The US Armed Forces, especially those who served in the Indo-Pacific region in the 70s, most likely encountered Ferdinand Marcos Sr., a fake war hero who’s also the 10th president of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 as he ruled as an authoritarian dictator for 20 years.

Known to be a convicted corrupt president, he stole over US$10 billion from the Philippine government through ghost projects and cronies. He also suppressed democratic processes and killed over 3,257 people with over 35,000 torture victims and 70,000 incarcerations, mostly activists, political rivals, and opposition leaders.

He was quite the popular Philippine President with the United States back in the Cold War as the US government saw the importance of keeping close ties to the Philippines during the Vietnam War to try to control the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.

Former US President Richard Nixon with the Marcos Family at the Manila International Airport (Now the Ninoy Aquino International Airport) (Wikimedia Commons). Source:
Former US President Richard Nixon with the Marcos Family at the Manila International Airport (Now the Ninoy Aquino International Airport) (Wikimedia Commons)

Prominent relationships existed between Marcos and Former US Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan to maintain US bases in the Philippines, and at one point contributing US$50 million in military assistance, US$200 million for support assistance, and US$250 million for foreign military sales credits in 1979. It was determined that over US$1 billion worth of military assistance was sent to the Philippines from 1946 to 1981. This was done in response to the growing Soviet influence in Vietnam and the greater portion of Southeast Asia.

While I can explain how the US and the Philippine Armed Forces were intrinsically connected during those times, this article focuses more on how Marcos Sr. exploited his US Armed Forces service to create outrageous fake war hero stories to help him build his political career.

Did his fake war hero story work? Well, he became president because the “war hero” narrative stuck with him when he ran.

What did he fake? To give you a sneak peek, during the 1962 senatorial campaign, he claimed to be the “most decorated war hero of the Philippines,” where he was awarded 33 war medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor – all of which were proven to be fake by various investigations throughout the years.

Marcos the Military Man, at least his version:

Marcos was part of the US Armed Forces after the Pearl Harbor bombings, serving as 3rd lieutenant from 1941 to 1942. This was proven to be true by US Army records showing that he had served until April 1942 and was activated again by the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines (USAFIP) in December 1944 till the war was won by the allied forces.

At the Battle of Bataan, he was assigned to the 21st Infantry Division, where he claimed that he had single-handedly stopped the Japanese forces from advancing into Bataan. He then claimed that he also marched with American soldiers during the Fall of Bataan and the subsequent Bataan Death March. Together with Filipino and US soldiers, he was then imprisoned at a Japanese POW camp.

Bataan Death March
Bataan Death March 1942 (Wikimedia Commons)

According to his notes, he was allegedly captured by the Japanese police (Kempei Tai) after being released from the POW camp in 1942. He was then taken to Fort Santiago, where the Japanese tortured him to gain military intelligence about General MacArthur’s plans.

He then escaped from the police, joined the guerrilla group “Ang Mga Maharlika/Ang Maharlika,” an anti-Japanese military group with allegedly 9,000 men, and led the group to attack the Japanese on multiple occasions in Northern Luzon.

After his alleged tenure with the guerilla forces, he joined the USAFIP in December 1944 with the U.S. 14th Infantry Division in the Philippines, finishing his military career as a Major. He celebrated by recognizing himself as Lieutenant Colonel instead of his actual rank being a Major and wore a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and two Silver Stars.

Apart from these, he claimed to be awarded the Medal of Honor by General Jonathan Wainwright himself and that he received the Purple Heart. He also said that he was the most awarded war veteran in the Philippines and the United States, all medals of which he wore on a veteran garrison cap. Altogether, this made him the fake war hero, a lie that would be relevant even in today’s political arena in the Philippines.

Former President Ferdinand Marcos wearing a garrison cap filled with his alleged "war medals" (Wikimedia Commons). Source:
Former President Ferdinand Marcos wearing a garrison cap filled with his alleged “war medals” (Wikimedia Commons)

What Really Happened According To Historians:

Let’s start with the most obvious statements that were fake: him being the most awarded military veteran in the history of the Philippines and United States Armed Forces.

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines has found that Marcos’ name does not appear on any recipient of awards lists issued between 1941 to 1945, a list that was compiled by the staff of General Douglas MacArthur himself.

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This means that Gen. MacArthur did not award him the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), nor did Gen. Wainwright pin him the Medal of Honor, nor did he receive a Purple Heart. Perhaps the most laughable, the Gold Cross and the DSC were the only awards given in the war, making it impossible for him to obtain 33.

Well, how did he get the medals then? We do not know for sure. They are either stolen or bought over the years.

Ferdinand Marcos in his military uniform in the late 1930's (Wikimedia Commons). Source:
Ferdinand Marcos in his military uniform in the late 1930s (Wikimedia Commons)

How about when he held off a Japanese offensive at the Battle of Bataan then? That was false too. The head of the intelligence unit of the 21st Division (USAFFE) Maj. Manriquez, denied all of Marcos’ claims. He later received multiple Cartier watches from Marcos when he eventually became president.

Did he really lead a guerilla group? The US Army and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines had checked his claims and concluded that they were baseless and exaggerated. Ironically, in a statement Marcos gave to the US Army, he claimed that members of the Maharlika were ordered to be employed by the Japanese police together with the constabulary.

Furthermore, he claimed that Maharlika formed a trading company in the Regina Building in Manila to finance their guerilla operations – a building that was a hotbed for Japanese spies and collaborators. Ferdinand was also implicated to be a Japanese collaborator. However, the evidence is sparse.

Marcos’ Father, the Japanese Propagandist

The Marcos Family
The Marcos Family: From left to right, Pacifico, Elizabeth, and Ferdinand. In the back is Josefa and Mariano (The Kahimyang Project)

How about when he escaped from the Kampei Tai after his release from the POW camp? It’s unknown whether Marcos had really joined the Bataan Death March. However, it was confirmed that his name did not appear on any of the released soldiers from the said Japanese POW camp.

As confirmed by the Japanese government at that time, they released prisoners because they were disease-ridden or their families were part of the Japanese propaganda machine.

Luckily for Ferdinand Marcos, his father, Mariano Marcos, who was the Representative of Ilocos Norte from 1925 to 1931, was a known propagandist for the Japanese government, as proven by a diary of Mariano Marcos’ Japanese interpreter.

Another report claims that the Marcoses were indebted to then-Associate Justice and Former President Jose P. Laurel, as he reversed the conviction of Ferdinand for murder. Ferdinand Marcos was convicted of murdering his father’s political rival, Julio Nalundasan, with a rifle shot to the temple. This 1938 conviction was also extended to Pio Marcos (Mariano’s brother) and Mariano’s brother-in-law, Quirino Lizardo.

Laurel would then become the President of the Philippines under the Japanese occupation. This is not to say that Laurel was a propagandist himself. Many historians are cut between labeling him as a paid agent of the Japanese or was really true to being a Filpino president. Several historians do attribute his courageous actions against the Japanese during that time, many of them in secret.

Yes, Marcos Faked His Military Career

With the overwhelming evidence, it’s safe to say that a large majority of Ferdinand Marcos’ military achievements were false. However, the effects of his lies are still felt today. His son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., is now the front-runner to win the Philippine presidency in the upcoming 2022 elections, riding the coattails of his father’s alleged military and political accomplishments.