Findings from the diaries of a dictator

Amelie Ortiz de Leon

Posted at Sep 21 2022 12:47 AM


Spanning the years 1970 to 1983, Ferdinand E. Marcos kept a diary. 

Now digitized through the Philippine Diary Project, the entries serve as a historical relic of the musings of a former dictator. 

From thoughts on his eldest son and current Philippine President Bongbong Marcos to his messianic visions on implementing martial law in the Philippines, Marcos’ musings are made accessible to the public online, who can scroll through entries upon entries of Marcos’ scrawl on official Malacañang Palace stationary. 

While historian Ambeth Ocampo warns that Marcos’ entries are “self-referential” and consciously omit various historical events, the diary’s contents are a goldmine of anecdotes and quotes – directly from Marcos Sr. himself.

Sowing the Seeds of Martial Law

Ferdinand Marcos’ entries in 1972 largely consisted of his reflections on the Philippines’ governance. In his entries, he condemned the Philippines’ democratic governance and called for the necessity of “authoritativeness”. His ruminations during this time provide revelatory insights into his culminating decision to declare martial law on September 23, 1972. 

To quote the author of “Delusions of a Dictator” William Rempel, Marcos’ entries prove that “Marcos was a dictator at heart long before he was a dictator at gunpoint.”

On February 20, 1972, Marcos turned to one of his favorite historical figures, Julius Caesar for executive council. In the entry, he asked the following rhetorical question while reflecting upon the unrest in the United States: “At what point of anarchy would a Julius Caesar take over the (U.S.) government as a dictator? Although . . . it may be difficult to control the U.S. from one central point as it has too many centers of power.”
He further questioned whether “the old concepts of democracy and freedom are still valid or whether dictatorship or authoritarianism is not demanded for survival.”

A month after, on March 29, 1972, Marcos claimed to have messianic visions from God, leading him to decisively proclaim the necessity of martial law. In the entry, he states: “My own Spiritual Exercise. I asked the Lord for a sign. And he has given it.” 

He went on to declare that “the permissiveness of society must be balanced by authoritativeness [...] for we return order where there is chaos.” 

Likening the country to meat in its “relative value”, he went on to write: “Food is good. But meat is not always good. [...] So I conclude that freedom is not always good. There may be periods in a country’s life when it is like meat. For the time being, it must be curtailed or denied.”

He concluded by stating that society’s permissiveness “has spawned the many evils that will wreck our Republic,” and “it must now be balanced with authoritativeness and that is martial law.” 

In other entries, Marcos’ reflections help ground readers into the psyche of the former president. 

For instance, Marcos was a superstitious person – In an entry, he notes the significance of what is now termed ‘angel numbers’, stating: “The Presidential yacht is No. 777, the number of votes that made me win the convention of 1964 as against Senator Emmanuel Pelaez who received 444 votes, in the second balloting in the convention.”

In another entry titled "Reflections", he discusses his restlessness and unease despite his role as president. He writes: “I am President. I am the most powerful man in the Philippines. All that I have dreamt of I have. More accurately, I have all the material things I want in life –a wife who is loving and is a partner in the things I do, bright children who will carry my name, a life well lived –all. But I feel a discontent. Because I may not have done all that I can. Because I may have taken the easy and safer way out.”

Marcos’ Thoughts on Bongbong Marcos

As one of the more viral takeaways from the Marcos diaries, Ferdinand Marcos spoke at length about his eldest son Bongbong. 

On June 12, 1972, Marcos wrote: “Bongbong is our principal worry. He is too carefree and lazy.” He went on to add that “the boy must realize his weakness – the carefree wayward ways that may have been bred in him.” 

A similar sentiment is echoed in previous entries, in which Marcos states that: “Imelda feels calamity has befallen us because she cannot control Bongbong who does nothing but play with his friends to the prejudice of his schooling.” 

Likewise, Marcos wrote: “...The report cards of Bongbong came in yesterday and I had [to] scold him for being reported as being lazy by his tutor and not at all working hard, although talented.”

In a turn of desperation, Marcos wrote a letter directed to his son, expressing his concern for Bongbong’s behavior, writing: “Dear Bongbong, What is happening? I gather you could not get settled doing your schoolwork after your holidays because you had such a glorious time partying here. That was not the general idea of a good time. The idea was to inspire you to more hard concentration on your studies.”

Marcos concluded his letter by stating: “...No matter how we, your parents, try to prepare the material things you will need to attain a comfortable life, a fruitful and successful life can only be made by you. You have all the qualities for a great future — except concentration. This seems to be your principal weakness. Self-application, dedication and assiduity. You look that up in a dictionary.”

Marcos’ Thoughts on Imee Marcos

Conversely, Marcos expressed his admiration for his daughter (and current senator) Imee Marcos.

In an entry dated April 20, 1970, Marcos wrote: “Imee won the topmost honors in school (1st year, Assumption Convent). I wish she had been a boy. I went there at ten o’clock AM to pin the medal on her. She was quite nervous about it. And her teachers were proud of her.”   

He expressed a similar sense of pride in subsequent entries when he reported that: “Imee’s grades in ‘O’ level in England is almost perfect.”

Marcos further recounted a conversation between father and daughter, in which Marcos expressed his children’s lack of concentration, stating that: “All I asked was that each one learns to concentrate. “And.” I said, “I have a feeling that you are all turning into rolling stones. You have no roots.”

He then directed his attention at Imee, recounting that he said: “You, Imee, said you were discontented with Assumption College. You wanted to go to Leyte. You have become impulsive. You are never satisfied.” In reply, Imee responded: “But is that not necessary for progress?”, she asked in argument. The girl is logical and sharp, whatever her deficiencies.”

Ultimately, decades later with the Marcos clan reestablished in Filipino politics and Bongbong Marcos as the current president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos’ diary has found renewed interest as a historical artifact of great significance.

By providing insight into the former dictator’s ruminations, Marcos’ entries help establish Marcos’ lasting legacy – a legacy that continues to confront Filipinos to this day. To quote Ferdinand Marcos in his 1987 interview with Playboy Magazine, “History is not through with me yet.”

(Editor's note: The author was an intern at last June. She is a sophomore at Barnard College of Columbia University, USA.)