Who was Primitivo Mijares? Gospel truths and urban legends

Gigi Grande , ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 20 2017 09:28 PM | Updated as of Feb 21 2017 02:07 AM

Forty years after Palace insider Primitivo “Tibo” Mijares vanished, what became of him remains unknown.

But as the country celebrates the 31st anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution this week, his family hopes Tibo and his controversial book, “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos”, would not be forgotten.

'First tell-all book' 

Tibo disappeared months after the book was published in the United States in 1976. He was allegedly abducted by the Marcos military.

It was the first-of-its-kind, a tell-all book providing details about the alleged excesses of the Marcos dictatorship and the private lives of the First Couple and their cronies.

Written by someone from then-President Ferdinand Marcos’ inner circle, the book was hailed, found credible and authoritative by those who read it during the years of living dangerously. It was banned in the Philippines, read surreptitiously only by those who dared.

No ordinary reporter 

Tibo was a reporter of the Marcos-controlled newspaper, “The Daily Express”.

But he was no ordinary reporter. He was one of the few who had direct access to Marcos on a daily basis, as evidenced by a memo handwritten by Marcos on September 28, 1972, days after the proclamation of martial law.

A pioneer in 'fake news'? 

He was far from saintly. In his book, Tibo owned up to his role in the dictatorship. As chief Marcos propagandist, Tibo’s job was to convince Filipinos that martial law was a necessary response to reforming society and battling the communist insurgency.

He wrote a press release, he said, about the ambush of then-Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile even before it happened. The ambush was supposedly the final straw that would push Marcos to declare martial law.

“Sya na yung pinaka unang fake news troll sa kasaysaysan ng mundo,” said his son-in-law Joey Gurango.

“He put out all the fake news back then that justified martial law. And Filipinos, including myself, would read about it and think, tama, dapat nga magkaroon ng martial law. We believed it.”

Ten years later, on February 23, 1986, a day after Enrile broke away from Marcos, Enrile would confirm what Tibo wrote, saying his ambush was indeed fake.(Enrile however would change his tune once again when his book, “Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir” was launched in 2012).

Living the good life 

Tibo was paid handsomely for his services.

“My wife’s family really benefitted from it,” Gurango said. “They lived the good life. They got to travel all over the world at the expense of government. They had nice cars and a nice place to live. There was no reason to bite the hand that fed him.”

That was, until Tibo’s conscience began eating him up.

Hush money 

Tibo defected while in the United States on official mission in 1974.

In June 1975, he found himself preparing to divulge damning information about the Marcos dictatorship before a United States congressional inquiry.

On the night before he was set to testify, Tibo wrote that he received a call from President Marcos, dissuading him to appear in the hearing. An aide then offered him $100,000, a big sum back then.

Hoodwinked 

Tibo testified as scheduled just the same, providing details about vote fraud, corporate theft, payoffs, unlawful arrests and corruption under the dictatorship.

“I was hoodwinked into supporting the imposition of martial law,” Tibo said in his opening statement to the congressional inquiry. “The reasons used by President Marcos were deliberately manufactured by Mr. Marcos himself to perpetuate him in power.”

Conjugal dictatorship

Details divulged during the congressional inquiry as well as documents to support these claims found their way into the book, “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos”.

“Yun ang kailangang basahin,” said former opposition leader-turned- senator Rene Saguisag, who has read the book several times. “Kung ano ang sinabi nya sa US Congress and what backed up his claims.” 
 
The book is also replete with scandalous details that would have been enough to land anyone in jail, or worse. 

“May mga sinulat dito na magwawala talaga si Madama,” Saguisag said, referring to the then-First Lady Imelda Marcos. “Meron daw syang secret ailment. At dito, chick boy si Macoy, eh. Kinwento si Dovie Beams at kung sino sino pang kulasisi kaya talagang mapipikon sila.” 

Urban legends

On the same year Tibo disappeared, his son Boyet, then 16 years old, was likewise abducted, tortured, and later found dead.

For years, rumors had swirled about what happened to father and son.

As one story goes, Tibo had been taken by military men and thrown out of a flying chopper somewhere between Guam, his last known location, and the Philippines.

Boyet’s kidnapping also supposedly lured Tibo back to the Philippines where he watched his son get tortured before he was killed.

Tibo’s family said these stories are all urban legends.

“Did he die because of the book?” Gurango asked. “Until we can determine how he died, we can’t really say that. We’re not blaming anyone. For all we know, it could have been self-inflicted. Neither can we say that Boyet died because of the book.”

Chilling effect 

Gurango theorized the urban legends were the handiwork of other Marcos propagandists.

“Propaganda was one way to sow fear in the hearts and minds of people, “Gurango said. “ If they could do that to a 16-year-old boy, it shows what they were capable of doing. It had a chilling effect on people who were thinking of speaking out. We don’t know for sure, but if that was the intent, it worked. People were very afraid”

Rallying point

Back in the days of Marcos' rule, the book not only served as fodder for gossip. More importantly, it served as a rallying point for those who wanted to fight the dictatorship.

Reprinted in 1986, it is being reintroduced to a new generation of Filipinos this week- a brainchild of Tibo’s 19-year-old grandson JC Gurango.

The Mijares family believes there are many lessons to be learned in the midst of persistent talks about martial law under the Duterte administration.

After all, they said, history repeats itself when people disregard mistakes of the past.