President Ferdinand E. Marcos and his wife Imelda were in their early days seen as the JFK and Jackie Kennedy of the Philippines. Voted President in 1965, Marcos started with infrastructure programs which heavily involved the army – a prelude of what was to come. The first Filipino dictator Emilio Aguinaldo had died in 1964, for all we know the spirit of dictatorship may have then passed on to the next leader.
Hukbalahap founder Luis Taruc had been pardoned and released by Marcos in 1968 and became his staunch supporter, later holding minor positions in the Martial Law government. The Maoist New People’s Army was formed in 1968, under the likewise Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines under Jose Maria Sison. The alleged Jabidah Massacre of Filipino Muslim soldiers who refused to be involved in the covert infiltration of Sabah was instrumental in the founding of the Moro National Liberation Front under Nur Misuari, who had co-founded the communist youth movement Kabataang Makabayan together with Sison in 1964. Massive migration to Mindanao in the 1920s and the 1950s, the latter having had to do with resettlement of amnestied Hukbalahap rebels, had led to discontent among Filipino Muslims.
Marcos won his second term as President by a landslide in 1969, which caused allegations of heavy cheating. Oil prices caused economic problems. The First Quarter Storm erupted in early 1970, with students and laborers marching upon Malacañan Palace. In early 1971, the short-lived Diliman commune was declared at the University of the Philippines, but was quickly crushed by UP police and the Philippine Constabulary.
In the same year, a Liberal Party rally was bombed at Plaza Miranda, killing and wounding numerous prominent politicians. Until today, it is not clarified whether the Communist Party or Marcos himself was behind the bombing.
The Constitutional Convention had also been initiated in that year, with former President Garcia first leading it, then former President Macapagal. Among the proposed amendments was to allow a third term to re-elect the President, which would have allowed Marcos to run again in 1973. But it never came to that. Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972, citing the Plaza Miranda bombing, an ambush on Secretary of Defense Enrile which the latter later admitted was faked, as well as the NPA and MNLF insurgencies as reasons.
The first things that happened were mass detentions, especially of university professors and opposition politicians such as Benigno Aquino Jr. Most newspapers and TV stations were closed. Secretary of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and Philippine Constabulary head Fidel Ramos played a major role in implementing Martial Law as part of the so-called Rolex 12. The documentation of what happened during Martial Law, who were the victims and the reparations for them is not completed to this day. The assets of many Marcos rivals such as Eugenio Lopez Sr., elder brother of Marcos’ former Vice President Fernando Lopez, were confiscated or the owners compelled to sell them to Marcos or his cronies. The ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses is well-documented, but only a part of it has been retrieved. Filipino agents went after anti-Marcos groups in the USA, with the CIA blocking some FBI investigations against them.
The New Society program was launched. Barrios were renamed into barangays which became an integral part of what Marcos called baranganic democracy, including the role of barangay captain in conflict mediation and the role of the barangay tanod in local peacekeeping, while municipal councils were abolished. The Kabataang Barangay were established as the mandatory youth organisation under Imee Marcos, surviving to this day as the Sangguniang Kabataan. Police were centralized into the Integrated National Police, also under the command of General Fidel Ramos, removing them from municipal control which had caused many problems in the past. Private gun ownership was banned while the Army was enlarged. A major Chinese drug lord was publicly executed. Chinese schools in the Philippines were forced to minimize teaching in Chinese and to teach Filipino as a subject to enforce integration of overseas Chinese. Spanish was abolished as a mandatory subject in schools. The claim to the Spratly/Kalayaan islands was made official, oil exploration started. Birth control and attendant sex education were also part of the regime’s programs, inspite of resistance from the Catholic Church. The population of the Philippines in 1973 was around 40 million people.
The focus on organization and infrastructure remained. Metro Manila was formed out of parts of Rizal and Bulacan, with the Metro Manila Commission as the predecessor to today’s MMDA. Urban planning studies commissioned during that time identified EDSA as C-4 and planned for Katipunan to become part of C-5, the first LRT was planned. What later became SLEX and NLEX were extended for the first time, with for example the Candaba Viaduct making travel from Manila to Clark possible much more rapidly. The San Juanico Bridge between Samar and Leyte was part of the ambitious Pan-Philippine highway project. The moribund Philippine National Railway lines in Manila were refurbished to use them for public transport, with new rolling stock bought from Japan. The Philippine Heart Center was built in Quezon City. However, Marcos apparently profited a lot from most infrastructure projects. Land was reclaimed in front of Roxas boulevard, with the Cultural Center of the Philippines as the first building there, the ill-fated Manila Film Center was later built for the one-time Manila International Film Festival in 1982. Cultural projects, just like “beautification projects” in cities and municipalities, were usually under the auspices of First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos.
The plebiscite for the new constitution was cancelled and it was ratified by barangays in 1973, instituting the shift from a Presidential to a Parliamentary form of government. In 1978, the Interim Batasang Pambansa was called into session to manage the transition, with Marcos additionally holding the office of Prime Minister. In the same year, the Sandiganbayan anti-corruption court was called into existence. The Pag-Ibig program to assist common people in getting loans for housing was instituted. The KKK program helped common people start their own businesses.
In addition to the NPA and MNLF insurgencies, an insurgency erupted in the Cordilleras. The killing of tribal leader Macliing Dulag in 1980 played a role in this, as well as the planned Chico River dam project which would have flooded ancestral burial sites. Father Conrado Balweg was the most famous figure of this insurgency and instrumental in bringing about later Cordillera autonomy.
Batasang Pambansa elections were held in 1981, with the opposition parties UNIDO and LABAN boycotting them and the pitiful rest of the Nacionalista Party running as a symbolic opposition against Marcos’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, which won by a landslide, giving Marcos a third term as President, while technocrat economist Cesar Virata became Prime Minister. During Marcos’s inauguration in June 1981, then Vice-President George H. W. Bush said: We love your adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic process, and we will not leave you in isolation. The “New Republic” had begun, yet the health of its leader was fading.
Benigno Aquino Jr., who had been allowed to leave for the United States for heart treatment, was killed at Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983, with vital moments of his return by airplane recorded on videotape and spread around the world. Support for Marcos decreased, with Enrile starting to distance himself carefully and Ronald Reagan no longer giving that much support, the previous administration of Jimmy Carter having already been very critical of Marcos with regards to human rights. There was an impeachment attempt against Marcos in 1985 which did not succeed, but widespread dissatisfaction and the movement that had formed around the martyrdom of Aquino caused Marcos to call snap elections which were held on February 7, 1986.
The COMELEC count showed Marcos as having won, while the count of the newly established NAMFREL showed Aquino’s widow Corazon as having won. The People Power Revolution erupted on February 22, 1986, with Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile withdrawing support from the government. Citizens flocked to EDSA and blocked the way to Camps Aquinaldo and Crame on opposite sides of this major avenue. More troops defected, TV stations were captured and the entire world watched. Upon suggestion of US Senator Laxalt, Marcos left the Philippines for Hawaii with US help on February 25, 1986. President Corazon Aquino had already been sworn in by Senior Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee. Twenty years of Marcos rule had ended.
As a typical authoritarian ruler, Marcos had focused on infrastructure and institutions, but had enriched himself and his cronies while plunging the country into deep debt by heavy international borrowing supported by the United States. President “Cory” Aquino was in power, with Enrile and Ramos at her side, heavily Catholic and indebted to Jaime Cardinal Sin who had supported her. Democracy was back, but later events were to prove that it was very fragile, and that getting the country back on track would be extremely difficult.
The nation still has not overcome the deep scars and divisions left by the Marcos period. By 1986, the population of the Philippines had reached around 55 million, against around 40 million in 1973 and around 30 million in 1965 – in that important aspect, the regime had also failed. That the population would almost double again in the next 30 years did not make things any better. Large numbers of Filipinos had left to work abroad during the Marcos period. In the beginning, they were forced to remit money, until recently they had to pay taxes to the Philippines even if living abroad. The 1976 Tripoli agreement had only temporarily halted the Muslim insurgency – and resettled some Filipino Muslims to Taguig. The NPA insurgency continued, while Cordillera autonomy was to bring peace to that area, where tribesmen poured pig blood on a Mount Rushmore type bust of Marcos as a further chapter in the old tribal conflict between “highlanders” and Ilocano “lowlanders”. American support for Marcos rule and assistance in helping him escape poisoned the relationship between the United States and the Philippines, making it very complex until today.
Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 22. June 2015
P.S. This article is dedicated to all who were wounded by the regime and especially those who remain wounded to this day, whether in body or in spirit. But also to all those who sincerely believed that the regime would bring about better order, unity and progress than the postwar republic before it, which was beset by corruption, disorder and warlordism, and were heavily disappointed.
Part of the Philippine History Series.