Ferdinand E. Marcos

Dictator’s officials lobbied Oxford to give Bongbong Marcos diploma – UP, Vera Files

Lian Buan

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Dictator’s officials lobbied Oxford to give Bongbong Marcos diploma – UP, Vera Files

BONGBONG IN OXFORD. A photo of a young Bongbong Marcos in Oxford as uploaded on his website showing a timeline of his education from Worth School to Oxford, both in England, to Wharton in the United States.

Photo from bongbongmarcos.com

To save the young Marcos from flunking in Oxford, Filipino officials in England are mobilized – they cite Bongbong's asthma and 'adverse psychological affects' from visiting quake-stricken areas

Philippine officials posted in the United Kingdom during the Marcos dictatorship lobbied the prestigious Oxford University to give a special diploma to a young Bongbong Marcos, documents obtained by researchers from the University of the Philippines (UP) and published by Vera Files show.

While a student at Oxford, Marcos failed his politics exam, and as a result, was not qualified to obtain his bachelor’s degree.

Confidential cables researched by the Third World Studies Center of UP’s College of Social Sciences and Philosophy tell the story of how Bongbong, an aspirant for the 2022 presidency, was saved from flunking by the full machinery of the Philippine government in England.

Bongbong was admitted in 1975 to Oxford, a United Kingdom version of an Ivy League, and among the most prestigious universities in the world. He had wanted to take up either Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), engineering, or economics.

In an interview for the documentary Kingmaker, Bongbong’s son Sandro said his father “wanted to do Physics, Math, Biology but my grandfather said there’s no money in that so switch to politics.”

Not only did Sandro get the courses wrong, the reason for taking up PPE was wrong as well.

“They do not think that he is ready to embark in such a strong course without getting further instruction in pure and applied mathematics before entering Oxford,” said Jaime Zobel de Ayala, the ambassador to the UK at the time, in a cable to the late dictator.

Bongbong took up PPE, but a year-and-a-half later in 1976, the dictator’s son failed his preliminary examinations in economics and politics, passing only philosophy. But he had a chance to retake the tests, according to the documents obtained by UP and Vera Files.

Ambassador Pablo Araque, chargé d’affaires in London at the time, arranged for Bongbong to have tutorials under Filipino professors. Araque reported to the dictator: “Dr. Kelly advised me to secure previous years’ test papers to give tutors an idea of what is required of Bong in the exams. These I have secured and I am sending them by first available means.”

Kelly is Dr. John Norman Davidson Kelly, principal of Oxford’s St. Edmund Hall at the time, the college that Bongbong attended.

However, Bongbong still flunked politics, passing only economics on his second try. This would have sent him out of Oxford residence “for good.”

‘Think of any special circumstances’

“Dr. Kelly ended his letter to me quote [‘] if Ferdinand Jr. or you can think of any special circumstances which would warrant the college departing from its normal rule I should be grateful if you would advise me of these as quickly as possible[’] unquote,” Araque told the dictator in a cable.

It was Captain Artemio Tadiar, Armed Forces attaché to London at the time, who went to Kelly to personally appeal that Bongbong be given a chance to study for a special diploma citing “special mitigating circumstances.”

The circumstances provided to Oxford were: “(1) Bong’s asthma complicated by flu weeks before his first examination and a similar ailment before the second, exacerbated by the long and exhausting trip back to London from Manila and the abrupt change in temperature [;] and (2) the adverse psychological effects on him after his visit with you (Marcos) to the devastated areas in Mindanao after the earthquake and tidal wave which killed 8,000 people and rendered many thousands more homeless,” said the cable from Araque.

In the end, Bongbong was awarded a special diploma in social studies in 1978.

“Presidential aspirant Bongbong Marcos has always been forthright on his conferment of a special diploma in social studies by the distinguish [sic] university and has never misrepresented his Oxford education,” said Vic Rodriguez, Marcos’ spokesperson, in an earlier statement.

But Rodriguez’s statement is inaccurate because Bongbong claimed to have obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in PPE until he was called out in 2015. He then corrected his public profiles to reflect the special diploma.

“The Special Diploma, which the University no longer offers, was open to both undergraduates and graduates. Non-University members could also read for it under certain circumstances,” said Oxford in a response to an inquiry by Rappler.

“There is no recorded link between the BA and the Special Diploma, and the Special Diploma was not a full graduate Diploma,” Oxford added.

Bongbong took five examinations for the special diploma, according to UP and Vera Files documents – political institutions, economic principles, general sociology, economic development, and industrial sociology.

In all five, Marcos “obtained a reasonable Class II level,” said the cables.

Bongbong then took up “graduate school coursework” for the sought-after Master of Business Administration (MBA) program in Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania. But he did not earn a degree there.

“Mr. Marcos attended the MBA Program in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania from September 12, 1979-December 20, 1980, and from September 1, 1981-December 20, 1981. He did not earn a degree,” said Ron Ozio, University of Pennsylvania’s media relations director, in a response to Rappler’s query. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.