Marcos and the Road to Martial Law, 1965-72
In the presidential election of 1965, the Nacionalista candidate, Ferdinand E. Marcos (1917-90), triumphed over Macapagal. Marcos dominated the political scene for the next two decades, first as an elected president in 1965 and 1969, and then as a virtual dictator after his 1972 proclamation of martial law. He was born in llocos Norte Province at the northwestern tip of Luzon, a traditionally poor and clannish region. He was a brilliant law student, who successfully argued before the Philippine Supreme Court in the late 1930s for a reversal of a murder conviction against him (he had been convicted of shooting a political rival of his father). During World War II, Marcos served in the Battle of Bataan and then claimed to have led a guerrilla unit, the Maharlikas. Like many other aspects of his life, Marcos's war record, and the large number of United States and Philippine military medals that he claimed (at one time including the Congressional Medal of Honor), came under embarrassing scrutiny during the last years of his presidency. His stories of wartime gallantry, which were inflated by the media into a personality cult during his years in power, enthralled not only Filipino voters but also American presidents and members of Congress.
In 1949 Marcos gained a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives; he became a senator in 1959. His 1954 marriage to former beauty queen Imelda Romualdez provided him with a photogenic partner and skilled campaigner. She also had family connections with the powerful Romualdez political dynasty of Leyte in the Visayas.
During his first term as president, Marcos initiated ambitious public works projects--roads, bridges, schools, health centers, irrigation facilities, and urban beautification projects--that improved the quality of life and also provided generous pork barrel benefits for his friends. Massive spending on public works was, politically, a cost-free policy not only because the pork barrel won him loyal allies but also because both local elites and ordinary people viewed a new civic center or bridge as a benefit. By contrast, a land reform program--part of Marcos's platform as it had been that of Macapagal and his predecessors--would alienate the politically all-powerful landowner elite and thus was never forcefully implemented.
Marcos lobbied rigorously for economic and military aid from the United States but resisted pressure from President Lyndon Johnson to become significantly involved in the Second Indochina War. Marcos's contribution to the war was limited to a 2,000- member Philippine Civic Action Group sent to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) between 1966 and 1969. The Philippines became one of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), established in 1967. Disputes with fellow ASEAN member Malaysia over Sabah in northeast Borneo, however, continued, and it was discovered, after an army mutiny and murder of Muslim troops in 1968 (the "Corregidor Incident"), that the Philippine army was training a special unit to infiltrate Sabah (see Relations with Asian Neighbors , ch. 4).
Although Marcos was elected to a second term as president in 1969--the first president of the independent Philippines to gain a second term--the atmosphere of optimism that characterized his first years in power was largely dissipated. Economic growth slowed. Ordinary Filipinos, especially in urban areas, noted a deteriorating quality of life reflected in spiraling crime rates and random violence. Communist insurgency, particularly the activity of the Huks--had degenerated into gangsterism during the late 1950s, but the Communist Party of the Philippines-Marxist Leninist, usually referred to as the CPP, was "reestablished" in 1968 along Maoist lines in Tarlac Province north of Manila, leaving only a small remnant of the orgiinal PKP. The CPP's military arm, the New People's Army (NPA), soon spread from Tarlac to other parts of the archipelago. On Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago, violence between Muslims and Christians, the latter often recent government-sponsored immigrants from the north, was on the rise. In 1969 the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was organized on Malaysian soil. The MNLF conducted an insurrection supported by Malaysia and certain Islamic states in the Middle East, including Libya.
The carefully crafted "Camelot" atmosphere of Marcos's first inauguration, in which he cast himself in the role of John F. Kennedy with Imelda as his Jackie, gave way in 1970 to general dissatisfaction with what had been one of the most dishonest elections in Philippine history and fears that Marcos might engineer change in the 1935 constitution to maintain himself in power. On January 30, 1970, the "Battle of Mendiola," named after a street in front of the Malacaņang Palace, the presidential mansion, pitted student demonstrators, who tried to storm the palace, against riot police and resulted in many injuries.
Random bombings, officially attributed to communists but probably set by government agents provocateurs, occurred in Manila and other large cities. Most of these only destroyed property, but grenade explosions in the Plaza Miranda in Manila during an opposition Liberal Party rally on August 21, 1971, killed 9 people and wounded 100 (8 of the wounded were Liberal Party candidates for the Senate). Although it has never been conclusively shown who was responsible for the bombing, Marcos blamed leftists and suspended habeas corpus--a prelude to martial law. But evidence subsequently pointed, again, to government involvement.
Government and opposition political leaders agreed that the country's constitution, American-authored during the colonial period, should be replaced by a new document to serve as the basis for thorough-going reform of the political system. In 1967 a bill was passed providing for a constitutional convention, and three years later, delegates to the convention were elected. It first met in June 1971.
The 1935 constitution limited the president to two terms. Opposition delegates, fearing that a proposed parliamentary system would allow Marcos to maintain himself in power indefinitely, prevailed on the convention to adopt a provision in September 1971 banning Marcos and members of his family from holding the position of head of state or government under whatever arrangement was finally established. But Marcos succeeded, through the use of bribes and intimidation, in having the ban nullified the following summer. Even if Marcos had been able to contest a third presidential term in 1973, however, both the 1971 mid-term elections and subsequent public opinion polls indicated that he or a designated successor--Minister of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile or the increasingly ambitious Imelda Marcos--would likely be defeated by his arch-rival, Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.
Proclamation 1081 and Martial Law
On September 21, 1972, Marcos issued Proclamation 1081, declaring martial law over the entire country. Under the president's command, the military arrested opposition figures, including Benigno Aquino, journalists, student and labor activists, and criminal elements. A total of about 30,000 detainees were kept at military compounds run by the army and the Philippine Constabulary. Weapons were confiscated, and "private armies" connected with prominent politicians and other figures were broken up. Newspapers were shut down, and the mass media were brought under tight control. With the stroke of a pen, Marcos closed the Philippine Congress and assumed its legislative responsibilities. During the 1972-81 martial law period, Marcos, invested with dictatorial powers, issued hundreds of presidential decrees, many of which were never published.
Like much else connected with Marcos, the declaration of martial law had a theatrical, smoke-and-mirrors quality. The incident that precipitated Proclamation 1081 was an attempt, allegedly by communists, to assassinate Minister of National Defense Enrile. As Enrile himself admitted after Marcos's downfall in 1986, his unoccupied car had been riddled by machinegun bullets fired by his own men on the night that Proclamation 1081 was signed.
Most Filipinos--or at least those well positioned within the economic and social elites--initially supported the imposition of martial law. The rising tide of violence and lawlessness was apparent to everyone. Although still modest in comparison with the Huk insurgency of the early 1950s, the New People's Army was expanding, and the Muslim secessionist movement continued in the south with foreign support. Well-worn themes of communist conspiracy--Marcos claimed that a network of "front organizations" was operating "among our peasants, laborers, professionals, intellectuals, students, and mass media personnel"--found a ready audience in the United States, which did not protest the demise of Philippine democracy.
From Aquino's Assassination to People's Power
Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino was, like his life-long rival Ferdinand Marcos, a consummate politician, Philippine-style. Born in 1932, he interrupted his college studies to pursue a journalistic career, first in wartime Korea and then in Vietnam, Malaya, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Like Marcos, a skilled manager of his own public image, he bolstered his popularity by claiming credit for negotiating the May 1954 surrender of Huk leader Luis Taruc. The Aquino family was to Tarlac Province in Central Luzon what the Marcos family was to Ilocos Norte and the Romualdez family was to Leyte: a political dynasty. Aquino became the governor of Tarlac Province in 1963, and a member of the Senate in 1967. His marriage to Corazon Cojuangco, a member of one of the country's richest and most prominent Chinese mestizo families, was, like Marcos's marriage to Imelda Romualdez, a great help to his political career. If martial law had not been declared in September 1972, Aquino would probably have defeated Marcos or a hand-picked successor in the upcoming presidential election. Instead, he was one of the first to be jailed when martial law was imposed.
Aquino's years in jail--physical hardship, the fear of imminent death at the hands of his jailers, and the opportunity to read and meditate--seemed to have transformed the fast-talking political operator into a deeper and more committed leader of the democratic opposition. Although he was found guilty of subversion and sentenced to death by a military court in November 1977, Aquino, still in prison, led the LABAN (Lakas Ng Bayan--Strength of the Nation) party in its campaign to win seats in the 1978 legislative election and even debated Marcos's associate, Enrile, on television. The vote was for seats in the legislature called the National Assembly, initiated in 1978, which was, particularly in its first three years essentially a rubber-stamp body designed to pass Marcos's policies into law with the appearance of correct legal form. (The LABAN was unsuccessful, but it gained 40 percent of the vote in Metro Manila.)
Allowed to go to the United States for medical treatment in 1980, Benigno Aquino, accompanied by his wife, became a major leader of the opposition in exile. In 1983 Aquino was fully aware of the dangers of returning to the Philippines. Imelda Marcos had pointedly advised him that his return would be risky, claiming that communists or even some of Marcos's allies would try to kill him. The deterioration of the economic and political situation and Marcos's own worsening health, however, persuaded Aquino that the only way his country could be spared civil war was either by persuading the president to relinquish power voluntarily or by building a responsible, united opposition. In his view, the worst possible outcome was a post-Marcos regime led by Imelda and backed by the military under Ver.
Aquino was shot in the head and killed as he was escorted off an airplane at Manila International Airport by soldiers of the Aviation Security Command on August 21, 1983. The government's claim that he was the victim of a lone communist gunman, Rolando Galman (who was conveniently killed by Aviation Security Command troops after the alleged act), was unconvincing. A commission appointed by Marcos and headed by jurist Corazon Agrava concluded in their findings announced in late October 1984, that the assassination was the result of a military conspiracy. Marcos's credibility, both domestically and overseas, was mortally wounded when the Sandiganbayan, a high court charged with prosecuting government officials for crimes, ignored the Agrava findings, upheld the government's story, and acquitted Ver and twenty-four other military officers and one civilian in December 1985.
Although ultimate responsibility for the act still had not been clearly determined in the early 1990s, on September 28, 1990, a special court convicted General Luther Custodio and fifteen other officers and enlisted members of the Aviation Security Command of murdering Aquino and Galman. Most observers believed, however, that Imelda Marcos and Fabian Ver wanted Aquino assassinated. Imelda's remarks, both before and after the assassination, and the fact that Ver had become her close confidant, cast suspicion on them.
For the Marcoses, Aquino became a more formidable opponent dead than alive. His funeral drew millions of mourners in the largest demonstration in Philippine history. Aquino became a martyr who focused popular indignation against a corrupt regime. The inevitable outcome--Marcos's overthrow--could be delayed but not prevented.
The People's Power (see Glossary) movement, which bore fruit in the ouster of Marcos on February 25, 1986, was broad-based but primarily, although not exclusively, urban-based, indeed the movement was commonly known in Manila as the EDSA Revolution (see Glossary). People's Power encompassed members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the business elite, and a faction of the armed forces. Its millions of rural, working-class, middle-class, and professional supporters were united not by ideology or class interests, but by their esteem for Aquino's widow, Corazon, and their disgust with the Marcos regime. After her husband's assassination, Corazon Aquino assumed first a symbolic and then a substantive role as leader of the opposition. A devout Catholic and a shy and self-styled "simple housewife," Mrs. Aquino inspired trust and devotion. Some, including top American policy makers, regarded her as inexperienced and naive. Yet in the events leading up to Marcos's ouster she displayed unexpected shrewdness and determination.