Marcoses bared in new WikiLeaks files

Posted at 04/08/2013 8:09 PM | Updated as of 04/09/2013 7:49 PM

MANILA - The ostentatious display of wealth by former President Ferdinand Marcos and former First Lady Imelda Marcos during the late strongman's rule in the 1970s left US embassy officials disgusted, according to newly published diplomatic cables released by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

During a birthday, for example, Marcos had a "two-day blast carefully orchestrated by his wife Imelda" even if "officially controlled Manila press reported that president Marcos spent a quiet birthday at his desk," according to US embassy cable "1973MANILA10390_b" dated September 12, 1973.

The celebrations, attended by senior government and military officials, as well as by chiefs of diplomatic missions, eclipsed the funeral services of the late Rufino Cardinal Santos, which happened at the same time.

A parade, dinner, concert, floor show, and other events were held during Marcos' 2-day birthday celebration.

It was too much to bear for then US Ambassador to Manila William H. Sullivan.

Sullivan, in his confidential memo to the US Department of State, said the celebration was "too much, too long, and in questionable taste."

He said all top-ranking military officers, except for then Philippine Constabulary Chief Fidel V. Ramos, were required to "parade in garish female attire" during a floor show amid the festivities.

"This caused much grumbling among military hierarchy, and wives of service chiefs stood conspicuously in a grim, un-smiling phalanx throughout the hilarity," Sullivan said.

"This whole affair was a saccharine suffusion of sycophancy which reminded me unhappily of the heydays of Sukarno and Sihanouk," he added.

"Although Imelda was responsible, the president seemed to enjoy it and appeared unaware of the negative vibrations among his courtiers, especially the senior military, upon whom so much of his future programs will depend," he said.

"Only the Marcos children, to their credit, appeared embarrassed by the display," Sullivan said.

Around 16,000 memos of the US embassy in Manila from 1973 to 1976 are included in the around 1.7-million "Kissinger Files" cables published by WikiLeaks.

Some of the early memos discuss the Philippines' Sabah claim, the Moro unrest in Mindanao, as well as the Spratlys.

WikiLeaks, in an explanatory note, said the memos cover a variety of diplomatic traffic including cables, intelligence reports and congressional correspondence.

"They include more than 320,000 originally classified records, including 286,000 full US diplomatic cables. There are more than 12,000 documents with the sensitive handling restriction "NODIS", 'no distribution', and more than 9,000 labelled "Eyes Only". Full cables originally classed as "SECRET" total more than 61,000 and "CONFIDENTIAL" more than 250,000," it added.

It said the records were reviewed by the United States Department of State's 25-year declassification process.

"At review, the records were assessed and either declassified or kept classified with some or all of the metadata records declassified. Both sets of records were then subject to an additional review by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Once believed to be releasable, they were placed as individual PDFs at the National Archives as part of their Central Foreign Policy Files collection," Wikileaks said.

"Despite the review process supposedly assessing documents after 25 years there are no diplomatic records later than 1976. The formal declassification and review process of these extremely valuable historical documents is therefore currently running 12 years late," it added.

WikiLeaks said it obtained and reverse-engineered 1.7 million PDFs. It also performed a detailed analysis of the documents, "and corrected a great many errors introduced by NARA, the State Department or its diplomats, for example harmonizing the many different ways in which departments, capitals and people's names were spelled."

"Tens of thousands of documents were irreversibly corrupted in this data set due to technical errors when the documents were moved as computer systems were upgraded, or so the US Department of State claims. This caused the content of the document to be lost, though the metadata is still available," it said.