Being an old man in the typing business has some advantages. Names, even foreign ones that at one time or another stayed in the country to help make – or shape – history, are readily remembered. Some of the young journalists, for example, were just in their kindergarten years when the name Paul Manafort was first whispered about in Philippine political circles. To the young guns, it is “who was he?” and that is forgivable.
When his name popped up big-time in the major league of US politics anew (as campaign chairman to Donald Trump), the old hands in Philippine journalism remembered the then role of PR man Paul Manafort in the tumultuous months before Mr. Marcos’ exit from power in 1986. He was then the young partner of the heavyweight PR and lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. And he was precisely sent to Manila by his firm to convince the Reagan administration that Marcos, despite his many failings and his failing health, was the Reagan administration’s most trusted and most dependable Filipino ally. And that the Reagan administration should stand by Mr. Marcos no matter what. (The latest news said that Manafort was recently demoted by the free-falling Trump.)
A SOB, but our SOB. That was how Mr. Marcos was described by Republican Party power brokers. That was how the heavyweight firm tried to contain a Marcos fall from grace.
Of course, the best lobbying effort done by Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly for Mr. Marcos in a Marcos-sympathetic Reagan administration was swept aside and rendered useless by the inexorable forces of history. Mr. Marcos was forced to flee the country for the safety of Honolulu after a civilian-military uprising. Mrs. Aquino assumed power, which forced Manafort to pack his bags and take the earliest flight home.
Mr. Manafort went back to Washington to handle other big-time clients, mostly corporate accounts close to the Republican Party and Republican political accounts. And according to new revelations, shifted his foreign focus to the direction of Russia and Ukraine and other tin pot dictators after the collapse of the USSR. A report from Politico magazine said that Manafort’s services were engaged by Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska and Ukraine’s Victor Yanukovych among others.
“Yet, those deals look like middle school civic classes next to Manafort’s efforts to help Marcos maintain his grip on power,” according to Politico.
Paul Manafort was largely a forgotten man in Manila until a confluence of events. His pivotal role as campaign chairman of Republican Party candidate Donald Trump, who could be President of the US, and the resurrection of the Marcos burial issue. Stone is a current Trump surrogate and his scorched-earth tactics were probably honed and sharpened in his Manila work for Marcos.
It seemed that client, (Marcos) and PR advisor (Manafort) cannot afford to stay under the radar for long. And there is a thread to both – controversy. In the case of Manafort , the controversies of a controversial power player who now is helping Donald Trump get elected as President of the world’s most powerful country… In the case of Mr. Marcos, a controversy that haunted him beyond his grave and, literally, about his grave.
What, exactly, did the then 37-year-old Manafort do on behalf of the embattled Marcos administration? When, precisely, did Manafort start his controversy-plagued liaison/lobbying work for Marcos?
According to Politico’s account, then President Reagan “dispatched his closest friend and ally in the US Senate, Nevada’s Sen. Paul Laxalt, to Manila to advise Marcos that the US was tiring of his abuses and would pull its support if he did not clean up his act.”
According to Politico, it was Laxalt who advised Marcos to hire Manafort “ to help address grievances that he was unfavorably depicted in the US press.”
“Everybody needs a Washington representative to protect their hinds, even foreign governments,” said Laxalt. A Marcos front group, called the Chamber of Philippine Manufacturers, Exporters and Tourism Association signed the contract with Manafort’s firm, which was executed by a young Marcos aide, Ronaldo Zamora, now a veteran member of the House of Representatives representing San Juan City.
For a reported fee of $950,000, Manafort and his PR firm “revved into high gear,” according to Politico. That included spreading within the Washington circles that Mrs. Aquino “was soft on communism” and that Marcos was the torch bearer of democracy and anti-communism.
After Marcos called for a “snap presidential elections” one year before the lapse of his term, Manafort and his firm advised Marcos on electoral strategy. After the conduct of the controversial polls, Manafort helped the Marcos camp counter the international impression that Marcos rigged the fraud-ridden elections and that fraud was committed by the two sides.
On the day Maros fled from the Palace, Manafort took the first flight home.
After his well-paid Philippine adventure, he went on to advise other foreign despots and controversial foreign figures.
But as Politico reported, no foreign gig was as big-time and as profitable as his services to Marcos. Not even his work in Ukraine, where anti-corruption officials are investigating unreported cash payments to Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman.
The New York Times noted, without emphasis on the irony and coincidence, that both the Philippine client of Manafort (Marcos) and the Ukraine client (Yanukovych) were deposed in popular uprisings.