Thursday, September 6, 2012

Martial Law in the Philippines: Marcos' Coup to Cling to Power

Sterling Scholastic Records

Ferdinand Marcos had innate personal qualities that make an effective leader. He was a highly intelligent man with a photographic memory, charismatic and possessed the gift of gab. He graduated cum laude in the prestigious University of the Philippines College of Law, and topped the bar exam in 1939 even while in detention in his cell. Ferdinand Marcos, together with his father, brother and brother-in-law was accused of murdering Julio Nalundasan, the opponent of his father in an election. Ferdinand Marcos was tagged as the trigger man by the witnesses. The lower court convicted him and his brother-in-law to death. However, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower court and acquitted them of all charge except the contempt of court charge which was imposed on Ferdinand’s father and brother. Ferdinand’s venture in the world of politics later made him as one of the most known but controversial figures in Philippine history.

The President

Ferdinand Marcos became a congressman from 1949 to 1959. He topped the senatorial election in 1959, and became senate president from 1963 to 1965. In 1965 he succeeded in getting the Nacionalista Party’s nomination to become its standard bearer in the 1965 presidential election and beat incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal, the father of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Marcos performance as president in his first term in office might have earned the approval of the voters to reelect him in 1969 for an unprecedented second and last four-year term of office. His opponent was Senator Sergio Osmeña Jr., the son of an illustrious Commonwealth era Philippine president. Although Marcos won by a wide margin of votes over his opponent, the election was marred with violence. His detractors accused him of vote buying, cheating and using government resources to ensure his re-election.

The Constitutional Convention

On November 20, 1970, the Philippines held election for the members of Constitutional Convention in implementation of a Republic Act that was approved in 1967 by congress. The convention would pave the way for the replacement of American occupation era constitution with a Philippine constitution that was truly conducive to aspirations of the Filipinos. The 1935 constitution which was then in effect banned the incumbent Marcos to run for another third and last term. Marcos, the astute lawyer and politician might have seen a way to get around the constitutional ban to extend his term for many more years. Wary of Marcos, anti Marcos delegates made moves that would ban Marcos, his wife and his immediate family to serve in a new constitution as chief executive. It was found out later that Marcos indeed tried to manipulate the goings on in the convention from an exposé of one delegate, Eduardo Quintero, who claimed that Marcos bribed some of the delegates into crafting  a constitution that was suited to his desires.                                                                                                         

Protests, Demonstrations and the Bombing of Opposition Political Rally

The second term of Marcos was marred by anti-government protest and demonstration in the streets. The economy was in bad shape because of government overspending in the last election. The communist inspired League of Filipino Students and other student groups’ demonstrations became a fixture in the streets. The new generation of communists led by Jose Maria Sison organized the New people’s Army (NPA), the military component of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Over in the South the Muslims waged their armed rebellion.

On August 21, 1971, the proclamation rally of opposition Liberal Party senatorial candidates were bombed at Plaza Miranda in Manila. Several persons died. Many of the senatorial candidates along with the local candidates of Manila were seriously injured. People put the blame on Marcos for the incident. And Marcos Suspended the Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus. That move only aggravated Marcos’ growing unpopularity to the people as shown in the election when all but two of the opposition senatorial candidates won. The attribution of the bombing to Marcos was later found out to be unfair since reliable evidences surfaced many years later that the violent incident was the handiwork of the then nascent NPA.

Marcos’ Likely Successor

The attacks of the media on Marcos and the people’s desire for change made Marcos an unpopular lame duck president as Marcos was drawing near the end of his term.  His archrival, Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., became the darling of the media. The popular senator had garnered the second highest number of votes despite the fact that his young age was questioned and that all opposition senatorial candidates but him won the senatorial election in 1967. He was poised as the most likely successor to Marcos when the later would end his term of office, and that he would also become the youngest person ever to be elected as president of the Philippines.

Martial Law

Bombings in Manila sowed fear and confusion to the people. There was also report on the ambush of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile. He admitted years later that the incident was framed by the government. On September 21, 1972, the radios went off the air.  Newspapers were not in circulation. And only few vehicles were seen in the streets. It was an eerie sight that signified that a sinister event was to come. Those who have short wave radio, a rarity during those days, tuned in to international news to know what was going on. Then suddenly, on September 22, 1972, a TV station was on the air announcing a surprising if not a shocking news that confirmed what the people had heard in international media: Marcos issued Proclamation 1081 placing the entire country under the state of Martial Law.

Relative to the proclamation, radio stations and newspaper publications except those authorized by the government were closed. The congress was also padlocked and prominent opposition lawmakers such as Senators Aquino, Diokno, Salonga and many others and critical media men were incarcerated. Known communist leaders and student activist leaders were also rounded up and imprisoned.  

With the military in control, order was established. The streets were clean. Criminal elements were driven off the streets and put to jail and drug dealers were arrested. Obedience to law which redounded to the good of the community was the order of the day during the early stage of martial law. People’s worry and apprehension of martial law were replaced with optimism. And people began to tolerate or accept Martial law and see it in a positive light.

Approval and Ratification of the 1973 Constitution by the Citizens’ Assembly

The delegates finished and approved the draft of the constitution on November 29, 1972. The atmosphere of Martial Law might have influenced its final outcome. Some anti-Marcos delegates were detained, others went into hiding or exile. Marcos then issued a decree setting the date of the plebiscite on January 15, 1973. On January 7 of that year he issued order postponing the election indefinitely. In the absence of congress, Marcos exercise legislative powers by issuing decrees.

On January 15, 1973, the citizens’ assembly voted for ratification of the 1973 constitution. It also voted for the suspension for the convening of National Assembly, the continuation of Martial law and a moratorium on election for at least 7 years. On September 22, 1976, Marcos through the Citizen’s assembly made following amendments to the constitution: the Interim Batasan Pambansa (IBP) would replace the national assembly and that the president (Marcos) should also be the prime minister and would continue to exercise legislative power until martial law was lifted.

The IBP Election

On April 7, 1978, Marcos held the election of the members of the Interim Batasan Pambansa (IBP). In Metro Manila, the national capital, Benigno Aquino in his detention cell ran as one of the 21 opposition candidates. He was up against the group of Imelda Marcos, wife of President Marcos, of the Kilusan Bagong Lipunan (KBL). Aquino ran against the advice of Liberal Party which opted to Boycott the election. As expected, Imelda Marcos and his group won all of Metro Manila’s seats in the Batasan with the last ranked administration party candidate winner beating Aquino by more than a million votes. However, many people did not believe the result and suspected that the party of the administration cheated.

Marcos, the Dictator and the Flaws and Problems of His regime

Slowly but surely, the real ugly nature of Martial law begun to show. Although Marcos built infrastructures which were bigger than what his predecessors did combined, the economy took turn for the worst because of perceived and real institutionalized corruption of the Marcos regime. The National debts began to balloon to an unprecedented level. Marcos, his family and his cronies took over establishments of prominent businessmen opposed to the regime. And men in uniforms were accused of human rights abuses.                                                                                                                                           

Although the IBP already functioned, most people viewed it as just a mere rubber stamp of Marcos who would do all his bidding. Despite its existence, Marcos could still exercise legislative powers. Marcos’ executive and legislative powers plus his influence on the judiciary and his control over the military and the police made him an extremely strong executive who can determine the fate of all government agencies and their personnel whether civilian or military. They were afraid of him because of the absence of credible check and balance in the government. Marcos was eventually dubbed by his critics as a dictator. The repressive government of Marcos swelled the number of armed insurgents. The rebel groups even jokingly tagged Marcos as their biggest recruiter for new members.

The Lifting of Martial Law and the First Presidential Election under the 1973 Constitution

Marcos lifted Martial Law on January 17, 1981. His critics said that it was a move to draw his administration closer to that of US President Ronald Reagan, and to sanitize his image for the coming of Pope John Paul II to the country in February that year. On April 1981, the IBP made amendments to the constitution making it semi-presidential with the president restored from being mere symbolic head into the head of the government and the chief executive.                                                                                                                

In June 16, 1981, the first presidential election under the 1973 constitution was to be held. Marcos wanted that election to shore up his image and to restore his credibility abroad. However, the oppositions refused to participate in the election fearing that Marcos would cheat them again as he did in the 1978 IBP election. They were also uncomfortable with Marcos’ inaction to cleanse the Commission on Election’s voters’ list. No credible candidate showed up until Alejo Santos declared his candidacy. People suspected Santos to have been bribed by Marcos to run against him to show a semblance of democratic electoral process. Santos did not make a serious campaign for the election and the result was a lopsided win by Marcos.

The Assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino and Its Disastrous Consequences

In 1983, Benigno Aquino Jr., who had been allowed by Marcos to have a medical surgery in the United States, returned to the Philippines. Upon his arrival at the Manila International Airport, he was whisked by military men and assassinated at the tarmac. Filipinos suspected Marcos to be behind the incident to get rid of his political archrival, and were incensed with it. In Manila, the national capital, the intellectuals, the middle class and the Catholic clergies led by Jaime Cardinal Sin initiated the call for Marcos’ resignation. The turmoil had taken its toll on the economy. Investors refused to invest in the Philippines and the international financial institutions too were reluctant to lend money to the government.                                                                                                   

The Parliamentary Election and the Worsening Problems

The assassination of Aquino changed the attitude of the Filipino from apathetic citizens unassertive of their rights into ones who were seekers of truth and justice. The strong demand of Marcos’ ouster encouraged the opposition group to participate in the parliamentary election of 1984. Although KBL, the party of Marcos still got the most number of seats in the parliament, a significant number of opposition candidates managed to get through.                                                                                                                      

The election and its result did not help any to lessen the protest and disaffection of the people against Marcos. Aggravating the situation was the rumor of Marcos’ ill health. People were apprehensive of what was to take place and who would replace him if he was suddenly gone. Some people speculated that Marcos was no longer in control of the situation and that he was not his former self anymore because of his sickness. Meanwhile, the economic situation worsened, and the communist insurgency grew stronger than ever. The Philippines became the sick man of Asia.

The Snap Election and the People Power Revolution

In an effort to prove to the international community that the Filipinos were still behind him, Marcos called for a snap Presidential election which was to be held on February 7, 1986. His opponent was Corazon Aquino, the widow of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. Although Marcos, was proclaimed winner by the Batasan Pambansa and the Commission on Election, his political opponents and some of the people claimed that he and his allies tampered with the election result.

The series of events that followed brought about more protests and call for Marcos resignation. Marcos’ moment of truth came when his defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and the Philippine Constabulary Chief General Fidel Ramos announced their resignation from office and holed themselves up in Camp Crame to protect themselves from possible assault by Marcos’ military loyalists. Cardinal Sin’s call to the people to rally behind Ramos and Enrile prevented Marcos’ troops to get them because of the throng of people that surrounded and protected them. Soldiers sympathetic to Ramos and Enrile also joined them.                                                                           

On the morning of February 25, 1986, amidst the turmoil that took place, Corazon Aquino was inaugurated as President of the Philippines by her supporters in a simple ceremony at Green Hills near Camp Crame. An hour later, in Malacañang, Marcos, not to be outdone, inaugurated himself too as the duly elected president. Mass of people attempted to storm Malacañang but was stopped by loyalist troops. Marcos could not order his troops to deal with the rebel soldiers and the civilian protesters because of the possibility that it would result to huge bloodshed. Marcos called on the United States to ask for advice. “Cut and cut cleanly,” Sen. Paul Laxalt told him. It was a strong statement from the US government for Marcos to go. Marcos and his family were rescued with four Sikorsky helicopters on February 25 and landed them in Clark Air Base where US air force planes transported them to Guam en route to Marcos’ exile in Hawaii. Marcos died in Honolulu, Hawaii on September 28, 1989, of kidney, heart and lung diseases.

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