The Marcos Medals

(Marcos claimed he was the hero of the Battle of Bessang Pass during WWII, earning a total of 33 medals and awards throughout his career. Facts however point to something else: only 2, of of these 33 medals were given in battle. Jarius Bondoc wrote the following essay for the Philippines Star in 2011 citing the expose of Bonifacio Gillego about the medals in 1982.)

Posing as the most decorated Filipino soldier of World War II, Ferdinand Marcos foisted 33 medals and awards. Bonifacio Gillego, in opposing Marcos’s dictatorship, exposed in 1982:

  • Eleven of the 33 were given in 1963, nearly 20 years after the War, when Marcos was Senate President girding to run for President. Ten of the 11 were given on the same day, December 20. Three of the ten unusually were given under only one General Order.

  • One award was given on Marcos’s 55th birthday, September 17, 1972, when he was President, four days before he imposed martial law.

  • Eight of the 33 “American and Philippine medals,” as listed by Marcos’s Office of Media Affairs, were actually campaign ribbons given to all participants in the defense of Bataan and in the resistance.

  • Awards are duplicated for the same action on the same day and place.

  • One is a special award from the Veterans Federation of the Philippines.

Other observations:

  • Marcos earned the Medal of Valor “for extraordinary gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in a suicidal action against overwhelming enemy forces at the junction of Salian River and Abo-Abo River, Bataan, on or about 22 January 1942.” This highest Philippine military award came only in October 1958, when he was senior congressman, 16 years after.

  • Only two of the medals were given during the War. The Gold Cross came on July 22, 1945, “for gallantry in action at Kiangan, Mt. Province, in April 1945.” Supposedly “Colonel Marcos, of the 14th Infantry, United States Armed Forces in the Philippines-North Luzon (USAFIP-NL), with one enlisted man volunteered to reconnoiter area adjacent to the regimental command post at Panupdupan.” Marcos spotted well-camouflaged enemy trucks about a mile away and sent the enlisted man back to RCP to report. By himself Marcos ambushed the Japanese, forcing them to flee after 30 minutes of intense fighting.

  • The Distinguished Service Star came on April 24, 1945. The citation read: “For outstanding achievement as a guerrilla leader. After escaping from the Fort Santiago Kempei Tai, Marcos supported ex-Mayor Vicente Umali, organizer and commanding general of the PQOG… Despite his illness, he stayed at the headquarters in Banahaw to guide both the staff and combat echelons. He refused the rank of ‘general’ offered him by General Umali and organized his own guerrilla group known as the Maharlika.”

Interviewed by Gillego in 1982, Marcos’s two superiors in the 14th Infantry debunked both citations. Col. Romulo A. Manriquez, regimental commander, swore that Marcos was never assigned to patrol or combat, only as S-5 or civil affairs. Not a colonel but a captain, Marcos joined the 14th Infantry from December 4, 1944 to April 28, 1945. No Maharlika guerrilla group was formed in Kiangan on April 24, 1945.

Capt. Vicente L. Rivera, 14th Infantry adjutant, added that he had never recommended Marcos for any decoration. The sighting of Japanese trucks a mile from RCP was geographically impossible because the nearest road was too far, half a day’s hike away.

Manriquez and Rivera said that Marcos requested for transfer to Camp Spencer, USAFIP-NL headquarters, in Luna, La Union, on April 28, 1945. Gilego said this tallied with Marcos’s commissioned biography, For Every Tear a Victory, by Hartzell Spence (1964). In Spence’s version, Marcos and one Captain Jamieson had to break through a cordon of 200,000 Japanese soldiers to get to an airstrip in Isabela. The Piper Cub that arrived took only Jamieson. “An hour later,” wrote Spence, “as Marcos was about to evacuate the area because he heard a Japanese patrol, another supply plane targeted in with an airdrop. Risking discovery, Ferdinand rushed into the open but the plane merely wagged its wings. The pilot was signaling the location of the enemy. Ferdinand tuned his walkie-talkie to the plane’s wavelength and told the pilot, ‘I have a duffel down here with six captured swords in it and three gold bars. They are all yours if you pick me up.’ Instantly the pilot circled, returned, and Ferdinand climbed aboard. An hour later, he was at Camp Spencer.”

Gillego remarked of this passage that Marcos was bounty hunting: “If Spence’s account is true, he makes Marcos guilty of keeping for himself captured or acquired enemy property, in violation of the Articles of War.”

As for the escape from Fort Santiago, Gillego scoured the Kempei Tai files, including the trial papers of its chief, Col. Seiichi Ohta. No record of Marcos as prisoner. Allegedly a Jesuit priest who survived the dungeons had decried the request of Commodore Santiago Nuval to insert Marcos in the roster.

Gillego debunked Marcos’s claim to be the star of the Battle of Bessang Pass to whom General Yamashita nearly surrendered. From the many first-hand accounts, never was Marcos mentioned as a participant in the five-phase operation from February 10 to June 15, 1945.

Among the recollections was “Battle Among the Clouds” (Manila Standard, June 11, 1987) by Justice Desiderio P. Jurado (deceased), who had led the crucial capture of Buccual Ridge. Modestly this true hero of the weeks of seesaw battles, marked by frequent hand-to-hand combat, gave credit to his superiors, peers and subordinates. Towards the end he made mention of Marcos, not as combatant but as the new President who unveiled the marker on the 21st anniversary in 1966.

Research by historian Alfred McCoy confirmed Gillego’s articles belittling Marcos’s exploits. In 1986 the New York Times and Washington Post ran McCoy’s findings based on US Army records. Opposition papers in Manila reprinted McCoy and Gillego’s research. One of Marcos’s “Maharlika co-founders” sued for libel, saying, “I am filing these charges because I felt belittled, ridiculed and disgraced, not only to myself and my comrades, but including those who sacrificed their lives for the country.”

Three other veterans and Marcos comrades-in-arms, Col. Frisco San Juan, Teodulo C. Natividad and Col. Agustin Marking, attacked the reports: “If this … story weren’t so vicious, it would be ludicrous. Mr. Marcos has on his body scars more eloquent than any country’s medals in attesting to his courage, gallantry and self-sacrifice.”