WASHINGTON — Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos made "criminal" misrepresentations of his role in a World War II guerrilla unit 40 years ago in a bid to collect U.S. benefits for wartime service, according to documents released Thursday by the National Archives.
The papers--records of a U.S. inquiry into Marcos' claim to federal benefits--appear to demolish the elaborate claims of wartime bravery that have defined his 20-year reign as Philippine president and that figure heavily in his Feb. 7 reelection campaign against opposition leader Corazon Aquino.
Marcos' alleged exploits as commander of Ang Mga Maharlika, a guerrilla outfit that resisted Japanese occupation of the islands from 1942 to 1945, have raised him to the stature of the Philippines' greatest war hero. He holds 32 medals, including three U.S. military decorations for gallantry and service.
In his campaign speeches, he has frequently mentioned his exploits as a guerrilla leader and reminisced about World War II, saying those experiences made him a better choice than Aquino to lead the Philippines. "I am your old soldier," he told a rally last week on the island of Negros.
But a 1948 Army report released Thursday concluded that "it is quite obvious that Marcos did not exercise any control over a guerrilla organization prior to liberation" of the islands. And it adds that Marcos "has enough political prestige to bring pressure to bear where it is needed for his own personal benefit."
The documents also contend that Marcos was arrested by U.S. military officials in 1944 for running a scheme to raise money "under false pretense" and was freed only after Gen. Manuel Roxas, later the Philippines' first president, intervened on his behalf. However, two retired U.S. officers cited in connection with the arrest said Thursday that they have no memory of the incident and doubt that it occurred.
Marcos Aide Responds
The disclosure of the long-ignored papers, in Thursday's editions of the New York Times and in an Australian newspaper, drew an angry response from the Marcos government. Marcos did not address the specific allegations, but a government statement said that the account of his war record "reeks with malice."
In Washington, acting Philippine Foreign Minister Pacifico Castro called the reports "a piece of yellow journalism." The charges about Marcos' wartime record and the allegations that the Marcos family has diverted U.S. aid into secret real estate investments are "obviously politically motivated" to affect the Philippine election, he said.
But the disclosures gave fresh ammunition to American critics who are expressing growing concern this week that the upcoming election will be fixed in Marcos' favor.
"President Marcos the military hero is as much a fraud as President Marcos the democrat," declared Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) during a hearing Thursday of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Uncovered by Historian
The nearly 400 pages of U.S. military records on Marcos, most dating to the late 1940s, were uncovered by historian Alfred W. McCoy during research at the National Archives for an upcoming book on the Philippines during World War II. Most of the records had lain in a St. Louis military warehouse until 1984, when they were donated to the archives.
Although the documents were declassified in the 1950s, the New York Times reported, Philippine political opposition figures had been denied the right to inspect them as recently as 1983.
McCoy attempted to sell a lengthy analysis of the Marcos papers to several U.S. outlets, including the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, before turning them over to the New York Times without requesting payment. A New York Times editor said Thursday that McCoy was reimbursed "a few thousand dollars" for expenses, including air fare.
The military documents center on a lengthy effort by Marcos after the war to win U.S. recognition of the Maharlika guerrillas as a resistance force during the period of Japanese control. Recognized forces were given U.S. back pay and military benefits under a pledge made to the Filipinos when the Japanese drove U.S. forces off the islands in January, 1942.
Charted Marcos' Exploits
Between 1945 and 1948, Marcos and other Filipinos submitted to the Army several affidavits, troop rosters and even a long history of the Maharlikas, apparently crafted by Marcos himself, which asserted that the unit was "spawned from the dragging pain and ignominy of the (Bataan) Death March."
Much of the 29-page document charts Marcos' own exploits, including a supposed Japanese "dragnet" throughout Manila aimed at capturing the heroic young commando.
But the Army, after taking evidence from dozens of Americans and Filipinos, twice rejected Marcos' requests, periodically calling them "absurd" and "distorted and over-exaggerated." Among other flaws, the documents note, Marcos claimed to have been separated from his guerrilla band in 1944 by a war action that occurred a month after the separation took place.