America's Boy - A Century Of Colonialism in the Philippines
Henry Holt & Company
4 stars (out of 5)
This book is a biography of the late dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos.
But it also provides much needed background information on the history of the Philippines starting with the Spanish conquest and
going through the Japanese occupation of the country during World War II. In addition, the author intersperses his own personal observations based
upon living in the Philippines for more than twenty years.
But it is the lives of both Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda which capture center stage in this book.
I must admit that I found the life story of these two people fascinating, and there was much information
which I had never heard of before. It begins with Ferdinand being born into
the family of a politician in Ilocos Norte. In the 1930's the chief political rival of Ferdinand's father is shot dead and Ferdinand is the chief
suspect. The book is unclear on who was the real culprit here, but our suspicions are aroused that perhaps Ferdinand did it.
The story may have ended there but for Ferdinand's brilliant legal defense arguing the case as
his own lawyer. Marcos eventually wins an acquittal in the case and goes on
to bigger and better things.
It is spring 1942 and Marcos is serving with the American army fighting the Japanese invasion.
He becomes one of the poor souls in the Bataan Death March, and winds up in a Japanese internment camp. His chances
of survival are slim indeed, but now his fortune takes a turn for the better.
The Japanese release him. The reasons for this were covered up by Marcos after the war.
In fact, Marcos invented an elaborate fiction concerning his life during World War II.
According to Marcos, he became the leader of a Filipino resistance group fighting the Japanese.
Eventually this elaborate fiction will even be made into a movie.
The truth is more sinister. Ferdinand was released from the Japanese internment camp because his father was a collaborator.
Marcos will claim that his father was killed during World War II while valiantly fighting the
Japanese. The truth is that his father was killed by the Filipino resistance
because he was a Japanese collaborator. As for Marcos himself, he spent the
war as a black marketeer profiting from the misery of his people. But one of
the amazing things about Marcos was his ability to tell the big lie, time and time again, and get away with it.
Fast forward to the 1950's. Marcos has now replaced his father as a Congressman representing Ilocos Norte.
He has collected a beauty queen for a wife, by the name of Imelda. The background of Imelda is treated with
briefly. She comes from a poor family in Leyte. The author is curiously
sympathetic to Imelda. He portrays her as a naive girl suddenly thrust into
a world of political graft and corruption. Bags stuffed full of cash begin to
appear in Marcos residence. This is Imelda's first inkling that her husband
may be, and probably is, a crook.
During the early 1960's Marcos steadily rises through the political ranks until in 1965 he runs for President and wins.
During his first term of office (1965 - 1969), Marcos is the darling of the American press.
It is the era of the Vietnam War and the U.S. needs all the friends it can get in the
region. In fact, LBJ declares that Marcos is "America's Boy" in the Philippines.
He even awards him a medal for valor during World War II even though he knows that it's all a fraud.
During Marcos's visit to Washington D.C. in 1966 both LBJ and Marcos stroke each other's egos.
Marcos takes on the role of the dutiful son eager to please his father. Marcos is seen by the
American government as a bulwark against Communism in the region.
And during his first term of office Marcos is a whirlwind of activity.
He institutes a massive program of road construction and infrastructure improvement.
For the first time, electricity comes to the homes of many rural Filipinos.
Real progress is made in the economy, education system, and other areas. But there is also a dark side.
Marcos introduces what is called "crony capitalism". The friends of the Marcos's are awarded the various
contracts and they end up skimming billions of pesos for themselves. Still,
the ordinary Filipino can see that progress is being made and he is willing to accept the inevitable corruption as a necessary side effect.
Marcos becomes so popular that he wins re-election in 1969 easily.
It is the early 1970's and Marcos knows that according to the Philippines Constitution he cannot run again for President.
But he has found the perfect solution for this problem. In 1972 he declares martial law which
effectively cancels the election of 1973. Now the world in general, and the
Filipino people in particular are introduced to the dark side of Marcos. The
1970's are a time of arrests and disappearances for many who oppose the regime.
In America the end of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal consume the public's attention.
No one pays much attention to what is happening in the Philippines. America acquiesces to the loss of freedom of the Filipino people.
By the early 1980's even Marcos can no longer justify the imposition of martial law by claiming it is necessary to combat the Communist guerillas.
So in 1981 he lifts martial law, at least in name. But in reality the Marcos
regime maintains tight control over all aspects of the country. And now the
seminal event of the Marcos career takes place. Like some kind of Shakespearean tragedy where doom is fore-ordained, Ninoy Aquino, a long time
political rival of Marcos arrives in Manila in 1983, defying the orders of Marcos.
He is shot dead while disembarking from the plane. While the exact details of who ordered what are still not clear more than twenty years later,
it is clear that in some way Marcos ordered the assassination of Aquino.
But even though Marcos does not know it yet, the death of Ninoy is also the death knell of the Marcos regime.
It sets in motion a chain of events culminating in the People Power revolution of February 1986. The mid 1980's
are a time when the Marcos's lost touch with reality more and more. Both Ferdinand and Imelda retreated into a world of
glamour and make believe, ignoring the growing resentment and hatred of the ordinary people.
So, seen in this light the People Power revolution was inevitable.
Marcos tried to play one last card. He relied on his sponsor, the people who had always propped him up in the past, and gone along with his lies.
That is, the American government. But finally the Americans had had enough.
"America's Boy" was no longer needed. Times had changed. The Vietnam War was
over and the Cold War was thawing. So it was a deep shock to Marcos when President Reagan's emissary, Senator Paul Laxalt, arrived in Manila during the
People Power revolution and told him it was over. I can imagine the message
being something like this: "Pack your bags. You're going to Hawaii, Baby!".
Of course, Marcos must have felt betrayed.
The author is critical of Marcos's successor, Cory Aquino. He portrays
her as an incapable leader who essentially squandered an opportunity to rebuild democracy in the Philippines.
But he does not deal with her administration in depth.
The book attempts to answer the question: "Who was Ferdinand Marcos?".
And I think it succeeds brilliantly. Marcos was a clever politician who rose
to the Presidency through guile and corruption. But was he more corrupt than
other politicians of the era? Probably not, at least in the beginning.
If he had been content with his two terms in office, he would today be remembered as
one of the greatest presidents in Philippines history. Instead, he will go down
in history as the most reviled leader of the Philippines of the last century.
Such a thin line separates fame from infamy.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of the Philippines or in Filipino culture in general.
This is simply a must read if you want to understand the Philippines.