Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Thirty years ago, American men’s magazine Playboy sat down to have an in-depth interview not with a seasoned Hollywood starlet or one of its rising bunnies, but with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
The 1987 interview, conducted by Ken Kelley and Phil Bronstein, took place in the deposed first couple’s residence of exile in Honolulu, Hawaii over the course of seven hours. Republished in 2013 in Playboy Philippines, the article runs for eight pages.
Marcos says he misses the political game, and Imelda performs “Sentimental Journey” with Bronstein at the piano. From their minor husband-and-wife bickerings to pronouncements on religion and philosophy, the profile delivers the “candid conversation” it promises. Playboy’s introduction observes that their desire to return to the Philippines, “however farfetched, seems sincere.”
Reviewing the interview in 2017 — after the family’s return to power, numerous court decisions, investigations, the burial of the dictator at Libingan ng mga Bayani, and his son’s continuous insistence at having won the vice presidency — points the reader not to Marcos’ reflections on homecoming, but how history will remember him.
“I cannot answer that yet,” said Marcos. “Let’s put it this way. History is not through with me yet.”
His gut feeling is one of the few truthful things in that interview — and it is still true 30 years later. Here are four other takeaways from that profile, a window to the state of the Marcoses a year after their fall from power.
1. The Marcoses thought of themselves as gods.
In an excerpt of the interview, Imelda Marcos recounts a near-mutiny among the staff in Hawaii. To appease the staff, she claims that Marcos gave a quick speech where he invoked his namesake Ferdinand Magellan and their exile to the circumnavigation of the globe. In her recollection, Magellan likened his men and himself to gods, and Marcos supposedly recited this passage to them.
Here is how the conversation that follows reads:
PLAYBOY: “You think of yourselves as gods, then?”
IMELDA: “Yes, because we are on a divine mission.”
PLAYBOY: “Which is?”
IMELDA: “To return to the Philippines to reclaim our destiny.”
FERDINAND: “We are part of the achievement of being a god. That is what we are about now. An ordinary mortal would not be able to stand it. All of our statements now have to prove that we have not gone back to being ordinary mortals.”
IMELDA: “And even if we fail —”
FERDINAND: “We’ll fall as martyrs for the cause; we’ll fall with honor.”
One need not look as far as foreign print for manifestations of this god complex. Among the paintings they commissioned depicted the Marcos couple as Malakas and Maganda, characters from local folklore equivalent to Adam and Eve.
When Playboy asks Imelda if she believes God has something planned for her, she says yes. “He has something special in mind for me ... And I don’t just believe in God — I make God real,” she replied.
2. The Marcos couple sometimes got on each other’s nerves.
Kelley described the couple’s dynamic as “fascinating interplay,” with Bronstein and Marcos on one end of the table as he sat with Imelda on the other. The former first lady, he said, would sometimes put in a word.
“Occasionally, while talking with me, she’d interrupt the Bronstein-Ferdinand conversation to interject her own opinions, to which her husband would sometimes reply with exasperation,” Kelley recalled in the introduction.
While Marcos entrusted many diplomatic missions to Imelda, there is an awkward exchange where the two seemed to fight over the answers. When she explains why the government shifted to a parliamentary system, he interjects, “Excuse me, you’re wrong,” and proceeds to say it was because congressmen took bribes and blackmailed the president.
“If we hadn’t stepped in, the entire system would have collapsed,” said Marcos.
Imelda chimed in, “And as the days went by, it would have —”
“Please hold on!” said her husband, who went on to defend the declaration of martial law and claim two American gunmen attempted to assassinate him.
Imelda said, “And they were hired by —”
“Hold it!” said Marcos. He accused Eugenio Lopez, Sr., and tells his wife to “hold it” twice more after another interjection.
It is unclear whether he said these words affectionately or unkindly, but these little peeves are interesting snippets of the couple’s polished front. There were more tumultuous challenges in their marriage, like the Dovie Beams scandal and Imelda’s rumored affair with George Hamilton, which they wave off in the interview.
Despite his exasperation, Marcos fondly recounts meeting his wife, their whirlwind romance, and offering to give up politics for her after his congress run gave her migraines. Instead, she said she would adjust to him, and her headaches stopped. History might have been drastically different if he had insisted otherwise.
3. While Marcos claimed he wished to rid the Philippines of colonial mentality, he had it himself.
Marcos recalls growing up under the U.S. educational system, “learning the Gettysburg Address before [he] could read,” aspiring for Harvard University, and driving a yellow Chrysler fireball.
His wife, at one point, says she has “an American mind.” She refers to themselves as the “Kennedys of the Far East,” adding “we were fighting for the same thing America stands for.” She calls their fallout with America an “intermission.” She laments the sale of toys that show Uncle Sam dressed like a clown and a G.I. Joe with walrus fangs.
“This is what American kids buy now,” she says. “What a disgrace to us Americans —”
“Us Americans?” asks Playboy.
In the account, Imelda laughs and knocks on her temples. “I can’t believe I said that, us,” she said, “Can you imagine, me being an American?”
The introduction to the interview points out how both Marcoses grew up under the American protectorate. Playboy writes, “When they reminisce about the past and talk about the present, the tone of the conversation is almost that the Philippines … is the 51st state — more American than America. Both have the ultimate colonial mentality.”
But as the pair seem to exhibit colonial mentality, they also claim to denounce it. When asked what he is proudest of achieving during 20 years in office, Marcos responds: “Getting rid of this slavish colonial mentality in the Philippines. Converting people to learn their own past, to stand up for themselves. None of that whining, beggary, mendicant posture.”
The pair has good reason to love the United States. In the same way that America later turned against Marcos, they too enabled him. It was America, after all, that patronized his lavish parties and provided the helicopter on which Marcos escaped during the 1986 revolution. Quoting a senior official, a 1989 New York Times report said that even after the proof of the Marcoses’ illegally accumulated wealth was apparent, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan was “pained” by their degradation.
5. The Marcoses said at least seven suspect things in the span of a seven-hour interview.
Playboy stopped short of saying the Marcoses lied straight to their teeth, but they sometimes dropped editorial notes after questionable claims from the former first couple. Here are some of those statements:
Marcos claimed that media pioneer Eugenio Lopez, Sr. confessed to publishing fabricated information and apologized. He also accused Lopez of conspiring to have him killed. However, a fact-check by Playboy notes:
“A member of a prominent family, Eugenio Lopez, Jr. was imprisoned without formal charges for two years, while his family refrained from public criticism of the Marcos regime and turned over more than $400 [million] worth of holdings — including a newspaper and a broadcasting network — to Marcos’ relatives and supporters. In 1974, Lopez Sr., then dying of cancer, visited the Marcoses at the Palace, but his son was not released. Lopez Jr. then went on a hunger strike, and his family spoke out against Marcos. It was not until 1976 that Marcos first charged Lopez Jr. with attempted assassination.”
Imelda said that she had encountered American composer Irving Berlin in 1944, and he composed “Heaven Watch the Philippines” for her to perform. She supposedly performed it “in front of the entire Eighth Army,” including General Douglas MacArthur himself, with “a backup chorus of 200 soldiers.”
Here is the editorial note from Playboy: “Irving Berlin, 99, says he composed the song in 1945, not 1944, and ‘definitely not’ for Mrs. Marcos. Pentagon sources say that it is highly unlikely such an event took place during that period.”
Imelda and Marcos also mention the first lady grew up across the street from MacArthur’s compound, but this claim has also been contested.
When Playboy observes the order for Marcos to step down “came from the [U.S.] President,” Marcos instead surmised it was the “diplomatic-level people at the U.S. embassy” who wanted out with him.
“There was a U.S. Senator there whose 24-year-old daughter felt insulted because there was a party she wasn’t invited to attend,” he said.
Playboy added a note: “State Department sources say that no one of that description was in the U.S. embassy at the time.”
Marcos recounts that a person from then-U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt’s office called him advising him to get out — so he ordered that there was to be no firing of an American gunboat or a vessel from the Marines. However, in a Playboy footnote, Laxalt denied this account.
The senator instead said Marcos was “terrified” by reports of gunboats, and he called Marcos “to assure him there was no such threat.”
The fallen dictator said, “The truth is that I did not talk with [Laxalt] before the events that ended in my departure from the Philippines, I talked with him afterward.”
Again, an editor’s note says Laxalt denied this, saying that he had actually spoken “several times” to Marcos in that time period. In other accounts, Laxalt told him to “cut and cut cleanly.”
Quotes throughout the interview are peppered with tidbits of false information, including the following: Marcos’ claim that fraud from his side during the snap elections “was not massive” (it actually triggered the Commission on Elections walkout); and Marcos’ denial of the billions stolen from government coffers, while the Supreme Court and the World Bank and United Nations-backed Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative estimated up to $10 billion in stolen wealth.
Imelda claimed that the “press had it wrong.” She lamented, “My husband, a great humanist, is called tyrant! A great dice — uh, I mean a great democrat is called a dictator!”
The cry is familiar after her son Bongbong claimed his family was a victim of fake news. However, Marcos’ former spokesperson Primitivo Mijares himself released an expose on the propaganda the first family had him produce. Mijares would pay for it dearly, with his life and his son Boyet’s, as they were never seen or heard from again.
Thirty years later, the debate rages on about how to face and regard the martial law years. The dictator rightly predicted history was not through with him yet, as attempts at rewriting it — as well as writing it better — butt heads.
The haunting end to the interview can be read two ways: literally — how the Marcoses intended — or sonically, a telling, almost well-planned backhanded confession. As they close, Playboy asks Marcos what he would like his epitaph to read. While Imelda answers, “Love,” Marcos says, “Here lies a lawyer.”
Imelda interjects, “Who lies no more.”
But Marcos corrects her. He says, “Who lies still.”