 21.

Significantly, Sept. 21 was a date divisible by Marcos’ favorite number: 7.

He won his first nomination for president by 777 votes. He named his yacht the President 777.

Ambassador Byroade called on Marcos at the palace at 11:15 a.m. on Sept. 21. While they conferred, Marcos aides feverishly typed the final martial law proclamation and various presidential orders. Marcos noted:

( He ) was apparently interested to know whether there would be martial law. He seemed to favor it when I explained it is intended to primarily reform our society and eliminate the Communist threat. But he suggested that a proclamation before the American elections may be used by (George S.) McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate, as proof of the failure of (Nixon’s ) foreign policy.

“I told him I did not want it said that he was intervening in internal matters of the Philippine government and that no decision has been arrived at, but ... there seemed no other solution.”

The paper work was finished by 8 p.m. All that remained was an act of insurrection to justify the order. It would come in exactly 24 hours.


As Defense Secretary Enrile’s blue Ford with the tinted windows was escorted past the Wack Wack golf course, it was hit by gunfire. He was unharmed, having chosen this night to ride with his escorts.

Years later, Enrile would admit the attack was staged. But at 9:55 that night, Marcos turned to page 2332 of his diary to write:

September 22, 1972

“This makes the martial law proclamation a necessity.”

The presidential order had already been issued--backdated to Sept. 21. Before dawn 50 people, mostly journalists and political opponents--including Benigno Aquino--were arrested without warrants.

All demonstrations stopped. Democracy stopped. A triumphant Marcos wrote: “I am some kind of hero!”

The new dictator confronted a delegation of Philippine Supreme Court justices, declaring he would ignore any ruling challenging the constitutionality of martial law. He wrote:


September 24, 1972

“They . . . do not understand that a new day has dawned.”

Times researchers Nina Green and D’Jamila Salem contributed to this article.