More leaked “secret cables” are coming out revealing more about the underbelly of Philippine society in the 1970s under the rule of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Even as the camp of former Defense Minister, now Senate President, Juan Ponce Enrile battle the re-emergence of anecdotal evidence surrounding the allegedly homicidal past of scion and Senatorial candidate Jack Enrile, more embarrassing and cringe-worthy information on the antics of the Marcos regime has reportedly come to light.
The US ambassador to the Philippines in the mid-1970s, William Sullivan, wrote a series of blistering criticisms of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in secret cables that have since been published by WikiLeaks.
In one of the reports, dated September 12, 1973, Sullivan recounted a “two-day blast” of a party for Ferdinand Marcos that he said was at odds with state-controlled media reports that he “spent a quiet birthday at his desk”. “In general, every aspect of the occasion was too much, too long, and in questionable taste,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan wrote that one of the lowest points was when military chiefs were required, under instructions from Imelda Marcos, to perform in a presidential palace floor show “in garish female attire”.
Marcos’s son and current Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr has since come up with a response dismissing these reports, insisting that taste is “personal” and that perhaps Ambassador Sullivan’s simply differed from what Filipinos consider to be acceptable…
“Assuming the reported communication were true that some generals were in women’s clothes during a party at the Palace, I’m sure it was all done in the spirit of merriment and entertainment,” son Ferdinand Marcos Jnr said in a post on his Facebook page.
“If what then Ambassador (Sullivan) watched was beneath his taste, I’m afraid that’s personal to him.”
The senator, now 55, said he was attending school in England at the time of the party in question but added that he had also seen the generals on occasion perform a skit “meant to make the audience laugh”.
He did not say whether the skits involved dressing up in drag, but he rejected the diplomat’s account of the generals being made to dress up as women against their will.
“That sounds like a stereotypical scene of a hollywood film depicting a banana republic,” he said, adding that “many American diplomats of that era” tended to treat the people of developing countries “like second class citizens”.
Perhaps there may be some fairness in Senator Marcos’s words. The Philippines has long been known for the flamboyance of its gay community and drag contests are a staple in many social events. The College of Engineering in the University of the Philippines, long known to be a predominantly male bastion in its campus in Diliman, features a drag contest billed “Miss Eng” during its annual Engineering Week festivities. Every fraternity and organisation within the college enthusiastically fields a contestant every year and consider victory in these contests a source of pride.
Many office parties and fiestas in the islands are often marked by drag shows that are often the highlight of the festivities. The spirit of these shows was astutely described by a commentor on the Filipino online message board PinoyExchange.com: “The purpose is not to proclaim homosexuality but just plain buffoonery or comedy so that people can laugh and poke fun at each other. The people participating in the drag shows aren’t supposed to be gays by real nature otherwise [it] takes away the purpose of it being a comedic event.”
Just the same there is something to be said about the top military brass not being above such spectacles. The former Defense Minister himself echoed Sullivan’s sentiments in his book Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir…
Seeing the senior officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with their skimpy female attire dancing the “hula” was, to me, a very embarrassing and shameful moment. The top military leaders of the land were made the object of fun by the First Lady. The scene was pathetic, ridiculous and disgusting.
There definitely is a line to draw somewhere, even in cultural artifacts and traditions Filipinos consider to be sacrosanct to the integrity of their identity. Dancing in drag may not be something that the country’s generals should be doing. But who are we to judge? We are, after all, a people renowned for voting leaders and representatives into office on the basis of their ability to make spectacles of themselves onstage.
[Photo courtesy Torts and a Tiara.]