Do not begrudge me my burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani.
It was my dying wish, even though this fiction has been manufactured by my family to advance their political agenda, in which I no longer have an interest or stake.
After all, I am dead…
Dead as the remains of my bust at Tuba, Benguet, majestically blasted.
Dead as my handsome wax likeness standing in for my corpse at my sometime mausoleum.
Truth is I really wanted to be buried beside my mother at Batac, Ilocos Norte.
Quibbles aside, know that I am a hero, bayani.
This claim matters…
Please pause awhile to contemplate it.
I am a decorated soldier, the most bemedaled in Philippine military history!
Audie Murphy of the U.S. Army received only 27 awards and medals.
I got 33!
Do not envy me my medals, which radiate like five-pointed stars, old as the universe.
They flame like the eight-rayed sun. They shine like the purest white of the Philippine flag.
They are warrior red.
They are in justice, peace, and truth, blue.
They are golden laurels adorning my brow.
They are golden lampstands honoring my valor.
They are golden crowns capping my molars.
Do not pay the least attention to my detractors who dispute the circumstances under which I acquired these honors.
Fact is, they are real awards.
Two medals were awarded during the Second World War, the Gold Cross and the Distinguished Service Star.
Admittedly, everything else was awarded years after the war ended.
Eight are campaign ribbons that all Bataan veterans and World War II Philippine guerrillas receive…true, many of our compatriots have them.
I received ten awards on a single day, almost twenty years after the war’s end!
Small matter that I received the highest Philippine award for military valor, the Medal of Valor, twelve years later, based on only two affidavits signed by my comrades-in-arms.
Why would my confreres lie?
Take it from me: it is the getting that matters.
Three U.S. Army medals of which I am most proud were all given for different actions in which I risked my life, even though I had never been assigned to patrol or combat, only civil affairs.
Please examine the authenticated photograph of my breast adorned by the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, and the Order of the Purple Heart—this last I received without any evidence of physical injuries, including scars!
General Douglas MacArthur himself pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on my chest!
At the time, he had exclaimed that if it were not for my exploits, Bataan would have fallen three months earlier!
When he said so, he bit down so hard on the stem of his corn cob pipe, it broke!
In 1947 General Omar Bradley himself saluted me when he saw my breast emblazoned with six rows of ribbons, headed by 22 valor medals!
Although Bradley was suffering from double vision at the time— he was getting on, his eyesight was failing, you see—you can be sure it was no mean display that embroidered my svelte torso!
Trust me, if you want to receive that many medals and awards, go after multiple different awards for the same action—
You can get eight, nine, ten awards for the same event, just by being persistent!
I was the most decorated hero of the Second World War!
Only a Christmas tree does better!
Iginuhit ng Tadhana!
In meekness and humility, I received when I was president, U.S. Congress’ rejection of my application for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
By then forty years had lapsed from the time General Mateo Capinpin, following General Jonathan Wainwright’s instruction at Bataan, had in writing recommended me for the award.
The papers were lost during the Fall of Bataan, so anyone living at the time who could have contradicted my statement was dead.
I suppose that when you have 33 awards and medals, one more, even if it is the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.
I joined in the defense of Bataan with the rank of Third Lieutenant.
By war’s end I had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, even though in the files of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East and of the Philippine Commonwealth Army, there is no evidence or record of my promotion beyond First Lieutenant.
Know that in only 72 days, I was promoted from Third Lieutenant to Captain, this last promotion from General Wainwright by telephone from Corregidor!
At the time, he was encamped at Bagac, Ilocos Norte!
Don’t ask me how he could have been in two places at one time!
In 1942, I was promoted to Major and in 1944 to Lieutenant Colonel, both by “Unknown Authority.”
Don’t ask me how it happened—it is unknown even to me!
After the Fall of Bataan, I joined my valiant comrades in the Death March, staggering into Camp O’Donnell at Capas, Tarlac.
Released by the Japanese in August 1942, I was soon arrested by the Kempeitai.
Tortured in Fort Santiago prison, I escaped.
Just because no one remembers I was there doesn’t mean I wasn’t.
After my escape, I organized Ang Mga Maharlika, a guerrilla band which was responsible for intelligence gathering, and conducting sabotage and assassination operations against the invaders.
I led Ang Mga Maharlika during more than 300 skirmishes, conducting guerrilla operations in North Luzon, Baguio, Zambales, and Manila, growing the band to 8,300 men at its peak strength!
I am proud to have served with them, all brave fighters, no bandits or black-market hustlers.
When they sold war materials to the enemy, it was undertaken solely as a cunning ploy to gather intelligence.
Know that as a guerrilla, I regularly tramped around barefoot, injuring myself to hardship.
All my exploits I achieved barefoot!
Ask Ray C. Hunt Jr., the U.S. Army captain whom I met during the war!
In total, I fought in 27 battles, some of them occurring in different places at the same time!
Do not believe those who say they never saw me at the Battle of Bessang Pass.
Proof I was there: my story is identical to that of Colonel Conrado Rigor Sr.!
After the battle, General Russell Volckmann confided to me that Yamashita had almost surrendered to my intrepid guerrilla band!
I was not, like Jose Rizal, a martyr.
On the contrary, under my regime I martyred many thousands who opposed me.
Estimates put it at about 70,000 imprisoned in violation of their human rights, 34,000 tortured, and precisely 3,275 killed or disappeared, of which 2,520 were left as broken, dismembered, mutilated bodies for roadside recovery.
I take full responsibility for it, everything.
After all, they were every single one of them Communists, no exception.
True, some denied it, even under torture.
Never believe a Communist, I always say.
I did not, like Andres Bonifacio, incite our people to revolt against an oppressive colonial government.
It was my own oppressive government that was overthrown by our people in a largely peaceful civilian revolution.
Despite some world-class play-acting…if I might say so myself, my talents are manifold…on my part and that of my irrepressible henchman, General Fabian Ver…during a moro-moro televised live… I demonstrated laudably high-minded efforts to restrain our loyal soldiers from inflicting excessive violence on our unarmed people… with remarkable self-possession I guided them in fulfilling their duty to defend my family, that is, our nation…yes, I was ignominiously deposed.
Our Philippine Air Force deserted me…I had little choice but to flee Malacañang, absconding via a U.S. C-140 plane for what I thought at the time was a flight to my homeland at Paoay, Ilocos Norte.
Turns out my pal, Ronald Reagan, had misinformed the U.S. Air Force pilot that I had booked my family a two-week vacation at Hawaii.
How could I possibly have been planning a vacation when my family had brought with us enough loot to last way beyond two weeks?...to be precise, 22 crates of $717 million equivalent in cash, 300 crates of assorted jewelry, estimated value unknown, unset gems worth $4 million, assorted jewelry worth $7.7 million, including 65 Seiko and Cartier watches, lustrous pearls filling a 12” x 4” box, a 3-foot high solid gold statue bedecked with precious stones, gold bullion worth $200,000, and $124 million in deposit slips to U.S., Swiss, and Cayman Islands banks.
No, I did not, like Emilio Aguinaldo, barter away the Philippine state for the proverbial bowl of lentils.
When our first president exchanged for lucre the declaration of our nascent independence, he surrendered to our Spanish colonial masters the opportunity for us to establish our first constitutional republic.
I did not enrich myself so opportunistically while I served in government.
I was a rich man before I became president…very, very, very rich…
I did not declare the full extent of my assets, among them, hidden vaults stacked with gold bars to the ceiling a la Atahualpa, so that our people would not condemn me because of my wealth.
Seeing in me instead an exceptionally gifted man of humble means, they would vote for me. Our people gave me the chance to serve, all I ever really wanted.
Do not believe the CIA estimate that I looted $5 to $10 billion from our treasury.
You don’t believe the CIA, do you?
The World Bank officially endorses the CIA estimate, true.
All the major independent news networks, international and local, as well.
Professional historians of good repute, too.
The latter cite in support judicial rulings and legislative acts in the U.S., Switzerland, Singapore, and the Philippines.
Not so long ago the Philippine government passed “The Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013,” awarding $246 million of some $683 million of my Swiss bank deposits to 9,539 victims in the Hawaii class action suit.
So far, under this law 75,730 claims have been filed and counting.
I concede that many sources have invoked masses of circumstantial evidence against me: Imelda’s extravagant shopping sprees in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, including her one-day $2,181,000.00 splurge in New York City; signature cards abandoned when I fled Malacañang, for secret Swiss bank accounts in the pseudonyms of “William Saunders,” “John Lewis,” and “Jane Ryan”; $1.2 billion missing in Central Bank reserves, $6 billion missing in Special Accounts; 6.325 metric tons of gold, also missing from Central Bank; $21 million worth of Old Masters paintings seized by the US government and 9 liquidated in a 1991 Christie’s auction; The Crown Building on Fifth Avenue corner 57th Street, also sold in a 1991 auction for $93.6 million; government sequestered tracts of land in Cagayan, Manila, Tagaytay, Batangas, and Rizal, appraised at $12.62 million in 2006; $20 to $30 million of U.S. assets seized by U.S. federal officials in 2012; Imelda’s $23 million collection of jewelry and watches, primed for auction; Imee’s secret offshore trust fund in the British Virgin Islands….
Recently, the Philippine Commission on Good Government declared that in the period from 1986 to 2015, it was able to recover $3.69 billion of my ill-gotten wealth.
Let’s cut to the chase.
Who do you choose to believe?
I may have committed very many sins in my life, but stealing money from the Philippine people is not one of them.
Numerous indeed are my detractors, but surely my word shines forth honorably, underpinned redoubtably by the integrity of my 33 awards and medals, all of which were gained at suicidal risk to my life and to those of my men!
Historians, economists, journalists, many others say that during my term as president, the Philippines transformed from the second most dynamic economy this part of the world into the “Sick Man of Asia.”
They say we were left behind by our neighbors in East and Southeast Asia—Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea—countries or societies that posted annual growth rates of five percent or higher.
They say we lost two decades of development—beginning in 1982 when our per capita gross domestic product began to decline, recovering its value only 21 years later, in 2003.
They say that from 1984 to 1985, we experienced the worst recession in our history, our gross domestic product contracting each year by 7.3 percent…that during the 21-year period under my rule, underemployment rose from 10 to 33 percent of the population…that real wages dropped by as much as 73 percent from 1966 to 1985…that Bayani 10 J Journal inflation shot to 50 percent in 1984…that the poverty rate increased from 41 percent in 1965 to 58.9 percent in 1985…that our foreign debt ballooned from $4.1 billion in 1975 to $8.2 billion in 1977 to $28.3 billion in 1986…that our national debt equaled 58.63 percent of our gross domestic product in 1986…that the peso-dollar exchange rate plummeted from Php3.92 to one dollar in 1969 to Php8.54 in 1982 to Php18.61 in 1986…that I resorted to “crony capitalism,” awarding huge projects and entire industries to my political allies, resulting in inefficiency, bankruptcy, and stagnation in the manufacturing sector…that I spent $2.3 billion to build the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, generating tens of millions of pesos in annual costs, besides zero electricity.
Let’s put it this way.
Are you going to listen to eggheads?
Or will you believe your eyes?
Anyone can fabricate mountains of statistics…I should know.
Now, infrastructure—you can’t make that up.
Under my administration the Cultural Center of the Philippines was built…Folk Arts Theater…Philippine International Convention Center…Makiling Center for the Arts…Nayong Pilipino…Coconut Palace…People’s Park in the Sky…Philippine Heart Center…National Kidney and Transplant Institute…Lung Center of the Philippines… at least 20 power plants…30 state colleges and universities…11,472 meters of bridges…105,000 kms of roads and highways…230,000 public housing units…irrigation facilities for 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land…nationwide telecommunications systems… innumerable public schools…
As for cronies, my answer is that you can’t build this country working just by yourself.
You’ll need industrialists, financiers, technocrats, all sorts—what’s wrong with that?
It was a Golden Age for the Philippines under my regime—a shining sun of peace and order, discipline, economic development, industrial growth, tourism and foreign investment, patronage of the arts, entertainment, movie stars, boxing legends, beauty queens… the halcyon days of the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant, the Thrilla in Manila, the Manila International Film Festival…the Bolshoi Ballet, Dame Margot Fonteyn, tenor Placido Domingo, pianist Van Cliburn, “Ol’ Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra…Brooke Shields, Franco Nero, Ben Kingsley, Robert Duvall, George Hamilton, Peter Ustinov, Priscilla Presley, Jeremy Irons…Smokin’ Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali… Gloria Diaz, Margie Moran, Aurora Pijuan, Melanie Marquez, Amparo Muñoz…the good, the true, and the beautiful!
I don’t want to toot my horn, but I also can’t resist telling the truth.
I am the most decorated soldier in the history of the Philippines, a hero surpassing Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo…indeed, if I might say so, any other Filipino who has preceded and who will succeed me in Philippine history…I, who have endured endless defamation by the world at large, who expended his prodigious genius to serve his country unstintingly without any desire for personal gain, wish to be laid to rest only as a Filipino…hero among heroes, yes, bayani, because after all, the title goes with the real estate…
Muhammad Ali is not the greatest.
I am the greatest Philippine president.
I am the greatest.
Gonzalinho da Costa—a pen name—is a management, communication, research, statistics, and machine learning consultant. He has completed graduate degrees in the humanities, management, communication, and statistics, and writes poetry.