Option #39: Endless Journey by Jose T. Almonte, as told to Marites Danguilan Vitug
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"Sir, my recommendation is we execute Plan B."
"What is Plan B?"
I just thought of something audacious to do to save the mission . . . "I will call the office of Chou En-lai and I'll convey to them . . . Given the situation in the Asia-Pacific, Marcos is considering the possibility that the Soviet armed forces may dominate the region. And before that happens, he would like to preempt the situation, and replace the US in the Clark and Subic military bases with the Russians. Before he makes that decision, he would like to ask Chairman Mao and Premier Chou En-lai what their thoughts are."
Romualdez was in disbelief, as if an alien had crossed his path. "Colonel, I have been in diplomatic service for so long and this is the first time I've ever heard of such a plan! Does the president know this?"
Not only did this book almost not make the Giveaway Pool, it almost didn't make my personal collection. If you are a regular visitor to Shredded Cheddar (in which case I'd like to hug you!), then you are well aware that political memoirs are not the type of book I normally read. I got my copy of Endless Journey through my grandfather, who had known General Jose T. Almonte and was able to get it personally autographed for me. Lolo didn't get one for himself, because his eyesight had grown too weak for him to read anything; but he said he hoped I would read it and then have a long chat with him to tell him everything. And though I did get started on it, Lolo died before we could ever have that chat.
While what I'd tell my grandfather about a book is quite different from what I'd tell my blog readers, this time there is going to be some overlap. Endless Journey is, in many ways, a Marcos Pa Rin book (as defined by me) and I'd give almost anything now for Lolo's take on General Almonte's impressions of former President Ferdinand Marcos. Take Almonte's confidence that he could tell the Chinese premiere a blatant lie about the president's plans and that the latter would be perfectly okay with it . . .
I was sure Marcos would play along because his parting words to me were, "Is there anything more we have not talked about?" I took that to mean he was giving me free reign. Bahala ka na. (It's up to you.) I consider this a fourth dimension, where judgment is sensitively nuanced and intuitive, an uncommon common sense.
In other words: you either get it or you don't. How many of us have ever had a high-stakes "conversation" like this? That is, a "conversation" in which so much more is communicated through what is not said--and in which what is said is carefully designed to be a medium for the silent messages. Oh, yes, and one on which the fortunes, futures, and lives of millions of people hang? Apparently, Marcos could do it because he had a real gift for spotting talented people, putting them in positions where they would really shine, and getting better results out of them through freedom and trust than he would have through a detailed list of instructions. But this is a side of him that I have never seen before.
Right around the time Marcos dispatched then-Colonel Almonte to China, he was appointing other top military officers (usually those whom he foresaw--or simply feared--would be trouble) to diplomatic posts in other countries. Had my own grandfather been more amenable, he would have been named Ambassador to Germany. Lolo turned it down because he knew diplomatic work wasn't for him . . . and for other complex reasons that later helped to shape national history. But never mind that now . . . The point is that most people already know what Marcos did with military officers whom he feared would not be loyal to him; until Almonte published his memoirs, we had no idea what he was like with officers whom he felt he could rely on.
But in the end, even Almonte grew disillusioned with Marcos. It's an about-face discussed so circumspectly that I feel Almonte, still kind of loyal to the leader he once met in that "fourth dimension" (Ah, can we blame him?), held back a dump truck's worth of "dirt." (As much on himself as on his former commander-in-chief? =P)
For me, the juiciest parts of the book are the chapters on the Cory Aquino administration, which succeeded Marcos's after that bloodless coup d'etat of 1986, because they illustrate how Marcos Pa Rin ("Still Marcos") the opposition government turned out to be after all. While it was not "Marcos Pa Rin" in the sense that it wanted the deposed leader back, it was "Marcos Pa Rin" in the sense that nothing had really changed in the high halls of power after he left. I'm especially fascinated by Almonte's impressions of Cory Aquino, a woman he effusively, repeatedly praises as often as he devastates her with anecdotes about the way she tried to run the country.
In the hustle and bustle after the People Power revolt, when government offices were being organised and reorganised, cleaned up, or sent to the rubbish bin, the president, ever solicitous, was looking for a job for me. She said she would appoint me director of the Asian Development Bank. The salary was generous, in US dollars, and tax-exempt, she told me with a smile.
I thanked her and felt she was looking after a younger brother, letting me know that she could do something for me. She was such an endearing person.
. . . But my appointment was not to be. In one meeting, the president asked Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo to release my appointment papers. Joker replied that I had just been promoted to general. Besides, Mrs. President, he said, that position was reserved for the executive secretary.
The president's face turned sour. When Joker left, she apologised and asked me what position I wanted . . . [She] continued to look for a position for me.
A few days later, she happily announced to me that she had found a position which was better paying than the ADB and which would take me to Vienna . . . It was the Philippines' turn to head the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation or UNIDO, she said, and she was going to nominate me.
I felt quite inadequate for the post. I said a scientist or an expert on development and industry would be needed there. "Ma'am, I'm a soldier and am not qualified. I might bring embarrassment to the country."
Like a cheerleader, she said, "Kaya mo 'yan!" (You can do it).
It goes on. No ineffable "fourth dimension" here. Just a very warm, generous "cheerleader" with double her predecessor's moral courage but perhaps half his intelligence, who didn't seem to see that finding cushy non-taxable jobs (!?!?!) for people who had helped
I recommend these sections to anyone who wants an insider's view on how one of the most epic victories in modern history went so wrong, so fast, so soon.
But the real bulk of the book is devoted to Almonte's work for another Filipino general, Fidel V. Ramos, during the latter's successful presidential campaign and six-year administration. As interesting as this part of his career was, it doesn't really fit the Marcos Pa Rin theme and is the main reason the book almost didn't make the Giveaway Pool. While Ramos was a general under both Marcos and Cory Aquino, there's no similar sense of continuity during the years he was in the presidential palace.
You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you enjoy watching international politics the way some people enjoy watching world chess tournaments.
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Image Source: Endless Journey by Jose T. Almonte, as told to Marites Danguilan Vitug