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The Marcos era and Martial Law (1965-1986)

Diosdado Macapagal ran for reelection in 1965, but was defeated by former party-mate, Senate President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who had switched to the Nacionalista Party. Ferdinand E. Marcos, who succeeded to the presidency after defeating Macapagal in the 1965 elections, inherited the territorial dispute over Sabah; in 1968 he approved a congressional bill annexing Sabah to the Philippines. Malaysia suspended diplomatic relations (Sabah had joined the Federation of Malaysia in 1963), and the matter was referred to the United Nations. (The Philippines dropped its claim to Sabah in 1978.) The Philippines became one of the founding countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967. The continuing need for land reform promoted a new Huk uprising in central Luzon, accompanied by mounting assassinations and acts of terror, and in 1969, Marcos began a major military campaign to control them. Civil war also threatened on Mindanao, where groups of Moros opposed Christian settlement.

As president, Ferdinand Marcos embarked on a massive spending in infrastructural development, such as roads, health centers and schools as well as intensifying tax collection which gave the Philippines a taste of economic prosperity throughout the 1970's. He built more schools than all his predecessors combined.

In Nov., 1969, Marcos won an unparalleled reelection, easily defeating Sergio Osmeña, Jr., but the election was accompanied by violence and charges of fraud, and Marcos’s second term began with increasing civil disorder. However, he was unable to reduce massive government corruption or to create economic growth proportional to population growth. The Communist Party of the Philippines formed the New Peoples Army while the Moro National Liberation Front fought for an independent Mindanao.

In Jan., 1970, some 2,000 demonstrators tried to storm Malacañang Palace, the presidential residence; rebellions erupted against the U.S. embassy. When Pope Paul VI visited Manila in Nov., 1970, an attempt was made on his life. In 1971, at a Liberal party rally, hand grenades were thrown at the speakers’ platform, and several people were killed. President Marcos declared martial law in Sept., 1972, charging that a Communist rebellion threatened. The 1935 constitution was replaced (1973) by a new one that provided the president with direct powers. A plebiscite (July, 1973) gave Marcos the right to remain in office beyond the expiration (Dec., 1973) of his term. Meanwhile the fighting on Mindanao had spread to the Sulu Archipelago. By 1973 some 3,000 people had been killed and hundreds of villages burned. Throughout the 1970s poverty and governmental corruption increased, and Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand’s wife, became more influential. Congress called for a Constitutional Convention in 1970 in response to public cry for a new constitution to replace the colonial 1935 Constitution.

An explosion during the proclamation rally of the senatorial slate of the opposition Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila on August 21, 1971, prompted Marcos to suspend the writ of habeas corpus hours after the blast, which he restored on January 11, 1972 after public protests.

Martial Law (1972-1981)

ferdinand marcosUsing the rising wave of lawlessness and the threat of a Communist insurgency as justification, Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972 by virtue of Proclamation No. 1081. Martial Law remained in force until 1981, when Marcos was reelected, in the midst of accusations of electoral fraud. Marcos, ruling by decree, curtailed press freedom and other civil liberties; closed down Congress and media establishments; and ordered the arrest of opposition leaders and militant activists, including his staunchest critics Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. and Senator Jose Diokno. Initially, the declaration of martial law was well received, given the social turmoil the Philippines was experiencing. Crime rates plunged dramatically after a curfew was implemented. Political opponents were given the opportunity to go into exile. But, as martial law dragged on for the next nine years, excesses by the military emerged.

Constitutionally barred from seeking another term beyond 1973 and, with his political enemies in jail, Marcos reconvened the Constitutional Convention and maneuvered its proceedings to adopt a parliamentary form of government, paving the way for him to stay in power beyond 1973. Sensing that the constitution would be rejected in a nationwide plebiscite, Marcos decreed the creation of citizens' assemblies which anomalously ratified the constitution.

Even before the Constitution could be fully implemented, several amendments were introduced to it by Marcos, including the prolongation of martial law and permitting himself to be President and concurrent Prime Minister. The economy during the decade was robust, with budgetary and trade surpluses. The Gross National Product rose from P55 billion in 1972 to P193 billion in 1980. Tourism rose, contributing to the economy's growth. The number of tourists visiting the Philippines rose to one million by 1980 from less than 200,000 in previous years. A big portion of the tourist group was composed of Filipino balikbayans (returnees) under the Ministry of Tourism's Balikbayan Program which was launched in 1973.

The first formal elections since 1969 for an interim Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly) were held in 1978. In order to settle the Catholic Church before the visit of Pope John Paul II, Marcos officially lifted martial law on January 17, 1981. However, he retained much of the government's power for arrest and detention. Corruption and nepotism as well as civil unrest contributed to a serious decline in economic growth and development under Marcos, whose health declined due to lupus.

After the Feb., 1986, presidential election, both Marcos and his opponent, Corazon Aquino (the widow of Benigno), declared themselves the winner, and charges of massive fraud and violence were leveled against the Marcos faction. Marcos’s domestic and international support battered and he fled the country on Feb. 25, 1986, finally obtaining refuge in the United States.

The Fourth Republic (1981-1986)

The opposition boycotted presidential elections then developed in June 1981, which pitted Marcos (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan) against retired Gen. Alejo Santos (Nacionalista Party). Marcos won by a margin of over 16 million votes, which constitutionally allowed him to have another six-year term. Finance Minister Cesar Virata was elected as Prime Minister by the Batasang Pambansa.

On Aug. 21, 1983, opposition leader Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. was assassinated at the Manila International Airport upon his return to the Philippines after a long period of exile which encouraged a new, more powerful wave of anti-Marcos dissent. This coalesced popular dissatisfaction with Marcos and began a succession of events, including pressure from the United States that ended in a snap presidential election in February 1986. The opposition united under Aquino's widow, Corazon Aquino, and Salvador Laurel, head of the United Nationalists Democratic Organizations (UNIDO). The elections were held on February 7, 1986. The election was blemished by widespread reports of violence and tampering with results by both sides of the political fence.

The official election canvasser, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), declared Marcos the winner. According to COMELEC's final tally, Marcos won with 10,807,197 votes to Aquino's 9,291,761 votes. By contrast, the final tally of NAMFREL, an accredited poll watcher, said Marcos won with 7,835,070 votes to Aquino's 7,053,068. The allegedly fraudulent result was not accepted by Corazon Aquino and her supporters. International observers, including a U.S. delegation led by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), denounced the official results. Gen. Fidel Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile declared that they no longer supported Marcos.

A peaceful civilian-military uprising forced Marcos into exile and installed Corazon Aquino as president on 25 February 1986.