Rendezvous with history
Mijares started off on the right foot upon his arrival in San Francisco. There, he secretly contacted the Philippine News editor Alex Esclamado and told him about his forthcoming defection from the Marcos government. In a matter of time, anti-Marcos activist Steve Psinakis joined the fray, and together they outlined a plan in preparation for Mijares’ explosive somersault. On February 20, 1975, Mijares finally made his rendezvous with history. He announced, through a press conference in San Francisco, that he was renouncing his former way of life, and that he was formally defecting from the martial law regime of the ruling duumvirate. The “conjugal dictators” got further kicking when Mijares castigated Marcos and pointedly explained how he planned the imposition of martial law because he never intended to relinquish power since day one. Naturally the American press loved such tales. And from there, Mijares’ story blew out of the water. The buck would have stopped there, but as it was, Mijares got an invitation to appear as star witness for the Congressional House International Relations subcommittee chaired by Congressman Donald Fraser (D-Minn.). This move sealed Mijares’ fate.
Malacanang was rattled. Obviously, this one-time press censor chief knew too much, and so Marcos’ thugs frantically sought to prevent his appearance before the U.S. Congress. At that time, the Movement for Free Philippines (MFP) headed by Raul Manglapus was lobbying against U.S. economic and military assistance to the Philippines. By allowing Mijares to testify on the human rights violations and other abuses would result in a reduction of American support for the dictatorship. The cover-up was now in full swing.
First bribe attempt
Based on Mijares’ affidavit, as recounted in his book Conjugal Dictatorship, a phone conversation detailing the first bribe offer allegedly took place on the night of June 16, 1975, a day before his scheduled appearance in the Fraser committee. By then, he was already in a downtown motel somewhere in Washington when he received the call from Manila. Surprisingly, on the other end of the line was his good friend Secretary Guillermo De Vega. By Mijares’ account, here’s what happened.
SECRETARY DE VEGA: “Tibo, gusto kang makausap ni Sir.”
PRESIDENT MARCOS: “Tibo, puede bang huwag ka ng sumipot sa Komiteng yan? Alam mo, marami na tayong prublema dito. Baka madagdagan mo pa. Mabuti pa at bumalik ka na agad sa San Francisco.
MIJARES: “But sir, there is no way I can back out now. I have already placed myself under the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee.”
PRESIDENT MARCOS: “Here is Gimo (Secretary De Vega) and he has something to tell you.” (Then transferring the telephone to Secretary De Vega.)
SECRETARY DE VEGA: “Tibo, bumatsi ka na dyan and Trining will arrange for you ‘cinquenta’ in San Francisco.”
MIJARES: “Mogs, (a nickname I use in addressing Secretary De Vega) hindi na puede. Nasabi ko na sa Komite na nandito na ako sa Washington. I have to testify.
SECRETARY DE VEGA: “Yung figure ay libo. And you will get another Fifty when you leave the United States. Since you may not want to come home to Manila, you may want to go to Australia to be with your sister. Will send you another Fifty upon your arrival there.
MIJARES: “Salamat na lang, Mogs. Pero inde kita puedeng mapagbigyan.
SECRETARY DE VEGA: I will not accept your negative answer now. Pagaralan mong mabuti iyan, Tibo. You know very well that, if you testify that would mean a Declaration of War on your part against us here.” (Italics mine)
MIJARES: “I realize that, and you can be sure I will act accordingly, Goodbye, Doc.”
SECRETARY DE VEGA: “Sigue na, Tibo. Take care of yourself. Trining (Ambassador Trinidad Alconel) will contact you.
As the story goes, the “cinquenta” had already been deposited in a San Francisco branch of Lloyds bank of California in the names of Mijares and Ambassador Trinidad “Trining” Alconel, Philippines’ consul general in San Francisco. To ensure that Mijares could not withdraw the money on his own, Alconel instead opened a joint account in their names.
The next day, two hours before he took the witness chair, Mijares received another call from Alconel imploring him not to testify and that the money would be on hand in San Francisco. But Marcos’ former confidant stood firm, and declined the offer.
Appointment with history
Mijares didn’t have to spell it out: he had the ammunitions to destroy Marcos. “Let me trace the origin and pattern of this new tyranny in Asia,” Mijares told the panel in his opening remarks on the day of his appearance before the Fraser committee. In Sterling Seagrave’s well-documented book titled, “The Marcos Dynasty,” (1988), Mijares was said to have emitted a torrent of scorching words against Mr. Marcos and his New Society during the hearing, to wit:
…the reasons used by Marcos in imposing martial law were deliberately manufactured…with a series of deliberately contrived crises…Marcos made the people lapse into a state of paralysis…Then he wove a labored tale of national horror which eventually enshrined as a gospel of truth in the martial law proclamation…Marcos plotted to place his country under martial law as early as 1966, having decided then that he would win a reelection in 1969 “at all cost.”
…Having proclaimed martial law, he proceeded to bribe, coerce, and/or intimidate the Constitutional Convention members into drafting a new charter dictated by him.
A dictatorial regime as it is, the martial law government of Marcos has become all the more oppressive and corrupt in view of the meddling of his wife who has turned martial regime into a conjugal dictatorship.
Aside from plundering an entire nation, the conjugal dictatorship is likewise misappropriating the various items of U.S. assistance (military, economic, cultural, etc.) to the Philippines to entrench itself in power and for personal glorification.
Second bribe attempt
Reaching the point of no return after hitting the spotlight, Mijares filed a formal request with the U.S. government for political asylum. With all this going on, Mijares kept his lines ostensibly open for more negotiations with Malacanang. Just hours after he testified in the Fraser committee, another call came in: the hush money had just been doubled. He then placed a call to Malacanang to confirm about it— directly from the horse’s mouth. Gimo de Vega confirmed the $100,000 bribe only if Mijares would recant his testimony and not to publish the book he was writing. “Look Gimo,” Mijares said after the usual pleasantries, “I am willing to leave the United States and stop publication of the book, but the $100,000 offer is not worth it. I expect to make more than that just from the publication of my book. I am willing to accept $250, 000.” Unknown to De Vega, the whole thing was a set up. Much earlier, Mijares and Psinakis sought the help of a journalist from Washington and told him that they wanted someone, a credible independent party, to witness the conversation. And so a California lawyer was sent in to join them. Unfortunately, Marcos was “indisposed” at that time, and it was De Vega who dealt with them. “I am sorry, Tibo. I am not authorized to go above $100, 00. I must take this up again with the President. Only he can authorize a higher payment,” De Vega ruefully replied. (By way of postscript, Secretary Guillermo De Vega would later end up dead right in his Malacanang office under some mysterious circumstances.)
The second bribe attempt was exposed by famed Washington reporter Jack Anderson in an article that was released on July 14, 1975 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Marcos came out with guns blazing. He denied the charge. Discrediting Mijares’ reputation, of course, was easy. It was no secret that Mijares left a trail of petty extortions, bounced checks and bad debts wherever he went. And so to limit the damage, rumors began to circulate, among others, that he absconded with government funds (which he did by the way) and that he was paid $150, 000 by the Lopezes to join the anti-Marcos exiles.
Meanwhile on April 27, 1976, the much-awaited book “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos” was released in the United States. But the book, according to Seagrave, never saw the light of day as it was systematically plundered on every bookstore and public institution in the United States, including the Library of Congress. Nonetheless, apart from Mijares’ damaging testimony, Conjugal Dictatorship spawned another great deal of embarrassment to the Marcos regime. This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Eight months later Primitivo Mijares disappeared —never to be heard from again.
Mijares was reportedly last seen at the San Francisco Airport on January 7, 1977, in the company of a certain Querubin Macalintal, a confirmed intelligence agent of the Philippine government. A story is oft-told that he had boarded a plane in San Francisco and was probably thrown into the Pacific Ocean since no witnesses could attest that he disembarked in Honolulu. But for Reuben Canoy, author of “The Counterfeit Revolution: Martial Law in the Philippines” (1990), such rumors are unfounded, for disposing a man aboard a jet liner mid-air, he said, cannot possibly be done without being noticed by crew or passengers. And so what happened to Primitivo “Tibo” Mijares? It is widely believed, however, that he landed in the Philippines and was subsequently murdered by Marcos agents to prevent the conclusion of the investigation.
After so many years, Steve Psinakis, one of the witnesses of the second bribe attempt, and author of “A Country Not Even His Own” (2008) painstakingly pieced the puzzle on Mijares’ eventual disappearance. Although he was cock sure that Marcos masterminded the cover-up, Psinakis did not discount the possibility that all along Mijares was playing both sides against the middle. In his memoirs, Psinakis wrote: “The investigation (referring to the U.S. Justice Department investigation) also revealed that after his February 1975 defection, Mijares did, in fact extort money from Marcos by feeding him imaginary information for which Marcos was ignorant enough to pay considerable sums. While Mijares was still receiving money from Marcos, he was at the same time lambasting Marcos in the U.S. press, causing the Marcos regime irreparable damage. It is no wonder the only natural conclusion is that Marcos had his vengeance and did Mijares in.”
All told, was Primitivo Mijares a credible whistleblower? “The point that should be grasped is not whether I am a good or bad man, but whether I tell the truth about the martial law regime in the Philippines.” Those are the precocious words of Tibo Mijares, not mine. Warts and all, the book Conjugal Dictatorship has left us too many gaps to be compelling. Maybe—just maybe— all the details that Mijares recounts are true but there is a larger truth left unsaid somewhere in the pages of Conjugal Dictatorship and that, we have to unfold.