The story of martial law from Ferdinand Marcos’ confidante and press secretary

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"The Conjugal Dictatorship" was published in 1976, four years after martial law was declared. The book was banned but was considered authentic by readers since the author was close to the Marcoses.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Primitivo Mijares was tasked with a difficult job: to tell the glorious, swashbuckling narrative of Ferdinand Marcos. As the “media czar” of an era of no free press and no free speech, Mijares was, plain and simply, a propagandist.

But he did not buy his own story, the one he had been trusted to tell. So he told what he knew to be true: that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos had a conjugal dictatorship, and were robbing the people of their money.

Mijares wrote what he had known from his time as a trusted aide of the regime in “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos,” which was published, after quite a hurdle, in 1976. A price was paid for it: two lives. The author and his son Boyet joined the growing list of desaparecidos — the disappeared.

Around 40 years later, the very narrative that Mijares had turned against would come back to haunt the country. Last year, as Ferdinand and Imelda's son Bongbong ran for the vice-presidency, the internet was increasingly littered with even more comments and historical revisionism that overlooked the abuses in favor of infrastructural achievements, or even proclaimed the martial law years the “golden age” of Philippine history. The idea for its second publication began in a peculiar place, betraying the newfound weaponized nature of the internet.

That nook was on Reddit. It was here that Joseph Christopher “JC” Mijares Gurango, 19 years old and the youngest of the Mijares clan, chanced upon a thread where a Reddit user was on the hunt for resources on martial law. Inevitably, his grandfather’s book came up; he offered to lend a copy, and by the end of the week a hundred people had asked for it.

JC Gurango’s father Joey will be the first to say that they had left the painful family experiences out of their discussions on purpose. His son chanced upon the book, read it himself, and put two and two together a couple of years ago.

“I feel a bit guilty. Hindi na siguro kailangan ilabas ang libro if our generation had done its job,” the older Gurango confessed at the recent launch of the second edition. “We tried to shield him, our mistake ... [telling them was] what our generation should have been doing.”

But the younger Gurango does not blame his family; nobody wants to reopen old wounds. He has his sights set on what to do for the future, but with respect for the past.

He and his father were just floating around the idea of republishing the book, when Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. almost won the vice presidency. That was when they knew, they said, that something had to be done.

With some online crowdsourcing, new friends came on board, and Ateneo Press later picked up the project. Its launch at Bantayog ng mga Bayani saw distinguished speakers: former senator Rene Saguisag, former History Commission Chair Mariz Diokno, and the Executive Director of Bantayog, Maria Christina Rodriguez.

The Conjugal Dictatorship Primitivo Mijares, the author of "The Conjugal Dictatorship," was privy to the government's operations as president of the Media Advisory Council and chairman of the National Press Club. He defected to the US in 1975 and testified in the US Congress about the human rights abuses during martial law.

Rodriguez confessed there is a reason why she is here at the launch. Turn to page 491, she said. There, under a list of torture victims from the martial law era, was her name: sexually abused and beaten at age 20.

She had not known, Rodriguez said, that Mijares had saved her name and included it in the book for people to know this injustice. She had only discovered a few years ago, when she thought to finally read it, and for this she is grateful.

After the launch, the family will work on getting “The Conjugal Dictatorship” to schools and libraries. Maybe even abridged and textbook versions, Gurango shared. They are also hoping to make this, and other pieces of martial law literature, accessible and back in print.

The Marcos family took two of their family members, but they cannot take away their narrative. Primitivo Mijares stabbed it in its crib, but it would be those who outlived him, who would be faced with the difficult task of killing an idea.

CNN Philippines Life sat down with JC Gurango to talk about the book, fighting with facts in a post-truth world, and the family project of not only preserving memory, but passing it on. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

You mentioned that until you asked, your parents didn’t talk much about [martial law]. Why was that?

I think it was a product of [my mom’s] mom doing the same thing. Growing up, her mom kept her very sheltered from the whole thing ... So I guess she just sort of passed that down and kind of shielded us from it as well. To be fair ... a Marcos coming back to power wasn’t such an imminent threat five, ten years ago. So it makes sense that she wouldn’t want to relive that part of her life again, because she did lose a brother and a dad.

How did you feel when you heard about the Marcos burial last year?

I was pretty annoyed. I was a little more annoyed that I couldn’t be there, because I was halfway to Baguio when I heard about the news. But I felt almost violated, really ... I felt like it was really unfair that [the Marcoses] were still able to do that ... It was an eye-opener that they still do, in fact, have a lot of power.

At what point did you realize the gravity of [what] the Marcoses did?

There’s a part in the book that I always remember ... where my grandfather discusses the specific figure by the CIA. The CIA [gave] an estimate in 1976 of the exact amount of money that they stole, and it was up to $10 billion. And that’s in 1976. So, if you converted that to today’s money, that’s over $40 billion and even [if] they spent half of that, they would have money to give every Filipino thousands of pesos and still have enough left over. I think around that point is when I realized these guys did a lot.

I’m curious as to what you think of the whole post-truth phenomenon.

Well, I try to separate in my mind between people who have been genuinely misled and people who are actively trying to make people believe a falsehood ... There are some people who are just genuinely ignorant about what happened, and there are some people who know the truth, but they wanna spread the lie.

So when it comes to the people who are genuinely misled, for me to say anything other than [that] we need to improve education in this country ... would be victim-blaming. It’s definitely not their fault. I would like to try and reach out to them, but it’s not their fault they were misled in that way.

For people who are [intentionally]trying to spread misinformation, I have nothing to say to those people.

JC Gurango JC Gurango, the yougest grandson of "The Conjugal Dictatorship" author Primitivo Mijares. Their family decided to publish a new edition of the book due to the recent prevalence of historical revisionism about what happened during the Martial Law era. Photo from JC GURANGO/FACEBOOK  

What do you think should be done about [them]?

I brought up the figure earlier of $10 billion. I think that the biggest asset to the Marcos family is that money. That they can take that money and convert it to any resource that they want. I think that what we need to do is [to] arm people with knowledge, so they can fight with facts rather than with resources.

How do you propose that a fight through knowledge be done, especially when people try to dispute facts these days?

It’s an issue of changing public perception. I don’t think we’re gonna be able to get people who are diehard apologists now ... but there’s a lot of people who are on the fence that I think would benefit from books like this being out.

There are a few other books like “The Counterfeit Revolution” [by Reuben Canoy], “Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage” [by Pete Lacaba], [“The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos” by Carmen Navarro Pedrosa] — Imelda’s unauthorized biography, “Some Are Smarter Than Others” [by Richardo Manapat]. Books like that would help us to get that crowd that is on the fence and make them realize ... it’s something worth caring about.

On top of that, it should also be about educating the next generation. As far as I’m concerned, the generations [prior] to us are gonna just believe what they believe ... So it’s now on us to make sure that the current and next generations are armed with correct knowledge and with the right facts, so that the public perception changes with them.

Do you think that Filipinos are a reading culture? How do we make these books accessible to younger Filipinos?

I think if they knew what this book represented, they would be inclined to read it. Maybe we don’t have a culture of bookworms, but I think that people still read....

On top of just making this book and releasing [it], we also have plans to get a textbook version made and have it used for K-12. And perhaps some sort of shorter, abridged version of the book that would be easier to read. People have approached us with movie deals ... We haven’t made any plans yet.

We also have plans for putting it on social media, trying to release bits of information for easy consumption. It boils down to more than just this book. We will be trying to get this sort of information out there ... by making many ways to make it accessible.

There’s a part in the book that I always remember ... where my grandfather discusses the specific figure by the CIA. The CIA [gave] an estimate in 1976 of the exact amount of money that [the Marcoses] stole, and it was up to $10 billion. And that’s in 1976. So, if you converted that to today’s money, that’s over $40 billion.

 

I’m curious of what you think of the [false] dichotomy with which people approach martial law. Some people say that if you’re against Marcos, automatically that means you’re anti-Duterte, or pro-Aquino.

You’re right to call it a false dichotomy. I really wanna believe that it was something that wasn’t developed on purpose, but I have a hunch that it is. It was just this way of making it so easy to dismiss ... “Oh you’re just of this political party, so that’s why you believe what you believe.” It’s just a way of making people think, “Oh, this is my opinion, that’s your opinion.” But you can’t argue with facts.

The Duterte administration said that they planned to have a “simple, quiet” EDSA [anniversary] ... and that they don’t want it to be a celebration of the past. What do you think of this way of remembering martial law today?

I think it’s important not to point any fingers. Not to point at the current administration and say, “Hey, you are complicit in this.” As for just that idea of downplaying the EDSA revolution in general — I personally don’t think that it doesn’t matter how largely you celebrate EDSA. If people don’t know the facts, it’s not gonna do anything.

But the idea of telling people to move on — a lot of people have moved on. A lot of people have forgiven the death of their families and their family members. So it’s not right to say “move on,” because people have moved on. But the fact of the matter is, a portion of the national debt is still going to paying for the money that they stole. So we’ll move on as soon as we have to stop having to pay for their life.

Do you think that it’s a family obligation ... to ensure that this story continues to get told?

A little bit. There’s a lot more efforts than mine to ensure that the story gets told, so to speak. There’s Jo-Ed Tirol... [who’s] working on a martial law curriculum for Ateneo ... John Ray Ramos [of Far Eastern University] is working on a module for teaching martial law to children, like a new way of teaching it to younger people. There’s other people as well who are working on ways of getting it taught better.

I thought that this book — this book is the part that I’m doing, and the sort of family obligation came with just this book in particular. Although I feel an obligation to my country to make sure that martial law is taught properly.

Now that you and your family are working together to relaunch the book, have you guys gotten around to thinking about actually having a desaparecidos again in the family?

Yeah. We’re all pretty afraid, still. They have the resources to make people disappear, still. I’m not sure that they could get away with it very cleanly anymore, but they could still do that. So we’re taking the necessary precautions to make sure that that doesn’t happen. But at the same time, I don’t think that you should stop doing this just because you’re scared. I mean, we’re all very scared.

People here at the Bantayog right now are still very scared. Just being here is a little bit scary. Just having the launch here is pretty scary because you have a lot of people in one enclosed space. But I don’t think fear should be something to stop you. I think that you should do it regardless.

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The second edition of “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos” will be available in paperback in all leading physical and online bookstores. It can also be purchased at the Ateneo Press Bookstore and Bantayog ng mga Bayani. The hardcover edition can be ordered through conjugaldictatorship.com.

The first edition is available online courtesy of Rizal Library.