Painting the Marcos Myth with Ferdinand as Malakas, Imelda as Maganda
When the Soviet Union fell, citizens of Moscow toppled a monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the KGB. After Saddam Hussein was killed, a bronze statue of the dictator in Baghdad was dismantled by an angry mob. In 1776, the year the US Declaration of Independence was ratified, jubilant protesters took down a statue of King George III in Manhattan. The same went for the "denazification" program after the fall of Hitler's regime: all physical objects depicting Nazi symbols—from propaganda posters to sculptures—were either confiscated or destroyed.
The oppressed have a penchant for demolishing artifacts of oppressive regimes, because the idea is behind iconoclasm is that physical objects, whether ornamental and architectural, have symbolic power for as long as they stand. For every person revolted by the sight of a monument, there is another who looks at it with admiration. And it is the latter that gives governments reason to fear them: they could stand as rallying points for the revival of harmful ideologies.
In Spain, for example, proponents of fascism regularly visit the tomb of Francisco Franco, whom the country was under dictatorial rule for 36 years. They come to commemorate and pay respects to figure who, by their estimation, did not lead an oppressive regime, but a just one. This is why sites believed to be Hitler’s grave were destroyed, and why Osama Bin Laden’s ashes were scattered at sea: as much as tombs serve as reminders of dark pasts, their longevity often outlasts the truth. Over time, the individuals to which these monuments are dedicated will be mythologized by a populace that never lived under them, and so their sins are glossed over by the grandeur left in their wake.
For Ferdinand Marcos, however, monuments weren’t enough.
Not only was Marcos responsible for the explosion of construction projects calibrated to make the country appear prosperous to both its own citizens and to the rest of the world—so many, in fact, that the term "Edifice Complex" was jokingly applied to whatever psychology motivated that spate of construction.
But there was something else that was supposed to tie together the Marcos myth: the heroic painting commissioned by the Marcoses, by painter Evan Cosayo that they envisioned would help embody the place of the Ferdinand and Imelda within their utopic New Society.
Children were raised on the myth, and the Marcoses made sure it was their faces that came to mind whenever the story was told.
Though there are variations on the creation myths across the archipelago, the story of Malakas and Maganda is the one story known most widely across the nation, and therefore had the privilege of being Marcos’ myth of choice. It would become the centerpiece of a propaganda campaign that sought to capture not only the minds of Filipinos, but their sense of identity.
Cosayo painted an image of Malakas and Maganda in Ferdinand’s and Imelda’s likeness. On a surface level, one might see this simply as self-aggrandizement; the couple as the ideal male and female: strong and beautiful, respectively. To the subconscious, however, it was meant to depict the couple as parents of the entire nation. It was from them that the new Philippines, “Ang Bagong Lipunan,” was born. And, as all Filipinos are raised to believe, one must never disobey one’s parents; doing so would show a lack of appreciation for their kindness.
The motif popped up more than once. In the Sto. Nino Shrine in Tacloban—once a home in which the Marcoses welcomed guests to Imelda’s hometown—there is an enormous wooden bas-relief of Malakas and Maganda adorning the walls of one of their ballrooms. The Manila Film Center has murals of the same scene, bearing the same likenesses of Ferdinand and Imelda. Children were raised on the myth, and the Marcoses made sure it was their faces that came to mind whenever the story was told.
This widespread use of the myth preyed on what appears to be collective daddy issues among Filipinos: the need to have a father figure lead them, no matter how abusive he may be. And because of Malakas and Maganda, the Marcoses were able to unify those tendencies under a singular myth, strengthening its symbolic power and influence on the population. Those issues, in fact, seem to linger to this day.
Through the all the paintings and sculpture and reliefs of Malakas and Maganda, Marcos was able to prove one thing about propaganda: While physical objects having lasting power, the stories that drive them are what embeds them in the collective consciousness.
Stories told through art have a profound effect on an individual’s beliefs. The artifacts they leave behind, more than being a representative of those tales, should serve as reminders to tell the right ones.