The Philippines: the craziness starts in Woodside.

In 1988 US marshals were seizing property Imelda Marcos owned in Hawaii, Europe and in Woodside, California.

Ferdinand Marcos had blasted off to dictator heaven (no, not Monaco) and his poor put upon widow, Imelda, was dodging Interpol, NICA (the Filipino FBI), the CIA, the World Bank and The Plaza Hotel all trying to claw back 100s of millions she and Mr. Marcos had spirited out of the country. Imelda’s daughter Irene lived on Whisky Hill Road in Woodside, and Imelda hid out there for a time.

Ferd in his In-N-Out hat (with distinction)

It is unknown how many of the uncountable pairs of shoes she traveled with but you can bet it was plen-ty. When she fled the Malacañang Palace in Manila she left behind 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 888 handbags, and 3,000 pairs of shoes. And that’s just what she left behind.

Marcos was deposed in 1986 in a popular uprising after he declared martial law. The Marcos’ were charter members of the Kloptocrat Party whose political agenda was to stuff government positons with outrageously corrupt family members; amass a fortune; overturn political norms and lie like hell. You know, like our president but with less flamboyant hair. By most accounts the current ruler, Rodrigo Duterte, is much worse.

A little history: The War with Spain in 1898 has been called the ‘forgotten war’ even though 3,000 Americans died in it. The US claimed that the Spanish sunk the Battleship Maine in Cuba (disputed), then Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill and when he came down we promised not to invade Spain if they gave us Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. And while we were in the mood, we informed the Hawaiians (then an independent nation) that we owned them too.

We had promised the Filipinos that if they helped us against Spain we would grant them independence and then we reneged. So the Americans found themselves in another war, this the Philippine-American War in which 4,200 Americans were killed (and thousands more from tropical disease after coming home) and up to a million Filipinos, mostly of starvation. What? Really? I never heard of this before. What’s with people pulling wars and not informing me!

There are as many as 5,000 islands in the Philippine archipelago, only 2,000 of which are occupied (the Malay Archipelago numbers 25,000 islands). Most islands in the world are not occupied.

So here are some more unusual facts about the Philippines:

Ghost guns. You can buy all sorts of homemade handguns that are hammered out of a sheet of steel. Sure, any high school kid a can make a snub nose 38 out of a car fender but it takes a real craftsman to pound out a 45 automatic or a nine millimeter. The more serious pistols take about two weeks to make and sell for about a $100. The weapons are necessary because you can’t elect a local dog catcher without a dozen people being shot. Amazingly, the country as a whole ranks pretty low in private gun ownership. The US is number one (by a lot). Yeah! We’re NUMBER ONE!, but weirdly the Falkland Islands is number two (2,900 people and zero crime…must be those guns keeping them safe) just beating Yemen.

The Tasaday incident. In the early 1980s a stone age tribe of 20 individuals, living in a cave, was discovered on a remote island. They had never been exposed to the modern world and had simple stone tools and spoke a unique language. I recall from an article I read in the 80s that when anthropologists first encountered them these simple folks were given modern knives. But the anthropologists passed out 21 knives so the natives gave the extra knife back because what did they need an extra knife for? They also gave an old man a cookie which he promptly threw up. The tribe was called the Tasaday, and they were touted as ‘noble savages’, a thank-you screw-you phrase meaning ‘you gorgeous primitive bastards.’  The savages were so gentle and egalitarian that their language had no words for war, enemy or mine.

The shy Tasaday emerged as reluctant celebrities. Because meddlers like the thoughtless anthropologists were upsetting this delicate band, the Marcos government erected a perimeter wall around their territory and wouldn’t let any more people come in even as the Tasaday were celebrated around the world for their simple, unsullied lifestyle. Some big shots did manage to visit like Charles Lindberg and Prince Phillip (after all the Philippines is named for one of his ancestors). When Marcos was suddenly dethroned, the Tasaday scheme was revealed to be an elaborate hoax to stir up notoriety thus attracting money to protect the tribe. The Marcos flunky responsible raised 35 million dollars and promptly disappeared. The cavemen went back to their local village and slipped back into flop flops and used Lacoste shirts. As scams go this is a pretty good one. Do you know that I have a dog that speaks fluent Russian? True story.

After 45 years in operation the Hobbit House Bar closed in Manila in 2018. The bar was staffed by dwarfs and midgets. I know these are terms somewhat out of fashion but this is what the management bragged about. I read that the employees liked having these jobs but if you tried this in say, Portland today your house would be touched and your kids hung upside down from a clothes line.

Did you know that the US government once ran a big time counterfeiting operation? When the Japanese occupied the Philippines in WW2 and General MacArthur had to scram vowing ‘I shall return” (he did return, by the way), the Japanese immediately flooded the place with Philippine Pesos. It seems that this ‘occupation money’ looked very much like the US paper money which had been in use before the war. Then the Americans started dropping counterfeit occupation bills from aircraft thereby inflating the Japanese Peso to worthlessness. “Your move, Tojo.”

The Dessert Museum. I’m sure it’s big fun to be in a room with pink plastic donuts but I’d rather shoot myself (and now I know where to get a pistol).

Easter Egg for those who get this far:

I know a thing or two about counterfeiting. In the mid 80s I was a building contractor renovating the offices and conference room for a lithography firm in Palo Alto called Thomson Lithograph. What is lithography you ask? Well its basically just printing. Litho machines were these gigantic presses the size of an army tank and just about as heavy. This was the pre digital era and the machines were much as they had been in the 19th century. Thomson had inherited the business from his father and the plant was bustling. That he wanted fancy offices was a surprise as the air in the plant had a chronic mist of ink which fouled nice paint jobs pretty fast. But I did the job and became friends with Thomson.

A few years later he sold the firm to his three principal printers and retired. They then moved from Palo Alto to a much bigger plant in Fremont and continued growing. That is until the Feds raided the joint and found 26 million in nice new 20s, 50s, and 100 dollar bills. The Secret Service officer in charge said that the forgeries were nearly indistinguishable from genuine notes and that it was the biggest forgery operation in US history.   

Later I had lunch with Thompson who himself was in the clear and he said he learned a good, if not very useful lesson, unless you’re him. “When you sell your father’s company to criminals be sure to take his name off the business”.

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