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Why the Beatles hate the Philippines — and how we can change that

The Beatles landed in Manila on June 1966 and played before an audience of 80,000 — the biggest crowd to ever see the Fab Four in a single day. But it was a run-in with the Marcos dictatorship that left a lasting impression on John, Paul, George and Ringo. They've called it the worst experience of their lives. Rogue Magazine                                                                                                          

The Department of Tourism has launched a campaign to brighten a dark spot in our nation’s history: that time 49 years ago, when The Beatles came to Manila and vowed never to return.

The year was 1966. The four British boys were the biggest musical act in the world, and the Philippines was one of only two stops on their tour of Asia. They landed in Manila from Tokyo, and played two sold-out shows on July 4 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. With 80,000 people in attendance, the gigs set the record for the biggest paying crowd to see the Beatles in a single day — but it was what happened offstage that left a lasting impression on John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The morning of the show, the four were woken up by bangs on their hotel room doors. In the documentary The Beatles Anthology, George Harrison recounts: “Somebody came into the room and said: ‘Come on! You’re supposed to be at the Palace.’ We said: ‘What are you talking about? We’re not going to any Palace.’”

The Marcoses, it turned out, had prepared a reception for them at Malacañang. But the band had not been informed of this, so they declined the invitation —“Gracefully, we thought,” said Paul McCartney in the same documentary.

That is where sh*t hit the fan.

DEAD SILENCE

On July 5, the boys were greeted by dead silence on their hotel phones. Ringo Starr recalls: “So we put the TV on and there was a horrific TV show of Madame (Imelda) Marcos screaming: ‘They’ve let me down.’ There were all these shots with the cameraman focusing on empty plates and up into little kids’ faces, all crying because the Beatles hadn’t turned up.” Meanwhile, the front page of the newspaper screamed, “Beatles Snub President.”

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“It turned nasty in the Philippines,” Ringo said. “The whole place turned on us,” George continued. “We had people yelling and screaming when we tried to get to the airport… there were all the government officials or police, who were trying to punch us and yelling and waving fists at us.” 

At the airport, the four were roughed up by a group of men. “There was chanting, with people hating us all the way. They started spitting at us, spitting on us,” Ringo recalled. “We had fantasies that we were going to be put in jail because it was a dictatorship there in those days, not a democracy. You lose your rights in a dictatorship, no matter who you are.”

The incident shook the Beatles so much that all four of them swore never to come back to our country. Peace-loving John Lennon was even quoted in a 1966 Associated Press report as saying he wanted to drop an H-bomb on us. “No plane’s going to go through the Philippines with me on it. I wouldn’t even fly over it,” he later said in The Beatles Anthology.

Now, John and George, in their lifetime, never did set foot in the Philippines again, and Paul and Ringo have never expressed any interest to do so. This is where the story ends — but not if the DOT has its way, and Mr. Starr keeps an open mind.

A setup for one of India’s fabulous parties on Harbour Island

RINGO’S CALL

This year, Ringo released an album called “Postcards from Paradise,” and in order to promote the effort, he asked people on social media to send him postcards from their own paradise. The campaign caught the attention of local rock legend Ely Buendia who, along with DOT and ad agency BBDO Guererro, saw an opportunity to make things right with the Beatle and promote the country in the process.

In a video posted online, Ely asks Filipinos to send Ringo pictures that showcase the paradise of the Philippines. “He didn’t get a very good picture the last time he was here, and maybe, just maybe, we can all work it out to bring him back,” Ely says.

Of course, that sounds like an ambitious goal — to bring up feelings that have festered for nearly 50 years and expect a good outcome — but BBDO Guererro’s chairman and CCO David Guererro tells Supreme that this goes beyond reaching out to one man. “Even if Ringo doesn’t get our postcards, we know that someone else will,” he says.

For my part, I’ve tweeted Ringo photos and videos from a recent trip to Bohol. (It was my first time in the beautiful province, and between dolphin watching, getting a massage on the powder-white shores of Pamilacan Island, visiting century-old churches, and seeing tarsiers, I really felt like I was in paradise for the three days I was there. To see my postcards for Ringo, visit my blog at www.pepediokno.com.)

Now, it’s your turn. Tweet @ringostarrmusic with a fun photo from our country and use the hashtag #postcardsfromparadise. There are no better spokespersons for the Philippines than Filipinos themselves, and this campaign is an excellent opportunity to tell the world how much we love our home.

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Tweet the author @PepeDiokno.

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