Claim: Former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. thwarted Pope Paul VI’s assassination attempt with a karate chop on the assassin during the pope’s visit in Manila in 1970
Facts: In Ambeth Ocampo’s Looking Back 15 on Martial Law, the historian wrote about the elder Marcos’s diary entries including one about his alleged role in saving the pope at the Manila International Airport in 1970.
Marcos wrote: “The London Sunday Times of Sept. 2, 1973, carries the story of would-be assassin of Pope Paul VI Mendoza, saying I stopped him when he pulled the knife. `I was amazed when he hit me with his hand. It was a karate blow and terribly painful. The President was so strong, so powerful. I couldn’t believe the pain.’
“I attach the magazine pages.
“I may yet be remembered as the man who elbowed the pope (rather sharply he almost fell — “kulla” is a more accurate term — and kicked his secretary Mons. Monchi on the left side of his left knee — actually intended for the assassin).”
San Francisco-based journalist Benjamin Pimentel wrote about the visit in 2015: “On November 27, 1970, he arrived in Manila as part of an Asian tour. He was being welcomed at the airport by Philippine officials, led by then President Ferdinand Marcos, when a man dressed in a black priest’s garb lunged at him with a knife.
“Death to superstition!” he yelled, according to a UPI report of the incident.
The attacker, a 35-year-old Bolivian expat painter named Benjamin Mendoza, was quickly subdued by other people who were with the Pope.
According to press reports, it was the Pope’s personal secretary Pasquale Macchi who pushed the assassin to the ground. An Italian video clip now posted on YouTube shows the attack at the airport, and the assailant being dragged away.”
The journalist who was there at that time was Alex Allan from Baguio, then a writer for Manila Chronicle:
“Little did Allan know that he was about to witness a historic moment. He saw the Bolivian artist attack the pope with a 9-inch kris, a dagger with a wavy blade.
“It was a very fast thing, somebody shouted ‘Pare! Pare!’ What they meant pala was, (the attacker) was a priest,” he said.
“I was surprised to find out he wasn’t really a priest,” said Allan, trying to describe Mendoza.
“He didn’t look right. I couldn’t say that he was crazy or out of his mind because he was answering me. He was on a mission, that’s all he was saying. He kept repeating it.”
Mendoza was pushed to the ground by the pope’s secretary, Monsignor Pascale Macci. The 38-year-old Bolivian artist later received a karate blow by Stephen Cardinal Kim of Korea.
From there, Allan, a certain Sergeant Balacqua and Ordonez would take over. “(Mendoza) was struggling,” Allan said. “He was kicking. First thing I saw was the leg, so I grabbed it. We brought him to the van and then to a safe house.”
It was later that Allan was told by Metrocom Chief General Mariano Ordonez: “Alex, hindi tayo ang nag-save kay pope, ha? It was Marcos who blocked him and karate chopped him. And it was Imelda who picked up the knife.”
Allan recalled: “I know what happened. He knows what happened. I couldn’t say that Marcos did it, because he didn’t do it.”
So The Times of London was among those who swallowed the Marcos yarn.
In this UPI photo, it was Mons. Macchi embracing Mendoza, dressed as a priest, while Marcos is on the extreme left, too far to be of consequence.
The New York Times said it could be Most Rev. Anthony Galvin of Borneo who helped foil the assassination.
NYT also mentioned about the Marcos version.
Why we fact-checked this: Even then there were attempts of glorifying the Marcos brand and revising history as it unfurled. Let us be wary of these distortions especially from the government.