Col. Uldarico Baclagon, (1940-PMA), was a palace historian and propagandist during Marcos reign and he helped shape the Marcos myth as a war hero. In 1986, when Marcos fled to Hawaii, Baclagon became one presidential confidantes to fall from power into poverty. Here is a subtitle, “Myth As A History” of Alfred W. McCoy’s chapter of the “Myth of the Maharlika” (Closer Than Brothers).
MYTH AS A HISTORY
“Col. (Uldarico) Baclagon was being deceptively modest. Starting in his first administration (1965-69), President Marcos wove the slender thread of his war record into a heroic tapestry that would later serve as an ideological backdrop for authoritarian rule. To spread this myth, Marcos mobilized state power to embroider it in mural, film, poetry, monument, and history.
In such a vast project of cultural construction, Baclagon was, in some sense, just one of many craftsmen summoned to the palace. But if we probe for the heart of the Marcos myth, Baclagon, as a military historian, was keeper of the regime’s ultimate mystery. Underlying the legal justification for martial rule was the myth of Marcos as a reincarnation of ancient Malay warriors who fought against colonial conquest. By his heroism in World War II, Marcos, telescoping time, had revealed himself as heir to their heroic mantle of leadership. Just as ancient warriors proved their prowess by taking heads so Marcos, in a deft elision of historical epochs, showed his leadership by winning medals in World War II. Through heroism in combat, Marcos had become an instrument of history, dragon’s writing was no mere matter of “relics” or “rectification”, but was in fact the warp in the regime’s ideological fabric. Indeed, twenty years later, when he failed to defend this myth from partisan attack, the president’s power would start to unravel.
Whether by accident or brilliant design Marcos had sketched the outline for this myth at the end of World War II when he, like hundreds of resistance commanders, petitioned the U.S. Army to recognize his guerilla unit and reward its members with back pay. In August 1945 application, Marcos included documentation for his unit, which he called “Ang Mga Maharlika.” Filipino for the pre-colonial warriors who fought under a Malay chief or datu. Most importantly, he attached a twenty-nine page account of his underground activities, titled Ang Mga Maharlika –Its History In Brief – a master text unsurpassed, for the next forty years, in its detail or degree off hyperbole. If this account could be believed, the Maharlika was one of the most remarkable guerilla in the history of warfare.
Read as a statement of historical fact, Marcos’s “History In Brief” is a sloppy in its chronology and absurd in its claims. To cite the most fanciful of its falsehoods, the idea that Marcos’s bootleg toothbrush factory could finance an eight thousand-man guerilla army should strain credulity. But if read at another level, it is a brilliant exercise in historical imagination. While other guerilla units took names that tied them to America or McArthur, Marcos alone appealed to nationalism by evoking heroism of pre-colonial warriors. With his choice of this single word, Maharlika, Marcos transcended the colonial ambiguity of fighting for America and linked his actions to a Filipino quest for freedom. Through a narrative that fuses an epic structure with the drama of a spy novel, he relates the saga of a young soldier who is tested on the field of battle, executes remarkable feats of espionage, and emerges a great hero.
The account begins at the outset of the war, when a young Lieutenant Marcos, a brilliant lawyer and a crack rifle shot, showed, in his words, ‘outstanding gallantry in action’ on Bataan. After the U.S. surrender in April 1942, he suffered ‘the dragging pain and ignominy of the Death March’ and the horrors of a Japanese concentration camp. Out of ‘such hatred of the enemy as could be quenched with his blood alone’ was born the Maharlika guerilla army. There in the “filth and disease” of that prison camp, Marcos, with his cousin Simeon Valdez and eight officers, “vowed that whomsoever should come out of that festering hole of lingering death should devote himself of vengeance”.
After his daring escape, Marcos organized an espionage unit in Manila under the eyes of the enemy. With toothbrush manufacturing company as cover and a source of funds, the Maharlika grew into the country’s most powerful resistance outfit, with a nationwide espionage net and an underground army of eighty-two hundred guerillas. To rekindle the “flagging hopes” of the Filipino people, Marcos writes, “the Maharlika kept a propaganda machine of its own” that transcribed radio broadcasts of American victories for distribution to thousands of Manila “subscribers” three times daily.
When MacArthur’s return seemed imminent, Marcos’s Maharlika guerillas unleashed a devastating sabotage campaign, sinking three Japanese ships on the Manila waterfront and “causing a near riot in districts by the bay”. His operatives later sank three Japanese oil tankers, two trawlers, and a supply ship, while damaging a destroyer and a Mary-class troopship.
Marcos fled Manila in September 1944, escaping in a Japanese staff car as Kempetai troops were about to close in. Since Manuel Roxas, a prewar cabinet official, had asked him to plan an escape route, Marcos agreed to stop off in Pangasinan Province to build a secret runway. There he found his local guerillas embroiled in bloody territorial battles with American commanders and, despairing of these conditions, Marcos led his Maharlika fighters into the mountains to find an alternative site for Roxas’s runway. Several days later, when MacArthur’s landings in Lingayen Gulf made return to his unit impossible, Marcos merged his combat forces into another guerilla unit, the Fourteenth Infantry.
The Maharlika units, in Marcos’s account, distinguished themselves in the eight months of fighting that followed. As the U.S. Army raced toward the city of 28 January 1945, the Maharlika broke through enemy lines to deliver the “first detailed map of the enemy defense of Manila, “ thus assuring the capital’s liberation and salvation. As for Marcos, he fought valiantly as a junior officer with the Fourteenth Infantry during the Battle of Bessang Pass in March 1945, winning a second U.S. Silver Star.
The “History In Brief” ends its epic narrative in December 1945, when Marcos, like General Washington, disbanded his men with a farewell address that advised them to avoid “lowly squabbles” for greedy back pay. “If your name must remain unknown,” he counseled his Maharlika, “remember that your greatness lies in this anonymity”.
In seeking to overwhelm the U.S. Army with eloquence and evidence, Marcos underestimated the skill of his inquisitors. He made some elemental errors of historical fact in his original application for official recognition that caught the eye of the U.S. Army’s Guerilla Affairs Division. Explaining his decision to abandon his command, Marcos said in his cover letter: “The [U.S. Army] landings at Lingayen [Gulf], Pangasinan, cut off my return to my own organization. I was attached to the 14th Infantry, USAFIP, NL, since 12 December 1944. Unwittingly, he had lost his three year battle for recognition in its first weeks.
To verify Marcos’s claims, U.S. Army investigators questioned Major Harry McKenzie, an American who had led Filipino guerillas in Pangasinan. He pointed out the obvious: Marcos’s account was “contradictory in itself”…. Landings a month later could not have influenced his abandoning his outfit and attaching himself to another guerilla organization. Marcos had blundered badly. General MacArthur’s vast armada had, in fact, landed at Lingayen Gulf on 9 January 1945 – not on 12 December 1944, as Marcos would have it.
Two years later, after completing a damning report on the Maharlika, the U.S. Army informed Major Marcos that his men were denied recognition or reward. After Marcos appealed, Guerrilla Affairs conducted a merciless review and issued a final damning report in March 1948 concluding that “no such unit ever existed” and finding his claim “fraudulent” and a “malicious criminal act” (Closer Than Brothers, Alfred W. McCoy, p. 167-70).