Beyond the Headlines: How CIA pop music helped elect the president of the Philippines

Former boxer turned presidential hopeful in May’s election Manny Pacquiao has one, so does his main rival Vice President Leni Robredo.

Political pop songs have been a staple on the campaign trail in the Philippines for decades. Rather than repurposing popular classics, politicians commission their own bespoke tunes to extol their achievements and deride the competition.

But was the trend started 70 years ago by a CIA agent in Manilla tasked with pushing back against the threat of the Soviet Union?

The National has delved into the declassified files of former spy Edward Lansdale — described by former CIA director William Colby as “one of the greatest spies in history” — to see if he was the man behind Magsaysay Mambo, the song that helped propel then defence secretary Ramon Magsaysay to the presidency in 1953.

In the process, we discuss the CIA — and Moscow’s — secret cold war battle for cultural hegemony that saw global stars from painter Jackson Pollock to Jazz legend Louis Armstrong inadvertently enter the payroll of the global powers.

Updated: January 21, 2022, 6:12 AM