(UPDATED 9 September 2012) Donald Draper, Mad Men’s protagonist, and the late Philippine dictator share certain characteristics besides having — and using — their cojones, in both the literal and figurative sense.
As a result, this piece may divulge certain spoilers — both for those who haven’t seen the award-wining American television series and those who continue to maintain, to this day, that Marcos is God’s gift to the Philippines.
To these groups of people, I say: May your tribes decrease.
1) The Don and Da Apo made the moves on — and scored with — the babes
The Don slept with Midge, a beatnik illustrator; Rachel, a department store heiress; Joy, a daughter of a European viscount; and Bobbie, the wife of a famous comedian, a cougar. Of course at that time, cougars still referred to four-legged creatures, not to two-legged felines on the hunt for younger males.
Despite being married to Betty, a yummy mommy, Don preferred dinner elsewhere. Same goes for Da Apo.
When he proposed to Imelda Romualdez, Ferdie was already engaged months before to a certain Carmen Ortega, who held the beauty title of Ms. Press Photography, Carmen Navarro Pedrosa writes in her book, The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos. But that didn’t prevent Ferdie and Meldy from pursuing plans that would later make them the sole members of the Philippines’ conjugal dictatorship.
On May 1, 1954, Imelda agreed to marry Ferdie after a whirlwind eleven-day courtship that included a trip to Baguio City and, according to Charles C. McDougald, author of The Marcos Files, “an invitation to a bank vault where he displayed his collection of stacks of $100 bills.”
Apparently, it was love at first sight, McDougald writes in his 1987 book. But love, first sight or otherwise, wasn’t enough to make Marcos stay put on the matrimonial bed.
In 1970, the dictator had an affair with Dovie Beams, an actress who played the lead actor’s romantic interest in Maharlika, a movie about Marcos’ war exploits. After Ferdie lost interest, the spurned lover called a press conference where she played a tape recording of “Fred” and her making beautiful music together.
Too bad consumer video cameras would only be introduced a decade or so later.
2) Draper and Marcos were married to beautiful, strong-willed yet troubled women
Before becoming spouses of Don and Ferdie respectively, Betty Hofstadt and Imelda Remedios Visitacion Romualdez were already noted for their beauty.
The former modeled fur coats for a living before she dated Don and the latter — already considered as the Rose of Tacloban — helped gather crowds while campaigning for her cousin Danieling, who ran as a congressman of Leyte.
The Iron Butterfly — as Imelda would be later be called — also posed for a picture that appeared on the Valentine’s issue of This Week, the Magazine of the newspaper The Manila Chronicle, shortly after she arrived in Manila in 1952, Pedrosa writes in her unauthorized biography.
But these women also suffered various setbacks.
After already having what looks like domestic bliss — two kids and a house in Westchester County, an upscale New York suburb — Betty is forced to reckon with her feelings that she has reached a dead end in her life.
Her stress results in the uncontrollable trembling of her hands, a condition that would later cause her to lose control of the car while driving the kids around.
The minor accident prompts Don to allow her to see a psychiatrist.
Besides encouraging her to pursue modeling again, the sessions also empower her to throw Don out of the house, gather enough gumption to indulge in a quickie with a bar patron, and eventually seek a divorce, a move that has yet to gain social acceptance at that time.
Like Betty, Imelda would also see a psychiatrist in New York shortly after being married.
She broke down from the pressure brought upon by her husband who wanted her to become more self-confident and sophisticated.
“There were times when she would just collapse and her feet would grow numb and cold. We would take her to Dr. Barcelona who lived nearby,” Pedrosa writes in The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos, citing Conchita, her sister.
“Very little is known about what exactly precipitated her “nervous breakdown,”” Pedrosa adds. In his book, The Marcos File, McDougald says that
“Imelda had been known to use symbols, such as triangles, rectangles, circles, and hearts, when discussing her role in the development of her country. Such explanations, according to observers, tended to be somewhat hazy if not downright exasperating. She truly believed that God had blessed her country. She knew this because of the “hole in the sky.” In all seriousness, she has shared with others on numerous occasions the belief that there was a hole in the sky directly over the Philippines from which God looks benevolently down on her people.”
3) The ad exec and the president had chequered war records
Donald Draper is not Donald Draper.
He’s Richard Whitman, a US Army soldier in the Korean War and the only subordinate and companion of a Lieutenant Donald Draper, who, in turn, is tasked to build a field hospital.
Shortly after his deployment, Whitman accidentally sets off explosives, killing his superior.
Whitman then switches his identity with his dead commanding officer, allowing him to leave the Army and his family and start life anew as Draper, the advertising executive.
Whitman — and later Draper — was a small-time operator compared to the late Philippine president, whose war medals and citations — if true — rank him as among the most decorated in Philippine history, next to Captain Jesus Villamor and Major Egmidio Cruz.
The so-called World War II hero earned anywhere from 32 to 34 medals, many of which are questionable, McDougald says in his book.
Of all Marcos’ medals, two — a Silver Star Medal and a Distinguished Silver Cross — were awarded by the United States for his exploits in two separate events in January 1942 that was only two days apart.
The first — on January 16 — involved “gallantry in action” in Balanga, Bataan while the second was awarded for his intelligence-gathering activities after crossing enemy lines and escaping imprisonment, McDougald adds in the same book.
Both citations are based on two separate affidavits both dated February 1, 1946 and signed by a Major Aurelio Lucero.
Both affidavits are the only proof submitted for the awards, McDougald says, citing a US Department of the Army letter dated November 1985. Another letter dated December 21, 1985 and written by US Army Lt. Col. Harrison Lobdell III states that
”there are not General Orders or Special Orders from the USAFFE [US Armed Forces in the Far East] confirming Marcos’ entitlement to the Silver Star and the Distinguished Silver Cross.”
Let’s not even get started on Marcos’ special guerilla unit, Ang Manga Maharlika, which claimed to have some 8,200 men as of April 1944.
The Maharlika claimed credit for achievements — such as blowing up enemy ships while docked at the Manila port — undertaken by other military units.
Just goes to show that money and property weren’t the only thing Marcos grabbed.
4) Both Draper’s and Marcos’ major foils die
Draper’s major foil is Adam Whitman, his half-brother, a janitor who stumbled upon him in New York after recognizing a picture of Richard Whitman aka Draper — while holding an advertising industry trophy — published in the inside pages of a newspaper.
When Adam pays a visit to his office, the advertising executive denies existence of his past life and old identity but later agrees to meet his half-brother for lunch.
Later on, Draper drops by Adam’s apartment, offering him $5,000 — or roughly $37,000 in current terms (that’s more than a million pesos) — to leave town.
Adam complies and later sends a package of photos to Draper’s office before committing suicide.
The package would fall into the wrong hands but that’s another story.
In the meantime, Marcos’ foil — ex-senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. — didn’t just die, he was assassinated in 1983 at the Manila International Airport, which is now named after him. Immediately, Marcos gets blamed but he and his supporters point their fingers at the communists. “[Aquino] was killed to avenge the wrongs [he] “had done to the NPA [New People’s Army, the armed unit of the Communist Party of the Philippines],” Bienvenido A. Tan Jr. writes in The Public Has The Right to Know, citing the Marcos government’s explanation.
An alternative motive offered by the military was that Aquino was killed for misappropriating money received from Libya intended for the NPA, a claim Libya denied, Tan said in the same book which deals with the findings of a commission that investigated the Aquino assassination in 1984.
To this day, nearly three decades after the incident, no one knows who masterminded the assassination, despite an investigation that examined testimonies of 193 witnesses and yielded 20,000 pages of steno notes, 200 affidavits, more than 100 medical and technical documents, 16 reels of microfilm (featuring 2,200 shots), and 150 photos of 13 photographers. (These figures are from Tan’s book).
5) Donald and Ferdie both have strong powers of persuasion
In The Wheel — what may well be one of Mad Men’s most powerful episodes — Donald Draper is tasked to make a pitch to a pair of Kodak executives to get the account.
The responsibility involves providing a name for a device — a wheel containing photo slides that can be attached to a projector — so that it can be properly branded, marketed, and sold.
After asking an assistant to turn off the lights, Draper begins to click on the projector, flashing pictures of his wedding, his wife, and his kids while delivering this spiel off the cuff:
“Nostalgia — it’s delicate, but potent…It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels — around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”
Marcos wasn’t as persuasive but he nevertheless made the cut in terms of craftiness.
Sometime in the mid-sixties, the Japanese were scouting around for an Asian city ideal enough to host the headquarters of a regional multilateral institution they were planning to put up.
Marcos hosted the visiting delegation onboard the presidential yacht Ang Pangulo.
He then reportedly gave the crew explicit instructions to continue staying at sea until after the Japanese were persuaded to choose Manila.
This explains why the Philippine capital is the site of the Asian Development Bank’s headquarters.
Several years later, when corruption allegations and lavish spending threatened his rule, Marcos dissolved both houses of the Philippine Congress, ordered the arrest of his political opponents, and shut down newspapers and television and radio networks.
On September 23, 1972, he went live on national television and said that
“As of the 21st of this month, I signed Proclamation 1081 placing the entire Philippines under martial law.”
Effects of that proclamation — including other policies that benefitted himself, his family, and his cronies — explain to a greater degree why the country remains in this rut, 25 years after he was deposed as president.