A rendering of Ronnie Joaquin from a photograph in Jaime Licauco's book. Art by Gica Tam
Culture Spotlight

The day my mother brought home Bionic Boy

Before his fame and subsequent infamy, the writer Isidra Reyes recalls meeting Bionic Boy and being witness to his supernatural gifts.
Isidra Reyes | Oct 16 2018

Psychics and psychic phenomena were no strangers to me even as a child growing up in the Age of Aquarius.  My mother, Clara, a no-nonsense businesswoman and mother of seven, was fascinated by all things psychic. While she went to church everyday and is a devout Catholic, she would annually purchase a copy of Sydney Omarr’s Day-by-Day Astrological Guide for her birth sign, Leo, and would daily make it a ritual to read the day’s lucky color and lucky number before dressing up for a hectic round of business meetings, site and factory visits. She would likewise regularly consult manghuhulas and call the hilot and magtatawas when we got sick. She had a friend who communicated with UFOs, and even brought a faith healer to our home to remove my aunt’s varicose veins, extract dark blood from my brother’s chest, and was about to treat me for my chronic sneezing fits had I not run off and hid myself in fright.   

The author's formidable mother, Clara, a single parent who ran her own business and raised six boys and a girl. 

Nonetheless, our Mom’s fascination with all things  psychic rubbed off on us.  We would play Spirit of the Glass and the Ouija Board as if these were mere board games. We would summon spirits like those of our Lolo Florencio, Jose Rizal, and a long-gone Hollywood movie star named Montgomery Clift. Our reading fare included ghost story anthologies, gothic fiction, The Dream Book, Cheiro’s Language of the Hand, Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, and Edgar Cayce books, some of which we borrowed from a reclusive uncle or purchased from the book and magazine sections of Unimart and Makati Supermarket, and the bargain book stalls in Escolta and Avenida Rizal.

Required reading: just two of the books the author grew up with at home.

We were thus not surprised when one evening in the mid-70s, Mommy Clara brought home a chubby, dark-skinned, bespectacled  boy who claimed to have extraordinary psychic abilities. His name was Ronnie Joaquin and he said he was orphaned at a young age and grew up somewhere in the vicinity of Clark Air Base in Angeles, Pampanga. In Jaime T. Licauco’s account of him in his book, True Encounters with the Unknown, he was said to have entered the seminary at a very young age but was asked to leave after he was caught stealing by the priests, an event which must have caused him deep emotional distress. He spoke with a slangish American accent and was trying to impress us by showing us a voluminous bound manuscript which included information on a broad range of subjects and scientific drawings of the human anatomy, animals, plants, and microorganisms. 

Ronnie was a virtual walking encyclopedia as he seemed to have answers to every question we asked. He tried to impress us even more with his extensive knowledge of the human anatomy, claiming that he was a graduate of Harvard Medical School, a claim he must have repeated to many, including psychic authority Jaime T. Licauco. Sitting at the head of our long dining table and surrounded by our family, relatives, and friends, he seemed to enjoy the attention. Having aroused our interest, he prepared to amaze us with his so-called “parlor games.”

He requested for a stack of blank bond paper then proceeded to write something in the air. Then he asked one of us to open the stack of bond paper and, voila, a sheet with handwritten scribbles was uncovered! After repeating this several times, he asked for the telephone and without dialing a number got in touch with our relative who was based overseas. We would ask him intimate details about ourselves, pose quiz bee questions, or ask him about the future and he was ready with his reply in seconds. If a question was particularly difficult, he would close his eyes, go into a trance-like state, emit a high-pitched buzzing sound from his head, then emerge with the answer. He must have impressed my mother so much, we had him as house guest for several days.

Next I heard of him, he was already in the limelight. According to Licauco in the abovementioned book, Ronnie first attracted attention sometime in 1976 when he was featured in a newspaper article by Jullie Yap Daza which described his “sensational psychic feats.” He was guesting in evening television talk shows like Ms.Ellaneous, hosted by Maan Hontiveros, Tina Revilla, and Yogi Dominguez, and The Late Night with June and Johnny, hosted by Johnny Litton and June Keithley, where he astonished the hosts and guests with his paranormal pyrotechnics and showmanship. Wives and mistresses of army generals, Marcos cronies, and other Martial Law era elites would invite him to their parties where he would enthrall his hosts and their guests with his dream interpretations, predictions of the future, telekinetic abilities, encyclopedic knowledge, and paranormal bag of tricks.

A newspaper clipping of Deputy Minister of Defense Carmelo Barbero.

Said to have been discovered by the late Deputy Minister of Defense Carmelo Barbero, it would not be long before he would receive an invitation to Malacañang Palace for an audience with Imelda. Knowing that Imelda had seen almost everything and was not easy to impress, the Bionic Boy, as he was then called, had to come up with a real show. As recounted by writer Eric Gamalinda in a fanastical blog post entitled “Formerly Known as Bionic Boy”: “the palace collection of (General) Douglas MacArthur’s books flew from the shelves, their pages fluttering in mid-air. Teacups rattled and teaspoons tinkled in perfect harmony. The shutters of the Malacañang Guest House whipped open, and capiz chandeliers swayed like galleons on an open sea.”

According to the same account, which read like the beginning of a work of fiction, Imelda was so beguiled that she arranged for the Bionic Boy to meet her husband, then President Ferdinand Marcos. Knowing that the President was not too interested in a show, Ronnie offered instead to interpret FM’s dreams, advised him where to put his money, told him about the condition of his bladder and kidneys, and predicted the precise number of military casualties in various encounters with communist rebels. But what got FM really hooked was Bionic Boy’s interpretation of his dream. One day, the President told Ronnie about his dream of a young eagle diving into the South China Sea. Instantaneously, Ronnie had an ominous vision. He urgently implored the President to stop his son, Bongbong, from boarding a plane which was about to take off in two hours. Licauco mentions this in his book, referring to it only as a rumor. "The President did recall that plane to let Bongbong out; the plane crashed afterwards, killing almost every passenger."

Former president Marcos was said to have been so taken with Ronnie after he started interpreting the strongman's dreams.
Imelda was said to have asked Bionic Boy if he could meet with her husband in the Palace.

FM was said to have been enormously grateful and brought along Ronnie wherever he went. Again as per Licauco's book, the Marcoses "officially adopted him as a son." Which explains Ronnie suddenly carrying the name Ronald Joaquin Marcos. But the pleasurable life with the Marcoses did not last long. The First Family reportedly cut their ties with their new member, according to Licauco's book, "because of 'certain abuses' he committed and for embarassing the President by talking a lot about his exploits in Malacañang"--accusations Ronnie denied.

Rumors had it that Ronnie also predicted the downfall of the Marcoses and the rise of a woman as a new leader of the country.

The author as a teenager, with brother Pamboy, in the 70s. "One of our pleasures when we were teenagers was spending lazy weekend mornings in bed, reading pocketbooks on the supernatural and a multitude of other subjects.

Decades have passed and nothing much has been heard about the Bionic Boy. Some say he was exiled to L.A. Others say he became a psychic consultant to his namesake, President Ronald Reagan, whose wife, Nancy, was said to have relied so much on her astrologer, Joan Quigley, to the point where it endangered the U.S. Presidency. Still others say he found a job in Houston, helping the NASA coordinate trajectories of rockets in space. More recent news says he has become a consultant to a popular local beauty magnate. While others say he was a hoax or worse, that he never existed at all.  

But I can testify under oath that Ronnie Joaquin a.k.a. Ronald Joaquin Marcos a.k.a. Bionic Boy was or is a real person. I met him, talked to him, and was witness to his awesome paranormal pyrotechnics when I was an impressionable teenager during the Age of Aquarius.