Category Archives: Politics

An Intro to Chapter 16 of Marcos’ Lovey Dovie

I uploaded a PDF copy of the chapter comprising the transcription of the audiotape surreptitiously recorded by Dovie Beams during her intimate sessions with Ferdinand E. Marcos. Both parties are gone but I found out only recently that Beams had passed away over three years ago. I consider her a definite and indispensable historical figure in Philippine cinema, not only for having starred in the fake Marcos biopic, Jerry Hopper’s Maharlika a.k.a. Guerrilla Strike Force (Roadshow Films International, 1970), but also because of the intrepid and colorful (though rather purplish) way she stood up to the harassment of Imelda Marcos, who arguably claimed her own share from her husband afterward by staging the ludicrously extravagant editions of the Manila International Film Festival.

11011We have to note at the outset that Beams sued Hermie Rotea, author of Marcos’ Lovey Dovie (Los Angeles: Liberty Publishing, 1983) – a 180-degree turnaround apparently, considering the “very special wishes to a very special guy” message that she scribbled on the photo reprinted on the back cover of the book; her lawsuit alleged that Rotea pilfered some items that were relevant to her account of her high-profile romance. Hence the textual version of incontrovertible material that she went on record as authentically sourced (from and by her) would be the safest portion in a book that made no bones about waging its own political agendum, as manifested in its preliminary sections.

11011Beams lived to a ripe old age, dying at 85 in her birth city, Nashville. By the time that the Marcoses fell from power, she had apparently given up on her Hollywood acting prospects but was able to acquire some valuable property; in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she clarified two important matters: first, that the money came from the man she just married and not from the recently deposed President; and second, more surprisingly, that she still loved Marcos even though she felt compelled to leave him when he admitted to her that he was declaring martial law, upon which she realized that he was having people killed.[1]

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11011What happened to her to occasion her return to her place of birth? That part of her narrative still has to be told, along with the cause of her death in 2017. Nevertheless a conflict in her fiscal claim seems to override most observers’ appreciation of the consistency of her affection: if she really did love Ferdie in spite of the many awful things that he and his spouse did to her, then Rotea’s book would have come across as a betrayal – as it did. A far more potentially upsetting scandal is how, with one exception,[2] real (sex-positive) feminists from either side of the Pacific still have to recuperate her narrative, as if being a then-emerging Third World dictator’s paramour positioned her beyond redemption.

From the Law and Behold! Blogspot c/o Jun Brioso.

11011Speculation that any funds she had during the mid-1980s might have come from a mortally ill Ferdinand, could have proceeded from the guilt-ridden drive in liberal Western media (formerly protective, if not supportive, of pro-US despots) to track down and help recover the Marcoses’ record-breaking ill-gotten wealth, a project that still has to be completed at present. Beams though would have been an example of a contemporary Mata Hari[3] who barely got away from the wrath of Imelda. The latter, in turn (and thanks to Beams), abandoned all her cultivated pretensions to altruism and timidity and made sure that her rival’s reputation was thrashed beyond repair.

11011What I remember from media coverage was how both pro-Marcos and opposition publications prospered from exploiting a debased image of Beams, and how she could barely land roles in Hollywood thereafter despite the wide publicity her affair generated.[4] The “X-Rated Sex Tapes” chapter from Marcos’ Lovey Dovie is posted here for its intrinsic (though admittedly titillating) research value, in place of the understandably now-rare recording that she once made available to Philippine media. (It was eventually broadcast over the national university radio station during the singularly liberative ten days of the Diliman Commune, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this month.) My way of commemorating a genuine survivor of one of the most unusual and dangerous conflations of film, carnality, and politics our time has ever had the privilege to observe.

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Notes

[1] See Deborah Hastings, “Ex-Actress Owns $7.7 Million in LA County Property: Controversy Follows Former Lover of Marcos” in the March 10, 1986, issue of the LA Times for the interview. An Associated Press report the next year, “Jury Convicts Alleged Former Marcos Mistress of Fraud” (datelined November 12, 1987), describes how Beams accumulated $18 million in loan applications from 13 banks in order to pursue a “lavish lifestyle,” with her personal financial bubble bursting after her husband Sergio de Villagran filed for bankruptcy, presumably after the 1986 interview.

11011Part of Beams’s defense included the now-implausible claim that she was suffering from HIV/AIDS and consequently had problems exercising proper judgment because of the medications she had to use. A curious sidelight of the report was her campaign to prevent a homeless shelter from being set up in the vicinity of her residence – a move oddly reminiscent of the sociopathic caprices of her nemesis Imelda Marcos, with whom she also shared a rags-to-riches-via-showbiz background.

[2] In “Dovie Beams and Philippine Politics: A President’s Scandalous Affair and First Lady Power on the Eve of Martial Law,” Caroline S. Hau describes how “Like Ferdinand Marcos, Dovie Beams has become a kind of ghost, haunting the narratives of our recent past and eluding all attempts at exorcism and closure” (626) – published in Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints, vol. 67, nos. 3-4 (2019): 595-634. For a fascinating first-person account of how Imelda Marcos acquired a copy of the Beams tapes after her personal agent (a priest, no less) failed to get one during Beams’s press conference, see “How Imelda Confirmed Ferdinand Marcos’ Affair with Dovie Beams” by George Sison (Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 5, 2017); Sison also lists some of Beams’s local fair-weather friends in a separate article.

11011I plan to acquaint myself with a prolific New York City-based “dreampop instrumental music project” (whose output started in 2008) that calls itself Dovie Beams Love Child. The name apparently was intended as a milder version of the cross-referential shock effect that punk bands used to appropriate, from the Dead Kennedys to the several acts that use a mass murderer’s surname.

[3] The eponymously titled 1931 Greta Garbo film version (dir. George Fitzmaurice, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) is what I had in mind. It’s necessarily fictionalized, but then most accounts of Margaretha Zelle MacLeod’s transgressions have been unreliable, inflected by World War I’s divisive geopolitical conflicts. The Garbo character remains memorable not only because of the actor’s beauty and performative skill, but also because of how her far-from-guiltless Mata Hari decides to endanger her own life for the sake of the soldier who remains unaware (literally blinded) to the end, of how faithfully she kept her vow to him. The closest to an actual Dovie Beams cinematic treatment is the masterly film à clef directed by Lino Brocka and scripted by Ricky Lee, titled Gumapang Ka sa Lusak [Dirty Affair] (Viva Films, 1990).

[4] The fact that the regime, presumably with the covert sanction of the US, could also deploy agents capable of “disappearing” renegades like Primitivo Mijares, who wrote extensively about Beams and other Marcos dalliances in the original edition of The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (San Francisco: Union Square Publications, 1976), might have factored in Beams’s predicaments. Although again, short of any definitive disclosure in any form from her, the most we can indulge in on the matter are speculative exercises. In fact as early as 1973, she announced that she was working on a manuscript titled Dovie Beams by Me; during her 1986 interviews, she mentioned that it was already 1,500 pages long (see Patrick J. Killen, “Memo to ‘Freddie’: Dovie Has Some Interesting Tapes,” United Press International, January 31, 1986). A book with that title still has to materialize, however.

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Á!


The First Glory Awards (2017): A Mini-Album

It’s difficult to tell a complicated story, especially one that involves a lot of other individuals and a major formative institution. This will be an attempt to recount a series of occurrences, some of them subjective in nature. It began when the Alumni Association of my alma mater, the College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines, announced its own counterpart of the university-wide Alumni Awards. Since the event was sponsored by the family of the CMC’s founding Dean, Gloria David Feliciano (unrelated to me), it was going to be rather awkwardly named the Glory Awards. There were supposed to be ten selections for the first edition, and since I kept up with news about the college via social network, I caught the call for nominees the day it came out.

11011When a former editor and journalism-school classmate of mine contacted me about it, I was inclined to say no. I’d already been feted at the previous year’s FACINE Film Festival in San Francisco, and to me that was a signal honor. Several senior film critics from the Philippines hold loads of distinctions from all over, but none of their life-achievement prizes specified film criticism and scholarship, until FACINE’s Gawad Lingap Sining [Art Nurturer Award] spelled it out for me. I even prepared an extensive lecture, the festival’s first in nearly a quarter-century since its founding, delivered at the City College of San Francisco’s auditorium (famed for its Diego Rivera mural).

11011But my colleague, Daisy Catherine Mandap, told me to do it for the sake of old friends, since it would be an occasion to get our batch together at the UP Journalism Club. I said I’d do it mainly for her, gathered the materials, forwarded them, and forgot all about it. In late October I got word that I had won, and the number of awardees was reduced from ten to eight, making it an even rarer prize. I conveyed my willingness to participate, bought a roundtrip ticket to attend the November 11 ceremony, and tried to refocus on the several writing assignments that spilled over from the spring-semester half-sabbatical that made writing in Manila such a pain in the neck because of internet sluggishness, lack of support for authors, and overpriced cost of living. The motherboard of my three-year-old state-of-the-art laptop died from too many stops and starts and reinstallations, and I was reduced to making even older netbooks try to do the same tasks. (I could only buy a replacement machine in Korea, where my credit card could allow for installment payments.)

11011Three real-world factors blindsided me as I mentally conditioned myself for the awards ceremony. First, the faculty dormitory where I’d stayed since arriving about a decade ago for my tenure-track position announced that it was shutting down for renovation by the end of the year, and would be reopening as a university hotel. That meant I had to prepare to find my own housing for the first time in Korea, with all the concomitant complications that involved (starting with exorbitant down-payment fees). Then the results of my annual physical exam at the university hospital arrived, indicating that the gallbladder stone that I’d been, well, maintaining for a decade or so suddenly and inexplicably doubled in size, approaching what the doctor described as a “danger” threshold. My physician told me how fortunate I was that the condition remained benign through my sabbatical, since he knew the manifold troubles I would confront by requiring a surgical procedure in the Philippines.

11011The surgeon assigned to foreign-language patients responded to my request for a laparoscopy by specifying the day right before the Glory Awards event. It was supposed to be an outpatient procedure, but I couldn’t imagine myself rushing from the hospital to the airport, wounds still fresh, and going onstage and hobnobbing with folks while checking for bloodstains on my shirt. So I requested, urgently, a week’s delay at the hospital – then the third “development” occurred: the organizers of an out-of-town Korean conference on Asian culture, to which I had made a long-standing commitment to participate, contacted me to say that it would happen … during the weekend after the Glory Awards, the same period I had planned to have my postponed operation. When I revised my request for another hospital date, I knew that the staff could have taken this as another of my endless shifts in schedules, and hesitated to respond to my request, considering all the difficulties (from additional tests to scheduling assistants) that this particular arrangement entailed.

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11011But this was not entirely the reason I felt inclined to postpone my roundtrip to Manila. As the day of the event approached, the reality that the institution I used to work with, from which I felt estranged, crept up and slowly, steadily engulfed me. The fact that Daisy Mandap considered my nomination and win her personal mission as a friend was key to this sentiment. A few years earlier, the college called for nominees for its ballyhooed Gawad Plaridel [Plaridel Award] for the category of community journalism. The last time I worked with Daisy (who’d gone to law school after journalism), at the now-defunct Business Day, she assisted in the collective-bargaining efforts of the employees’ union, continuing to represent them even after they decided to go on strike. As a new hiree, I could not qualify for union membership – and needed the income to repay my undergraduate student loans. Daisy told me it wouldn’t be an issue for her and her allies, which was all the assurance I could ask for. I wound up leaving anyway, because of an exploitative arrangement that a TV host had with the publication, cornering me as a personal researcher while plagiarizing my reports wholesale – including weird structural touches I would introduce to see if the program would still follow, and of course it did (the fact that the episodes I wrote won various local and global awards for the host was instrumental in developing my contempt for pretentious, privileged, hypocritical socialites).

11011Business Day solved its union troubles by shuttering the newspaper and reopening it under a different-though-recognizable name, BusinessWorld, but Daisy found herself blacklisted by the publishers of major local dailies, including the very person who became the first winner of the Gawad Plaridel. She and her husband, Leo Deocadiz, left for Hong Kong, and set up The Sun, a publication with its own foundation aimed primarily at assisting Overseas Filipino Workers. I managed to convince her that we could argue for OFWs as a transient, foreign-based community, and she responded with plans of how to use the Gawad Plaridel prize money for the education of OFW members and their children. She of course became the frontrunner for that year’s award, but after the deadline for announcing the winner came and went, I knew (from a couple of decades of working in the college) that something unsavory was afoot.

11011A few days later the evidence rolled out. All the nominees were declared undeserving, and a new category (in fact an old one), print journalism, was announced, immediately after which a winner – a friend of mine and, more significantly, of the college officials – was declared. I would not begrudge anyone a prize that she or he deserved, but I also believe that those who’ve had their share of recognition don’t need to be grasping for more. The officials happened to belong to an award-giving organization masquerading as a film critics group, and the Plaridel roster wound up affirming the same set of winners that the supposedly separate group (whose chair that year was also dean of the college) had selected. Something like saying that my mother’s choices are excellent because my father opts for them too, although it’s best if you don’t realize that they’re married.

11011This was the reason why the acceptance speech that the Glory Awards organizers asked me to draft kept detouring into a rejection announcement. In the end, with my surgery schedule still unresolved, my exchanges with the awards team approaching conflict territory, and my admissions of dismay worrying my closest friends, I decided to cancel the trip and pay the penalty fee that the airline warned me it would charge. The ceremony went well, from all appearances, and I was deeply moved by friends’ expressions of support. I may be able to admit that I might have been glad to attend, but I’m even surer that, with my killjoy mind-set, the people at the event were much better off without me. I only note here what I told some social-media friends: that unlike Daisy and many others, I’ve been too good at bridge-burning, and a day for reckoning with all that will surely come my way in future. The college, to begin with, is and is not its alumni association, although to my mind, several people now considered senior faculty deserve as harsh a treatment as history will be able to bestow on them – with Daisy’s Gawad Plaridel case just one in a long list of depredations.

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11011Meanwhile, to fulfill the post’s title, here be the (unnecessarily extensive) nomination document, as well as a few highlights from the event (kindly click on any of the pics for an enlargement):

Philippine Star announcement (above, left; photo by Jun R. Cortez); Pelikulove greeting (above, right; courtesy of Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil).

Personalized notebooks from Ruby Villavicencio Paurom.

Present Glory Awardees (above, left; photo by Joy Buensalido); absent Glory Awardee’s friends (above, right), comprising, left to right, Leo Deocadiz, Daisy Mandap, Ruby Villavicencio Paurom (photo owner), and Bayani Santos Jr.

Lower set of pics above, left to right: Martin Posadas Marfil, Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, Bayani Santos Jr., Marianne Dayrit Sison, Ruby Villavicencio Paurom, Daisy Catherine Mandap, & Reggie Madriaga Capuno (all photos by Tita C. Valderama).

University of the Philippines Journalism Club circa late 1970s (from the collection of Martin Posadas Marfil).

Video prepared by Alex Arellano;
soundtrack by Noisy Neighbors Inc.;
narrated by JB Tapia
.

Á!

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President Duterte’s War on Drugs

pspd-announcement PSPD announcement

I’d like to thank all of you who made time to be here to listen to this short lecture on a major development, possibly the first turning point, in the Philippines’s history in the twenty-first century. Thanks as well to the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy for having the patience to stand by when I said earlier this year that I didn’t feel prepared to talk about my country’s newly elected President, Rodrigo Duterte. That was because I remained in Korea for most of the previous winter break to be able to work on a book project, and returned to the Philippines during summer to get a feel of ground-level sentiment. I still don’t feel fully confident about what I can say about the current presidential regime, but I might be able to have a better sense now, about a few matters that might remain intangible even to native intellectuals.

11011The so-called War on Drugs by Mr. Duterte has been attributed to a number of causes, only one of which can be confirmed with finality. That single cause would be the psychological reason, and like all psychological case studies, it is framed by a narrative: Sebastian, or Bastê, the younger son of Digong (the nickname of Mr. Duterte) was supposedly seriously addicted to illegal drugs and almost permanently ruined by his habit. Upon witnessing Bastê’s suffering, his father decided to wage a merciless battle against drug personalities – providers, suppliers, even addicts – until the problem would be exterminated from the face of the earth, or at least the city of Davao when he was mayor, and now the Republic of the Philippines during his presidency.

11011Like most originary narratives, this tale has a legendary dimension to it, and this quality serves to invest Mr. Duterte’s anti-drug campaign with the aura of a crusade: not merely a war, but a just and holy war. But legends in modern contexts also allow leaders a significant amount of leeway, if they manage to convince their followers of the legend’s righteousness and provoke a sufficient degree of cultural anxiety: witness the panic over racial impurity propagated by Adolf Hitler, or the worry over big-government intervention stoked by Ronald Reagan, or the decline of American supremacy proclaimed by Donald Trump. About a hundred miles away in this same peninsula, we have Kim Jong-un, whose very existence is premised on an assumption of a legendary, or maybe even super-legendary, persona.

11011The implication we can derive from these examples is that originary narratives are useful in seizing the imagination of a leader’s followers, but any political problem that results from it cannot be solved on the level of cultural resistance alone, by demolishing or deconstructing the legend, for example. In the case of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs, we are confronted by a number of predicaments, and I wish to focus on three of these, each one related to the others, and all of them involving the Duterte administration in confrontation with a small but articulate and well-publicized opposition:

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First, the unsolved killings that have resulted, more than half of over three thousand as of last count and still rising, are declared as extrajudicial and state-sanctioned by the opposition, while the Duterte administration denies its involvement in them and declares these cases as “under investigation”;

Second, the human-rights issue in the killings is considered fairly cut-and-dried by the opposition, wherein the murdered individuals are deprived of due process and are therefore victims of human-rights violations; the administration’s apologists, on the other hand, are reaching for essential redefinitions of the term “human rights” to cover the rights of upright citizens against criminal violations, as well as the applicability of human rights to developed situations only; and

Third, the rash of killings is regarded by certain sectors of the opposition as one element in a larger schema, one where the administration promotes peace with armed rebel groups, pivots away from the country’s long-term Western alliances to turn toward China and Russia, and forms a largely unopposed and popular dictatorial government. This return of repressed tyranny, according to this scenario, is strengthened by coalitions with orthodox Communists, Islamic militants, and business figures, distinct from the oligarchic families that once agitated for the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos thirty years ago.

11011From my semi-amateurish observations of social media and occasional dialogues with sensible figures on both pro-administration and opposition sides, I would say that the opposition has more solid footing in the case of the first two issues, involving the legality of the killings and their human-rights component. The administration may deny that it had approved some or even all of the killings, but Mr. Duterte had gone on record, during his campaign and after he became President, that he wanted to see all drug personalities dead. This sweeping statement definitely included addicts, regardless of the conventional perception that, like his son Bastê, they may have been merely victims of drug lords and pushers. In terms of human rights, the administration’s supporters tend to suffer from a fanaticism and/or euphoria that affects their ability to follow rational and critical thought processes. This accounts for their unnecessary complication of the concept of human rights – a concept that has been and should be formulated as simply as possible in order for it to be universally applicable.

11011What shows up in these two problems are characteristics that mark both Mr. Duterte and his followers, and make any attempt at evaluating contemporary Philippine politics convoluted and probably impossible to resolve – and even more difficult to confront directly, as US President Barack Obama found out when Duterte lashed out at him. We have what appears to be a predilection for contradictory statements expressed with expletives and obscenities on the part of the President, and echoed in many of his followers, who it seems derive license and inspiration to also be rude and illogical in their encounters with less-devoted observers.

11011The third issue is where the differences between the administration and the opposition acquire some historical resonance. When oppositionists warn that Duterte may be laying the groundwork for the declaration of martial law, they are raising the specter of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, whom Duterte considers the “best president” the country ever had. Here we may argue that Duterte is outright deluded, unless by “best” we mean the ability to plunder the national economy while depriving entire sectors of society of not just their basic freedoms, but sometimes even their lives. Duterte made this statement during his campaign, so it may have been possible that he was courting the support of the Ilocano-speaking northern provinces. From his mother’s record as anti-Marcos activist, he may have had enough awareness that the Philippine experiment with dictatorship was the only instance in Asia where a once-prosperous country had wound up impoverished as a result. Even Indonesia, which supposedly had a worse case of plunder during the term of Suharto, managed to join the Asian developing nations’ circle while he was still in power.

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11011Explanations for the Philippines’s developmental travails are more complicated than simply stating that the country had a rapacious and self-deluded tyrant at the helm, but that should be a topic for another session. The real issue in terms of the irreconcilability between Duterte’s followers and his critics is the same entity that provided the first and most sustained opposition to Marcos before and during martial law: the Philippine Left, which used to be unified under the Communist Party and its legal organization, the National Democratic Front. After the Party found itself marginalized by the people-power uprising that ousted Marcos, internal criticisms directed at its leadership intensified and came to a head when the Party members were divided between those who supported the founding leadership, called reaffirmists or RAs, and the rejectionists or RJs.

11011Both sides had their party-list candidates as well as prominent personalities who participated in the post-Marcos electoral processes. But during the presidency prior to Duterte’s, the RJs aligned themselves with social democrats and became identified with the winning candidate, Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III. In a dramatic political turnaround, the RAs cast their lot during the previous election with Duterte, who won by castigating Aquino and his party for their anti-people policies. In many ways, the residue of this mutually destructive struggle between Left-identified groups dominates the responses to Duterte. The reaffirmists are being upheld by the present administration via the nearly concluded peace talks, while the most extreme among the rejectionists argue that Duterte is unsuited for the presidency and that the Vice President, Leni Robredo, should be upheld in his stead. (To her credit, Robredo maintains critical support for Duterte and repudiates the clamor to install her as Duterte’s replacement.)

11011Thus the prevailing attitudes toward Duterte disavow any middle ground. The few people I know who come from either the pro-Digong or anti-Digong camp, who opt to criticize Duterte without advocating for his overthrow, get shouted down, sometimes abusively, by their own friends, and get accused of selling out to the other camp. On my own Facebook posts, I get identified sometimes as a Duterte supporter or “dutertard,” other times as an apologist for Aquino’s yellow-wearing Liberal Party or “yellowtard.” In terms of the killings, one could not argue for long that the President should reverse his policy and attend to the other demands of his office. Either you accept the President and agree that all the killings are justified, or you denounce the killings and automatically conclude that this President should be replaced.

11011This is ironic for Left-leaning individuals, who should possess the capacity for critical thinking and complex analysis, but that is the point where we find the state of Philippine politics at this time. Thank you for listening, and I hope to be able to find possible insights and solutions from your responses.

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