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Fighting from a Distance

How Filipino Exiles Toppled a Dictator

Jose V. Fuentecilla

Publication Year: 2013

In this book, Jose V. Fuentecilla describes how Filipino exiles and immigrants in the United States played a crucial role in the grassroots revolution that overthrew the fourteen-year dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986. A member of one of the major U.S.-based anti-Marcos movements, Fuentecilla tells the story of how small groups of Filipino exiles--short on resources and shunned by some of their compatriots--overcame fear, apathy, and personal differences to form opposition organizations after Marcos' imposition of martial law and learned to lobby the U.S. government during the Cold War. The first full-length book to detail the history of U.S.-based opposition to the Marcos regime, Fighting From a Distance provides valuable lessons on how to persevere in fighting a well-entrenched opponent.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Asian American Experience

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

On May 19, 1973, a gathering of students and young professionals slowly filled the seats in the auditorium of the Holy Name School on West 97th Street in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Most were Filipinos and their American friends, drawn mainly by the news of events in Manila. ...

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Chapter 1. The First Exiles: Escaping from the Homeland

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pp. 1-8

On September 22, 1972, a nationwide dragnet swept up hundreds of Filipinos deemed hostile to the sudden imposition of martial law that day. They included politicians, journalists, civil rights activists, lawyers, and suspected members of the Communist-leaning insurgent New People’s Army. ...

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Chapter 2. Rough Landings: Surviving the First Years

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pp. 9-13

Manglapus’s family’s escape took seventeen days, a measure of the ordeal that would-be escapees faced. Martial law security forces were extra-vigilant regarding people with the stature and the means to pose problems for the Marcos regime. Hence, even family members and close associates of prominent activists felt that they were under surveillance, ...

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Chapter 3. Into the Land of the Fearful: Dread and Apathy

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pp. 14-20

Much of the print coverage of the U.S.-based anti-Marcos groups tended to spotlight prominent exile figures. Having found the freedom to speak out, to write for publication, to demonstrate, to organize openly— activities that could get their colleagues back home in trouble with the authorities—they plunged into furious rounds of organizing the resident Filipino population. ...

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Chapter 4. The Big Divide: Differences Hindering Unity

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pp. 21-26

Census studies of Filipino immigration to the U.S. usually describe three “waves” or influxes of arrivals, evoking an image of a relentless, unstoppable mass of immigrants rolling in from the horizon. Another vision conjures boatloads of people, soaking wet, struggling ashore. The first “wave,” in truth, came by ship. ...

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Chapter 5. Martial Law and Beyond: How the Dictator Usurped Power

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pp. 27-31

At his inaugural address as the sixth president of the Philippine Republic on December 30, 1965, at Luneta Park in Manila, Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed: “We must rise from the depths of ignominy and failure. Our government is gripped in the iron hand of venality, its treasury is barren, its resources are wasted, its civil service is slothful and indifferent, ...

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Chapter 6. Early Organizing: Conflicting Opposition Groups

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pp. 32-43

The exile opposition found itself reacting to Marcos’s every move rather than taking the offensive. Manila’s pro-government newspapers labeled the groups as feeble as their Philippine counterparts, thundering against farcical referendum and sham election exercises—to no avail. When the exiles first began to mount an opposition front, ...

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Chapter 7. Learning How to Lobby: How the United States Fought the Exiles

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pp. 44-53

As soon as the MFP had established its structure, it launched its first lobbying campaign, against the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973. Each year a bill to allocate and authorize funding for foreign assistance projects underwent an approval process in the two chambers of the U.S. Congress. ...

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Chapter 8. Down with Rhetoric! Turning to Radical Means

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pp. 54-65

At the seventh MFP convention in San Mateo, California, on September 5, 1979, the members took stock of their work. The year before, some encouraging milestones had been achieved—a highly talented escapee had joined the movement; there had been an appearance and testimony before a House committee; ...

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Chapter 9. The War of Words: Winning Hearts and Minds

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pp. 66-74

To sustain momentum, the MFP scheduled annual conventions beginning in 1974. For symbolic purposes, they were held in September to mark the anniversaries of the declaration of martial law and the founding of the organization. At these conventions, the members refined their lobbying and organizing techniques and mapped out new projects. ...

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Chapter 10. Reviving the Opposition: Arrival of an Exile Hero

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pp. 75-86

In the New York City borough of Queens, in the Hollis neighborhood, there is a triangular cement island on a street at 184th Place, south of Hillside Avenue. On one side of the triangle is a hair salon; on the opposite side is a pharmacy. Along this street are rows of modest two-story wooden homes, similar in appearance, with small front lawns fenced with iron grilles. ...

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Chapter 11. Reviewing the Decade: Adding Up the Losses and Wins

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pp. 87-90

When MFP delegates assembled for a three-day conference in Illinois beginning on September 2, 1983, they chose a site owned by a religious order, the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), located in the Chicago suburb of Techny. The SVD has sent hundreds of missionaries overseas since 1909. ...

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Chapter 12. “It’s Not All Greek to Me”: Bringing the Fight to the Homeland

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pp. 91-100

Published photographs of Steven Elias Psinakis show him looking fierce and unsmiling, with a bearded Ayatollah Khomeini–like face and piercing eyes. Apart from Manglapus, Psinakis was the most frequently pictured member of the U.S.-based opposition in both Philippine and American media throughout the martial law years. ...

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Chapter 13. A Man for Many Seasons: The Leader Who Led the Movement

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pp. 101-110

The four-page FBI file on Manglapus, dated March 6, 1981, lists his physical attributes: “Sex: male; Nationality: Filipino; Date of birth: October 20, 1918; Height: approximately five feet, seven inches; Weight: approximately 140 pounds; Hair: black; Eyes: brown; Race: white; Residence: 6616 Melrose Drive, McLean, Virginia.” ...

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pp. 111-118

The fourteen-year agony of Marcos’s rule ended with his hasty escape from Manila on February 26, 1986. The situation in the country when he left was as bad as or even worse than it had been when he took over the presidency in 1965. At his inaugural address he had spoken of a “venal government . . . a barren treasury . . . a slothful civil service . . . a demoralized armed forces.” ...


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pp. 132-137


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pp. 119-134


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pp. 135-140

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pp. 141-142

This book has focused on the exploits of selected people who, by virtue of their leadership roles, embodied the struggle of leading an opposition movement. Behind them were many scores of followers, too numerous to name. But they were just as dedicated, driven by the same ideals as their leaders. They too shouldered burdens and carried on bravely. ...

Appendix A: Movement for a Free Philippines Chapters and Chairpersons

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pp. 143-146

Appendix B: Report on a Successful Demonstration

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pp. 147-149

Appendix C: Chronology of Events

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pp. 150-154


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pp. 155-162

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About the Author, Further Reading, Production Note

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pp. 182-185

A native of the Philippines, Jose V. Fuentecilla emigrated to the United States in the 1960s. He has lived and worked as a journalist and editor in New York City.

E-ISBN-13: 9780252095092
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037580

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Asian American Experience

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Philippines -- Politics and government -- 1973-1996.
  • Movement for a Free Philippines (Organization).
  • Filipinos -- United States -- History.
  • Exiles -- Political activity -- United States.
  • Marcos, Ferdinand E. (Ferdinand Edralin), 1917-1989.
  • Philippines -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Philippines.
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