by Jose F. Lacaba
Or, Can Spiro Agnew Forget The Marcos Inauguration And Find His Way Back To The Affluent Society?
January 10, 1970–AUSTERITY was the order of the day, but assassination was the talk of the town.
The advance ballyhoo promised that, for once, the program for Inauguration Day would be “brief and austere.” The parade would be a worm compared with the snakes of previous inaugurations; civic participation had been scrapped and military display, normally lasting a full two hours, had been cut down to 40 minutes. Even words and saliva were affected by the general parsimony: reelected President Ferdinand Marcos would deliver “possibly the shortest inaugural address in the Republic’s history.” Afterwards, there would be the traditional dinner for the guests from across the seas, headed by no less than Spiro T. Agnew, household word and Vice President of the United States of America; but there was to be no expense for Spiro in a waste of shame, the dinner would be not as before — lavish, extravagant, ostentatious — but simple and frugal. Probably limited to two courses: salabat for soup and pinakbet for viand. After the most expensive elections in Philippine history, the Ilocano in Marcos had come out.
Though austerity dictated the veto on custom and ceremony, the fear of assassination demanded that there be no skimping on security. Astrologers and soothsayers are said to have warned the President that he would be killed during his second term, and there was a great deal of talk about Oswalds and Sirhans before Inauguration Day, talk that Malacañang encouraged with its disclosure that a Huk liquidation squad was out to get Marcos. No expense was spared, therefore, to secure the President from suicidal assassins. A helicopter hovered over the Luneta to the end, the navy patrolled the bay, machine guns were perched atop the Independence Grandstand (what where they there for? would they have fired at the crowd if one crackpot had drawn a pistol?), walkie-talkies were everywhere, and the fuzz was a thick as flies in mango season. Uniformed policemen of Manila and suburbs lined the streets, Malacañang guards in barong Tagalog were deployed on the grandstand, constabulary troopers lolled behind it. Special Forces men crouched on the roof, NBI agents skulked around motorcycle cops raced up and down the boulevard, Metrocom cars were parked at street corners, helmeted members of riots squads gripped their rattan sticks, four of five rows of soldiers in civvies manned the front lines of the sparse crowd, “a modest crowd on unenthusiastic spectators” (Chronicle), “smaller than the usual crowd that packs the park during national holidays” (Times), perhaps the smallest crowd since the Philippines became independent” (Bulletin) — everybody was there, including , of course, Spiro’s Secret Service complement, on the lookout for an effete corps of impudent snobs brandishing molotov cocktails.
Only a “fanatical fool” would have dared “penetrate the security cordon,” Brigadier General Vicente Raval of the FC was quoted as saying, and he explained why: “He would never get past the security line; he would nevertheless emerge alive.” (Figure that out, if you can, and if you can’t put it down as one of the best and most cryptic non sequiturs of the past decade.”)
It was cold in the morning of Inauguration Day, hot towards noon, an uncertain weather all the way. Sun alternated with clouds and shadows, and even while the sun shone brief showers fell, brief and austere. Umuulan, umaaraw, nanganganak ang bakulaw. Umaaraw, umuulang, nanganganak ang tikbalang. Out in the park the little children played, called by their parents when they wandered too far afield, calling after the balloon man, far and whee; and were utterly oblivious of the occasion, unmindful of Rizal, whose day it was, and even more unaware that at that very moment another hero, the country’s most decorative war hero, was on his way to his second inauguration.
There was earlier a question about the proper way for Ferdinand Marcos to go to his inauguration. No postwar Philippine President had ever been reelected, as the press daily reminded us, and so a thing like this had never happened before. Usually, there was an incoming President and outgoing President to receive him and then accompany him to the Independence Grandstand, like a father giving away the bride. When the bride is without a father, what must be done? Ferdinand Marcos came accompanied by his son.
And of course, by his senior aide, Brigadier General Hans Menzi, resplendent in a white uniform with all braids, badges, and accoutrements in place. Ferdinand Marcos, his hair slick-and-span as usual, was in a barong Tagalog, and so was Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., better known as Bongbong, who had gotten rid of his crewcut and now sported a mod hairstyle, hair down low over his forehead, a la early-Beatles. Together, the father, the son, and Hans Menzi set forth from Malacañang, surrounded by scads of security men, to receive, in formal ceremony, what had been bestowed in November: a second mandate.
When they arrived at the grandstand, everybody else was there. Vice-President Fernando Lopez was there, grinning happily and now slouching towards the President to be the first to shake hands; he had himself, when he arrived, shaken hands with all the foreign and local dignitaries within reach, except Rufino Cardinal Santos, whose hand he kissed. Spiro Agnew, whose seat was right behind the President’s was there, looking like a slim, squint-eyed panda. Eugene Cernan was inconspicuous but the dailies swear he was there (when you come to think of it, do you have a district picture in your mind of the face of any astronaut, cosmonaut, or space explorer besides Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Even John Glenn is difficult to visualize; astronauts all look alike, and they are the faceless heroes of the age). Gil J. Puyat, Senate President as of this writing, was there, and so was Jose B. Laurel, Jr., Speaker as of this writing, his white hair absent from the dome but becomingly long at the nape. Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion wore the black robes of his office, Secretary General Carlos P. Romulo acted as master of ceremonies, Executive Secretary Ernesto Maceda beamed in the background, Congressman Floro Crisologo was in a white (ramie?) suit, the kind austerity-conscious grandfathers used to wear when they had their pictures taken. A host of lesser known VIPs was there, too, and there was even a small group of whites in top hat and tails, looking like fugitives from a Broadway musical.
Never forget the women. Mrs. Imelda Marcos was there, and the Misses Imee and Irene, dressed in what, from a distance, look like identical ternos. (“Signs of austere times?” went a society page item “. . .Mrs. Marcos wore a strikingly simple terno and single pearl earring. No jewelry.” The terno “had a wide front panel of rich hand embroidery reportedly taken from a gown she had worn at the first inauguration of the President in 1965.”) Mrs. Mariquit Lopez was only a little less austere. (She “also picked a jusi terno, slightly embroidered more than that of the First Lady. She also wore a gold bracelet, a single pearl pendant and a pearl ring in addition to pearl earrings.”) And the Blue Ladies were conspicuously in attendance — the bakya crowd among them down on the ground, in a corner behind the platform crammed with TV cameras and technicians, and therefore unable to see a thing; and the blue bloods among them up on the grandstand, occupying the space reserved for, but disdained as too distant by, the press. You could tell they were the blue-blooded Blue Meanies by the lift of their eyebrows, the color of their skins, and the austerity of their hairdos. The bakya crowd Blues, meanwhile, had to be resourceful; every now and then a couple of them would slip past the snarling policemen and get closer to the action, mingling with the press photographers, all the while giggling and chattering like schoolgirls on a holiday.
“Ang ganda talaga ni Imelda, ano?”
“Naku, si Ramil O, ‘ando’n pala si Ramil Rodriguez!”
“Alin ba d’yan ‘yung astro. . . ‘yung nagpunta sa buwan?”
“Si Agno, hindi ko makita si Agno.”
“Sabi ko na sa ‘yo mag-high heels ka, ayaw mong makinig.”
After the solemn preliminaries — 21 gun salute, national anthem, invocation — came the small parade. No need to bore you with the gaudy details. Suffice it to say that the parade boldly gave the lie to the charge that the country has fallen victim to a creeping militarism. Militarism isn’t creeping in this country, it’s marching proudly, head held high, chest out, stomach in, and a finger on the trigger. The Special Forces and the Philcag contingent weren’t cringing nor hiding their heads in shame because of the controversy that swirled about them; they even got more applause than the PMA cadets, and it is reported that when the Philcag passed by, Agnew stood up as a gesture of respect. Note also that whoever prepared the program, when they decided that austerity call for a shortened parade, kept the soldiers and kicked out the civilians. Civic participation’s would have been a bore, of course, but the choice of what to exhibit on Inauguration Day sent tiny chills down the spine as one watched the parade of men and armaments unreel. Garrison state, anyone?
Throughout the parade, Ferdinand Marcos and Fernando Lopez stood on the proscenium (or whatever they call it) of the grandstand stage, each in his fashion. Marcos was ramrod straight, a true military man, saluting smartly when the colors passed by. Lopez had the sick look of a man who has been forced to forego his morning ablutions, if you know what I mean, and when the colors passed by he had his hand over his heart as if his heart was itchy. Obviously, the Vice President was bored by the whole affair. While Marcos struck a heroic pose from the beginning and struck to it to the end, squinting into the sun like Clint Eastwood without the slim cigar, a premature monument if ever there was one, Lopez couldn’t keep still. He scratched his nape, scratched his crotch, scratched his ears, picked his nose, rubbed his fingernails, folded his arms, dropped them to his sides, held his hands together before him, dropped them to his sides, held his hands together behind him, dropped them to his sides, stared morosely around, scowled, tried to hide his scowl by puckering his lips, and probably wished he were splashing around in his swimming pool. He was at least very human, which made him rather endearing. Besides, this was his third time to review a parade as Vice-President; he expected no surprises.
Happily for Mr. Lopez, it was all over in about the time it would have taken Barbra Streisand to finish singing Don’t Rain on My Parade and When the Parade passes By. As a matter of fact, it was over so soon that the program committee found itself with time on its hands. Things had gone so smoothly the program had rushed ahead of schedule. A little time had to be killed before the Vice-President could take his oath of office at 11:55 a.m. This — not para magpalad ng papel, as it seemed at the time — was the reason why the mixed choir and the Manila Symphony Orchestra that had already sung Bayang Magiliw and the Marcos March or something, now burst into an unscheduled singing of Dahil Sa Iyo. Naturally the First Lady, delighted, joined in the singing.
When the singing stopped, it was time for the swearing in. The oaths of office, administered by the chief Justice, were in Pilipino. Lopez and his Ilongo accent struggled manfully, but charmingly, through his oath. The President, as if to reinforce his heroic image, recited his from memory. Ako, si Ferdinand Marcos ay nanunumpa, etc., etc. patnubayan nawa ako ng Panginoon. Historical footnote: it was the first time the two highest officials in the land said their oaths of office in Pilipino.
Like the bright grade-school kid who knows the capital of every province in the country and can recite Psalm of Life at the drop of a hint, Ferdinand Marcos is something of a show-off, and he showed off superbly in his inaugural address, which again he delivered from memory. His memory is terrific but, as even so loyal a partisan as J.V. Cruz noted, ‘the President looked far more concerned with making sure that his memory did not fail him than with the substance of what he is saying.” I used to be a school orator myself and I know that, after the rigorous rehearsals, once you get on stage you’re no longer aware of what you are saying, and you won’t even care, so long as you enunciate the practiced syllables clearly and remember when to raise your voice, when to lower it, when to pause, when to make a gesture, when to take a few steps forward, and when to give the audience a long piercing look (when you can’t remember the next word that will cue you on the next sentence and the rest of the speech). Marcos delivering his inaugural address reminded me of my high school days; he looked like an earnest Voice of Democracy contestant in the elimination rounds, taking great care not to muff his lines. In fact, he ended his speech like a VOD contestant: “The wave of the future is not totalitarianism but democracy.”
The inaugural address itself sounded like a high school declamation piece. It was entitled “To Transform the Nation — Transform Ourselves” (even granting the titles need not be complete sentences, isn’t there something grammatically fishy here? We Must Transform Ourselves? Let Us Transform Ourselves?) , and it contained such gems of sophomore oratory as “. . .in the inexorable march of history no tears are shed for the fallen, no sympathies wasted on the weak. . . .” Besides being studded with high-sounding clichés (“billowing fields of green,” “faint of heart,” “in this spot of the universe, a people strong and free”) and pious platitudes (“we labored to transform this nations”), it sounded like a parody of the John F. Kennedy speeches, especially in passages such as: “, , ,cross the frontier of the new decade. . .”, “Now in all humility we inform all Asia that we know the nature and quality of our tenuous peace; and that it is also a demanding piece. . .”, “I ask not sacrifice from the self-sacrificing. . .”‘ “Let not this generation pass without seeking to learn anew that in this great meeting place of eastern wisdom and western advance . . . “, “. . .seek not from government what you cannot find in yourself. . . .”
Rumor has it that Mr. Marcos discarded all the drafts submitted by his speech-writers and labored over a draft of his own. It is not hard to believe the rumor.
This speech begins with the kind of high-flown literary Tagalog even the serialized novels and the movie tearjerkers are beginning to abandon: “Ang aking dinatnan ay isang pamahalaang nasa bingit ng kapahamakan at pagkariwara, isang pamahalaang nag-udyok ng takot bago ito nagbigay ng pag-asa; sakbibi ng pag-aatubili, hinamak ng kawalang-tiwala sa sarili, lugami ang kanyang kabuhayan, hungkag ang kanyang kaban,” etc., etc. That isn’t even constructed the way a Tagalog sentence should be constructed, and the reason is that it is a transliteration of what follows next in English: “We found a government on the brink of disaster and collapse, a government that prompted fear before it inspired hope; plagued by indecision, scorned by self-doubt, its economy despoiled, its treasury plundered,” etc., etc. If the same thing was going to be said in English all over again, what was the point of saying it in Pilipino? To impress Spiro Agnew?
He may have been impressed by what Mr. Marcos said next.
The President demanded “sacrifice” and “self-discipline” from the powerful and the privileged, demanded of society that it “chastise the profligate rich who waste the nation’s substance — including its foreign exchange reserves — in personal comforts and luxuries,” and made it clear that under his administration “wealth, position or power will not purchase privilege; wealth and power shall not outrage the conscience of our people.”
The beginning of a new decade, said the President, called for a lot of new things: “new national habits, nothing less than a new social and official morality”; “a new ethic” with which “we will surmount most of the grave problems we are confronting now; “a new heart, a new spirit that springs out of the belief that while our dangers are many, and our resources few, there is no problem that cannot be surmounted given but the will and courage.” Under this new morality, “any act of extravagance in government will be considered not only as an offense to good morals but an act punishable with dismissal from office.”
The President promised to set the example.
“I pledge a leadership of the severest quality in integrity, morality and discipline.”
(The day after his inauguration, “moved,” he said, “by the strongest desire and the purest will to set the example of self-denial and self-sacrifice for all our people,” the President decided to give away “all my worldly possession so that they may serve the greater needs of the greater number of our people.” All his properties, “by a general instrument of transfer,” were to go “to the Filipino people through a foundation to be organized and to be known as the Ferdinand E. Marcos Foundation,” the purpose of which was to advance “the cause of education, science, technology, and the arts.” As Gene Magsaysay would say, no comment — not yet.)
After the inaugural address, the President and his family went back home to Malacañang, where they signed the registry book again, as they had done the first time they moved into the place.
“Glad to be back,” Ferdinand Marcos reportedly wrote:
And Bongbong: “Me next, I hope.”
Nobody got assassinated, but Metrocom men, according to report, arrested two men they said were loitering near the grandstand on suspicion they were on an assassination mission.” One man was said to have a tear-gas gun; the other wore a PC lieutenant-colonel’s uniform and brown civilian shoes. They were taken to Camp Crame.