Ferdinand Marcos as Marcus Aurelius: Philosopher-president or emperor with no clothes?

2@Reyes (dragged)-1Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one . . . cities will never have rest from their evils . . . (Plato, The Republic, bk. vi, 473)


How did Ferdinand Marcos want to be remembered after his death? Based on the study made by Miguel Paolo Reyes, “Producing Ferdinand E. Marcos, the Scholarly Author,” it would appear that Marcos dreamt of his afterlife as laying in books. Reyes’s research shows that the production of books under Marcos’s name was used to create a legacy as a president-scholar.

Writing was something that Marcos seemed to have cultivated in his younger years. According to Reyes, Marcos “had some skill in writing, especially in English.” With “a firm grasp of the English language,” his contribution to the 1946 book The Voice of the Veteran: An Anthology of the Best in Song and Story by the Defenders of Freedom was “a vivid description of his early days in captivity after the Bataan Death March.” As a law student at the University of the Philippines Diliman, he published essays in the school’s law journal, including his award-winning thesis, “The Power of the National Assembly to Amend, Alter, or Repeal Corporate Charters under the Philippine Constitution.”

Marcos felt an imperative to become an author after he became president. Speaking at the Tenth Annual Seminar of the Philippine Historical Association in November 1967, Marcos expressed dissatisfaction that there was “not a single page available [of historical writing] by which [he] could be guided with respect to the problems [of the country].” According to Reyes, Marcos felt that he “needed to write down what ‘secrets’ to solving problems he learned from his own historical studies.”

In 1964 his biography, For Every Tear a Victory, penned by Hartzell Spence, was published by McGraw-Hill. The book had propaganda value, and it was the basis for the movie Iginuhit ng Tadhana that was widely used in Marcos’s reelection campaign in 1969. Nonetheless, Marcos complained in December 1964 to American diplomats that “he wished that he had been given the opportunity to look at the text . . . before it had been published, as he would have made a number of changes,” a statement Reyes quoted from a declassified cable.

Those experiences apparently led Marcos to think of writing his own books. But did he?

Reyes examined thirteen books under Marcos’s name and found that they were not actually written by him. Marcos relied on ghostwriters to do the tedious task of research and writing for him. Marcos’s Minister of Public Information, Francisco Tatad, suggested the idea, justifying this strategy by pointing to great leaders like Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Charles de Gaulle who employed “collaborators” in their literary projects.

Reyes excluded from his study the two-volume Tadhana: The History of the Filipino People, published by the National Media Production Center in 1982, which he said is “the most discussed work in the Marcos corpus.” Well known in academic circles is that Tadhana was written by a group of UP history professors even if it appears under Marcos’s name. But the authorship of books like Today’s Revolution: Democracy and Notes on the New Society of the Philippines—both of which predated Tadhana by several years—had not been examined until Reyes embarked on his study.

Appearing in 1971, that is, before the declaration of martial law, Today’s Revolution: Democracy was the first book to appear under Marcos’s authorship. Although he never publicly claimed to have been its writer, Adrian Cristobal neither denied statements that attributed the book to him.

According to Reyes, Augusto Caesar Espiritu, who was a delegate in the constitutional convention that was ongoing at that time, wrote in his diary on 12 October 1972: “Adrian is the ghost writer of the very well-written book, Today’s Revolution: Democracy.” Espiritu confirmed his suspicion by complimenting Cristobal on the quality of the book he had written to which Cristobal was said to have replied, “Only I can contradict the assumptions in that book.”

It is one thing for the ghostwriter to flesh out the ideas of the supposed author; it is another thing for the ghostwriter to conceptualize an entire book, write it out, and then give credit of authorship to someone else. Based on the evidence he uncovered, Reyes suggests the latter trajectory was what transpired in the making of the Marcos books.

In fact, Marcos’s advisers anticipated the question of authorship. As a precaution, Tatad suggested that Marcos painstakingly write “in his own hand, every page of the manuscript before it undergoes final typescript.” What Reyes found in the records of the PCGG were four pages of Marcos’s scribblings that he wanted to be included Today’s Revolution: Democracy; interestingly, these notes did not make it to the published book. Although working for the president, the real author appeared to be in control of what to include and not include in the book.

After putting out Today’s Revolution: Democracy, Marcos wanted to publish more books under his name. Based on several diary entries, Marcos planned and drafted the outlines of three books, but none of these materialized.

In 1973 Notes on the New Society of the Philippines was published. In his memo to the president dated 27 February 1973, Cristobal underscored that Notes would show “that the President considered every possible alternative before taking the momentous decision of 22 September 1972 [sic].” Coming out of Cristobal’s pen, the book served to defend martial law.

From 1974 to 1985, more Marcos books were published, but they were of a lesser quality than the first two. Some books were merely combinations of previously published materials; others were accomplishment reports from his State of the Nation Addresses (SONAs). As Reyes puts, it, later books would seemingly present “new material” but were actually “borrowing significantly” from past works. An example of this would be The Third World in an Age of Crisis published in 1980, nearly twenty-three pages of which merely quoted Democratic Revolution in the Philippines, published in 1974.

The last books to be released were those dealing with “Filipino ideology.” Reyes shows that these books lifted ideas from—plagiarized—Jeremias Montemayor’s Toward a Filipino Ideology (1972) and a collection of essays edited by Ed Garcia, Towards a Filipino Social Revolution (1972). Three ideology books appeared under Marcos’s name, but these were all “editions of the same book.” For Reyes, “Cristobal gave Marcos a recyclable text that justified Marcos’s continued rule.”

In his diary entry of 8 October 1970, Marcos wrote, “I often wonder what I will be remembered in history for.” Beside it he scribbled his own answer: “scholar.”

As Reyes shows in his study, Marcos portrayed himself in his diary as a president-scholar who thought and wrote ceaselessly, despite being preoccupied with the affairs of state. But, in reality, he depended on allies and subordinates who actually authored those books.

Why did being a scholar loom large in Marcos’s view of himself? Who did he wish to impress with this projection of intellectual prowess? It is an enigma.

In any event, many Filipinos were convinced that Marcos authored the books that appeared under his name. Some US officials were similarly impressed. In a declassified US Department of State cable, Marcos is described as “both a scholar and a [writer, whose] special interest is Philippine history.”

Today some continue to believe in Marcos the scholar-president, whose “power and spirit of philosophy,” as Plato would put it, banished the evils in the country. But Reyes’s research dispels the myth of a “Marcos Aurelius.” Against the illusion, Reyes is the child who blurts out, “But the emperor has no clothes!”

Read the full article of Miguel Paolo Reyes in Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints vol. 66, issue no. 2 (June 2018).



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