The late Ferdinand Marcos Sr., is known to be one of the most controversial presidents ever, not only because of his declaration of the Martial Law, two decades of dictatorship, thousands of human rights violations and murder, but also because of his fabrication of his other achievements like the medals that he received in the military.
One would probably think that we won’t be surprised anymore with anything that will be proven as a lie by Ferdinand Marcos, but that’s where we’re probably wrong. The Tasaday hoax is one of the lies of Ferdinand Marcos that can prove how despicable his rule was.
About 20 before the martial law, the Philippines was under grave political and economic unrest with gas prices soaring high worldwide, Philippine peso crashing due to net deficit (i.e., mismanaged debut), and higher class’ riches reaching greater heights while the lower class can’t even afford eating three times a day.
With everything that was going on, Marcos’ thought that he needed to divert the attention of the Filipinos from him by rallying against Malaysians instead and trying to win back Sabah. But for that to be successful, they felt that first there needs to be proof that prehistoric Filipinos existed.
This is where the Tasaday suddenly appeared out of nowhere, being “discovered” by one of Marcos’ cronies, Manuel “Manda” Elizalde Jr.
Mando Elizalde, the appointed Secretary of the Presidential Arm for National Minorities (PANAMIN), was treated as a hero of indigenous people after he appeared in a National Geographic magazine article, entitled “Help for the Philippine Tribes in Trouble” in August 1971.
The 27-page article about the Tasaday entitled “Stone Age Cavemen of Mindanao” talked about how Mando Elizalde was dubbed by the Tasaday as Momo Dakel Diwata Tadasay or Great Bringer of Good Fortune. Balayem, a representative of the Tasaday, said in the article that: “Our ancestors told us never to leave this place of ours. They told us the god of our people would come if we remained here. Their words have been proven true by the coming of Momo Dakel Diwata Tasaday.” This would not be complete without giving the credit to then President Marcos for giving them their lands, of course.
Naturally, people from all over the world were amazed by the story of the Tasaday. One of them being Kenneth MacLeish, senior assistant editor for National Geographic magazine, who wrote with fascination about the Tasaday. And who, after being toured around the cave and interacting with the Tasaday, called them as “perhaps the simplest of living humans… closest to nature… gentle and affectionate.” The documentary of the National Geographic was shown all over the world and lured in a lot of visitors who wanted to study the so-called “Stone Age tribe.” The Marcos administration benefited the most from the Tasaday story and Momo Dakel Diwata Tasaday exclusively supervised the excursions.
However, just like how stories unfold in movies, it did not take long before the lie the Marcos administration created was exposed. After Marcos was forced to step down after the People Power Revolution in February 1986, Elizalde no longer had the authority to control the visitations to the Tadasay.
On March 1986, Swiss journalist Oswald Iten, accompanied by Joey Lozano, visited the Tasaday and saw them living in houses and wearing regular clothes. After a week, Stern, a German magazine, sent reporters and saw the Tadasay wearing leaves again, but with cloth garments underneath.
Since Marcos and PANAMIN were out of the picture, the Tasaday’s ways were called into question. After a lot of questioning, experts finally declared that the Tasaday was simply made up, something that the Marcos regime created in order to gain global sympathy when they need it the most. A Tasaday confessed through an Iten article that, “We didn’t live in caves, only near them, until we met Elizalde. He forced us to live in the caves so that we’d be better cavemen. Before he came, we lived in huts on the other side of the mountain and we farmed. We took off our clothes because Elizalde told us to do so and promised if we looked poor that we would get assistance. He gave us money to pose as Tasaday and promised us security from counter-insurgency and tribal fighting.”
It was then concluded that the Tasaday were probably related to the Manobo of South Cotabato. While they had their own culture, they did not live in caves and were not people from the Paleolithic period. It is now widely accepted that the Tasaday fame was propagated from a lie. This Tasaday hoax was defined by Anna Pineda, a practicing archeologist, as “a cautionary tale for nationalism driven by the wrong reasons.”
In 2009, Kara David of GMA News visited the Tasaday and witnessed how they continued their lives. The Tasaday lived in nipa houses and wholeheartedly believed that they are Tasaday. From this, we can see that it was not in any way the Tasaday’s fault that this hoax became known worldwide. The person behind this wide scale lie is none other than Ferdinand Marcos Sr., a person willing to fool the whole world just to gain more power than what he already had at that time.