MARCOS loyalists don’t get any respect these days.
Just ask Josefina Mangilit, the 59-year-old Quezon City coordinator of the Friends of Imelda Romualdez Marcos (FIRM 24K), which she says has 13,000 members across the country.
Everytime she goes out to attend the group’s twice-weekly meetings—Saturdays in Quezon City, Sundays at the Luneta—she dons a bright red vest that displays her affiliations (an outfit the group calls its uniform).
As soon as she steps out of the house, she gets the occasional put-down from her neighbors in an attempt to curb her enthusiasm. [See: Curb Your Enthusiasm]
“Siguro mahina diyan ang P500 per meeting,” Mangilit says in an interview, citing remarks she hears from her neighbors. (You probably make at least P500 by attending a meeting.)
These remarks refer to the fact that the Marcoses—who stole an estimated $10-$15 billion, killed more than 3,000, and tortured 7,000—allegedly continue to dispense financial handouts to keep the support of Mangilit and her fellow members.
But Mangilit shrugs off these facts in the same way she dismisses her 37-year-old daughter who thinks that FIRM 24K is a waste of her time, energy, and money.
“Wala pa kaming nakakamit dito kahit singko,” she says in an interview. (We have never received anything, not even a centavo.)
And on more than one occasion, she has shut her critics up by coming up with a one-liner of her own.
“Nanghihingi ba ako ng baon sa inyo?” she tells them. “Hindi ako nag-aantay ng pera dito. Naglilibang lang naman ako.” (Have I ever asked money from you? I’m not expecting money here. This is just my form of recreation.)
By recreation, she is referring to the group’s tree-planting project in a small park in the University of the Philippines’ (UP) main campus in Diliman, the very same institution that produced students, teachers, intellectuals, artists, and activists who opposed—and helped overthrow—the Marcos dictatorship.
According to Mangilit, they received instructions to plant trees from Artemio Lachica, FIRM 24K’s president, who, in turn, supposedly got it directly from the Madam herself.
“Utos ito ng presidente kasi sabi ni Madam ito raw ang sagot sa global warming,” Mangilit says. (This is an order from our president because Madam said that this is the solution to global warming.)
And so, in October last year, plant trees they did but only after securing clearance and certification from the Quezon City’s Parks Development and Administration Department, which told identified lots for their project.
A year later, the FIRM 24K’s 200 or so members under Mangilit claimed to have planted some 238 trees along C. P. Garcia Avenue and some areas in Barangay Krus na Ligas, which are located within UP’s boundaries.
A number of the caballero trees are located in a park a little bigger than a basketball court along C. P. Garcia Ave. right across what used to be the National Stud Farm (a portion of which is now a parking lot of a newly-built dormitory).
Mangilit chooses to be indifferent to what the University of the Philippines supposedly represents—honor, excellence, love of country, and other lofty-sounding nouns, many of which have lost its worth—arguably—for its students, especially those who graduated after the Marcoses was ousted from power.
“[Activists and Marcos critics] can come to me and we can talk,” she says. “Hindi naman ako nakikialam sa kanila.” (I’m minding my own business.)
So far, no one among the UP community has ever complained about the trees and/or their political affiliations. Although once Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, who reportedly studied in UP, dropped by and people said he found the trees nice, Mangilit says.
Every Saturday morning, a few minutes before ten o’ clock, a makeshift tent is set up in the park. Small plastic chairs are then placed under the improvised shelter, waiting for FIRM 24K’s Quezon City members to trickle in.
Of its total members in Quezon City, one is from Bulacan while 30 come from Mantalban and Antipolo. A little more than 30 are Saturday regulars—they are the ones who have planted more than one tree.
After the usual Saturday pleasantries, they proceed to work—they cut grass, water the saplings, and repair, if needed, the red-painted wooden frames that protect them.
Since some saplings have been stolen and a few wooden frames have been damaged, Mangilit has reported the incidents to the barangay which later agreed to assign one person to look after the project.
All costs related to the project are bankrolled by the members, Mangilit says.
The tree-planting project and its small contribution to fight global warming only fortifies her belief that President Ferdinand Marcos, wife Imelda, family members, and cronies have done nothing inherently wrong to the country.
Upon some prodding, she does recognize the possibility that the couple may have stashed substantial wealth in their Swiss accounts.
“They were in power for twenty years,” she says. “Yung iba nga diyan isang taon lang [sa gobyerno] hindi mo na mabilang yung pera.” (Others have gotten rich even just after a year in government.)
But that doesn’t even dent her loyalty in any way.
To Mangilit, Martial Law meant progress.
Just a few months after the country was placed under military rule in September 1972, Mangilit says Marcos was able to bring electricity to Jaen, Nueva Ecija where she grew up. At about the same time, she says her family benefitted from land reform.
As a result, instead of giving up 75 percent of their harvest to the landowner, they were able to buy and keep the land for themselves through a government loan.
She added that during Marcos’ time, food was cheaper, the streets were safer, and daily life—overall—was better, Mangilit said.
This view is shared by the group’s members, who are predominantly senior citizens, with Mangilit being the youngest at 59 and the oldest at 76.
“Mas maganda ang Martial Law. Walang nakawan, walang chismisan,” says a 71-year-old female member who refused to reveal her name. (The country was better off under Martial Law. There were no robberies and people didn’t gossip.)
And for the country’s and Filipinos’ suffering to end, the government only has to do one thing: bury Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
“Pag nagawa na nila yun, mawawalan ng problema ang Pilpinas, sisikat pa sila,” Mangilit says. (If they allow Marcos’ burial at the Heroes’ Cemetery, the country’s problems will not only end, politicians will also become popular.)
From the Trivial Concerns Dept. Mangilit says that the group had the “24K” attached to its name because of Imelda’s penchant for all things golden and that the Marcos family owned a gold mine. Or at least that’s what she heard from other members.