While still ensconced in Malacanang, the dictator President Ferdinand E. Marcos was obsessively secretive about the status of his medical condition. Poking one’s nose into Ferdie’s health was perilous business. In fact, fatal!
Older folks will remember that amid speculations that the President was seriously ill, there were published reports in the US that Marcos had two secret kidney transplants. One in 1983, which was rejected, followed by a successful one the year after. American kidney specialists came to the Philippines to perform the transplants, under very strict secrecy.
The revelation was carried by the Pittsburg Press as well as by Newsweek Magazine, identifying the source of the information as Dr. Potenciano Baccay. He was then one of the President’s personal physicians and an officer of the Philippine National Kidney Center. On November 2, 1985, Dr. Baccay was found dead with 20 stab wounds. This, after having spoken to American media confirming the kidney transplants. The police reported that Dr. Baccay was first kidnapped and then slain by the communists!
Yet, already in Hawai’ian exile, Ferdie’s medical condition was an overt tool in the undisguised political game they were scheming. The couple, mostly Meldy, was orchestrating a destabilizing frenzy in Manila demanding a return of their fallen idol based upon the supposed precarious physical condition of her husband. To die or recuperate in his own homeland was the gist of the unceasing campaign.
Every now and then, faux ‘medical bulletins’ were being issued by Meldy, not excluding summoning a parish priest for a supposed ‘Last Rites!’ All such antics, aired by one or two Marcos-friendly Manila radio stations, were beamed towards the motley crowd of their loyalists, waiting for signals by which to react with clamorous chants against a ‘heartless’ President Corazon C. Aquino! It had become a policy decision of the newly installed government not to allow the return of the Marcoses for national security reasons. Civic disorder was seen as a distinct trouble-making outcome if the Marcoses were allowed back.
I recall one particular hospitalization episode, December 9, 1988, when drama-driven Meldy even sat in the front-seat of the ambulance that was to ferry the sick ex-dictator to the hospital. The ambulance driver-paramedic was instructed to cool his wheels by the driveway to await the television and photo crew, summoned and pre-arranged to capture the moment and beamed to Manila!
There was media fascination over every move of the exiled Marcoses simply because “they make good copy.” The Marcos happenings in Honolulu had been primed by the televised world-wide sensation of the “EDSA People Power Revolution.” Their presence in Hawaii seemed to have been a gift to local media, which heretofore was rather staid and somewhat laid back. Demonstrably, Marcos’ arrival in Hawai’i did lend vigor and excitement to island journalism.
Before the patient made it to St. Francis Medical Center, about a 15-minute ride from the Marcos residence up on Makiki Heights Drive, ‘news’ of “Marcos' critical state” was already relayed to Manila. The scripted speculation was that “the dying man might be returned to his country before his death!” And their motley crowd was raucously astir!
It was on the occasion of another hospitalization, December 28, 1988, when a “Last Rites” script was acted out. Five hours before Marcos was admitted anew to St Francis hospital, Manila radio was already ablare with ‘news’ that Marcos was either dead or again, near death! Tasked to fetch the innocently cooperating priest from a nearby parish, a Fr. MacFadden, was a Dr. Azucena Ignacio, one of the Marcos household private physicians. Responding to a reporter’s query at the hospital some 10 hours after Fr. MacFadden’s “Last Rites,” Dr. Ignacio replied that she did not know if the patient was seriously ill! My eye-witness informant, on the other hand, told me that Marcos crony Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco visited the patient the day after, during this particular confinement. He said: “I saw the two talking seriously together.”
As earlier mentioned, it was my official task to surveil the exiles. I had confidential sources, also aided by my own sleuth, sniffing nose, by a well-developed network of friendships and mutual assistance contacts. Journalists who consented to be at Meldy’s beck and call (eager for scoops and human interest snippets) were also my info-exchange confreres. And would you believe, hospital personnel, too!
All these gave me access to relevant and useful information. Analyzing and validating newspaper coverage of the Marcoses was routine. Whenever medical reports and records became available, I consulted with my own medical referees. These were Filipino doctors who were just too glad to help interpret medical information--the unexpurgated truth--about the deposed dictator’s medical condition from raw data I was regularly accumulating.
It was my good fortune, one day when an ‘inside’ source on Marcos’ confinement circumstances simply came by, as if from out of the blue! A fortuitous happenstance, if I may couch it as such. A young lady (Filipina but US-born and bred) came to the Consulate one morning seeking some assistance on behalf of her Ilocano father, a retired old-timer Filipino ‘sacada’ (agri-laborer). Some certified documentation was her need, I recall. She had never been to the Philippine Consulate before, she said. I attended to her personally, with dispatch and evidently with unexpected satisfaction on her part. So impressed she must have been, being served and attended to personally by the Consul General himself (she was to find out, momentarily!) that she volunteered the information that she worked as administrative clerk at St. Francis Medical Center. She asked, perhaps presciently, if there was something she could be of help with, evidently in returning the favor of the Consulate’s unexpected attention. Bingo! That day, ‘good manners and right conduct,’ attentive customer service, as it were, clinched a source of useful information!
To belie Marcosian ‘agitprop’ as well as to allay fears of potential trouble, most of my reports to Malacanang were released to the public via the Office of the Press Secretary. My spying activities were in fact adequately reported to the point of my becoming an object of comedic lampoons. I was caricatured wearing camouflage, with binoculars, peeping through the bushes and even climbing up the walls of Makiki! I never saw it but I was told I was a stage prop in a comedy skit, playing in some Manila club, that featured comedienne Tessie Tomas in an Imelda Marcos parody. There, too, were surly opinion columnists who I suspected simply enjoyed taking potshots at me.
As of the December 9, 1988 trip to the hospital, Ferdie’s life was not deemed to be nearing its mortal end. It was clearly understood that he was a sick man. But, not too sick as to be dying! He was suffering from a variety of ailments, a few of which from still unknown causes, as noted in the notes written into his medical records. Ferdie’s battery of doctors remained hopeful of recovery. It was reason enough to have the patient discharged to be home for Christmas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
His e-mail is: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.