Crony tells of rivalry in Marcos’ inner circle
(First of two parts) THE 58TH anniversary of the martial law clampdown in the Philippines went unmarked on Thursday, Sept. 21. The event was overshadowed by President Aquino’s first visit to the United States, the controversy over the government report on the Aug. 23 hostage-taking crisis and the congressional investigation into allegations that people close to him had received payoffs from “jueteng” operators.
President Ferdinand Marcos secretly signed the martial law edict—Proclamation No. 1081—on Sept. 21, 1972, but he announced the martial law edict on national television only two days later, immobilizing the entire nation.
Obviously taking a leaf from the deceitful serial announce--
ment of martial law, Mr. Aquino, who claims to be an apostle of democracy, released only a portion of the government report on the hostage-taking crisis last Monday when he left for the United States.
But Mr. Aquino suppressed the more substantive section delving into sanctions recommended for institutions and individuals deemed liable for the hostage rescue debacle until after a review of the committee report shall have been completed.
Transparency is not one of the hallmarks of the Aquino administration’s handling of the hostage crisis. The government can be as devious as the Marcos dictatorship or as the much-reviled Arroyo administration that has been accused of replicating the Marcos practices in suppressing information.
A crony’s biography
On Friday, a new book was launched, revealing the intense struggle for power inside the Marcos regime during its last three years.
The book, a biography of construction magnate Rodolfo Cuenca who admits to being a Marcos crony, reveals for the first time an insider’s view of the heightening rivalry among power blocs within the Marcos inner circle as the dictator’s health started to deteriorate in 1983—the year opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. was assassinated upon his return from a three-year exile in America.
Titled “Builder of Bridges, the Rudy Cuenca Story,” the biography written by Jose Dalisay Jr. and Antonette Reyes is more than a story about the rise and fall from grace of Cuenca’s Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines (CDCP), the biggest Philippine construction conglomerate at the time.
The book reveals the corruption and the corrosive tensions among the Marcos’ Palace elite that contributed to its downfall during the last three years of the dictatorship.
The Marcos regime is depicted as dysfunctional, torn by the vicious rivalry among contending factions who had carved up their own power bases, including economic sectors created by the dictator to establish monopolies controlled by favored cronies in an arrangement described by scholars as “crony capitalism.”
Cuenca was one of those cronies. His conglomerate held sway over a broad range of construction enterprises based on infrastructure development, which, according to Cuenca, was the Marcos dictatorship’s lasting legacy, despite his demolition of representative and elected democracy with his martial law declaration.
Cuenca’s conglomerate ranged from cement production to hotel building, superhighway construction, mass transport system for Metro Manila, projects for Manila International Airport development, and bridge-building, notably the fabulous San Juanico Bridge spanning Leyte and Samar. The bridge, an architectural gem, looks very much like the iconic, Sydney Harbor Bridge, in Australia.
The book recalls “Inside the Third Reich,” the memoir written by Albert Speer, Nazi minister of armaments from 1942 to 1945, who drafted Hitler’s grandiose plan of building magnificent buildings and monuments celebrating his vision of Berlin as the capital of the reich “of a thousand years.”
Cuenca’s biography tempts one to dub his role in the Marcos regime as the architect and even the executor of the dictator’s ’ infrastructure vision.
Speer’s book has been described as the “definitive work” on the inner workings of Nazi Germany. Cuenca’s biography similarly reveals the inner workings of the Marcos elite hierarchy and his role in that power structure.
Cuenca is not embarrassed by his much-criticized close association with Marcos and his being tagged as a crony.
But the book for the first time reveals what was happening behind the scenes in the Marcos close circle and the dynamic of crony capitalism. Much of what we know comes from outside sources and from Marcos’ selfserving diaries.
From available data, the book is the first time a Marcos crony or a senior functionary has written about his role in the Marcos hierarchy. The book reveals quite a lot of things, but it does not tell all.
Cuenca is not apologetic about his association with Marcos and admits his conglomer- ate benefited enormously from this. The book also reveals that he was an outsider among the cronies.
Cuenca recalls his first encounter with Marcos, sometime in the 1950s. “Ferdinand Marcos was already a congressman when I first met him. My mother had a legal problem and she hired him as a lawyer.”
The next meeting took place in connection with the setting up of Filipinas Cement in the late 1950s, when Cuenca’s group needed Senator Marcos to take up the cudgels for them with the National Economic Council.
The third time he met Marcos was when Cuenca was working with the Lopez group on Sheraton Hotel (now Hyatt Hotel). By that time, Marcos was aiming for the presidency and wanted to become the Liberal Party candidate, which President Diosdado Macapagal promised to him.
But when Macapagal reneged on his promise, Marcos bolted the Liberal Party and sought to join the Nacionalista Party. He turned to Bobby Benedicto of the powerful sugar bloc for help.
The Filipinas Cement group made a P50,000 contribution to the Marcos campaign, although it did the same thing for Macapagal. Cuenca said this equidistance was the “practice of politically prudent businessmen.”
In the 1969 election, in which Marcos ran for reelection, Cuenca was approached by the administration for help to raise funds. He sometimes donated printed items. “At times, they’d borrow our aircraft,” he adds.
Passion for golf
Golf, for which Marcos had a passion, cemented the ties between him and Cuenca. Cuenca recalls that he first played golf with Marcos and Benedicto in 1967 at the Malacañang golf course.
Sometimes, after golf, they would play pelota or swim at the Olympic size swimming pool where, Cuenca recalls, “I could really talk to him.”
He says that golf was “one of the ways by which anyone who had business to do with the President would have access to him.”
Cuenca says that during one of these talks, they talked about the Lopezes, and Marcos told Cuenca that he suspected the Lopezes of financing the student demonstrations, but “he didn’t tell me anything about declaring martial law.”
Marcos keeps to himself his plan for martial law declaration to a smaller circle of cronies, including Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver and Constabulary chief Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos. Marcos compartmentalized his crony system. Cuenca, the infrastructure builder, was out of that.
(To be continued)
MARCOS: New book provides an insider’s account of the power struggle in the last years of the dictatorship.
THEN PRESIDENT Marcos declares martial law in September 1972. Beside him is his press secretary, Francisco Tatad.