25 September 2014

"Leader for Life" Ambition Was Marcos' Biggest Blunder

Martial Law
For those who lived through the martial law days in the Philippines, it was obvious back then that President Ferdinand Marcos had lied to the people since the day he became president. His ambition to become the ‘leader for life’ was the greatest blunder he ever made and the country had to pay a very stiff price.

When Marcos defeated then President Diosdado Macapagal in the 1965 election, the country’s foreign debt was merely US$ 7 billion. But when he fled the country after 21 years in power, including 14 year of strongman rule, on widespread allegations of plundering the national coffers, the country’s foreign debt had ballooned to US$ 25 billion.

"The economy appeared to have improved because he was borrowing from the World Bank so he had money to show," said veteran journalist-lawyer Manuel F. Almario, editor of the independent Philippine News Service (PNS), when he was interviewed by Joel C. Paredes of InterAksyon.com in 2013.

When the strongman clamped down on all media networks in 1972, Almario was arrested. Military authorities sequestered the PNS, which was later renamed Philippine News Agency to become part of the government information network.

In 1969, Mr. Marcos was the first Philippine president to win with a great majority of votes for a second term, but amid charges by the opposition that he was re-elected because he spent government money for his campaign.

His inauguration in January the next year was marred by the first massive student demonstration in front of the old Congress building. As an emerging fiscal crisis cast a shadow on the country, Mr. Marcos was accused of having bankrupted the government. Prices were soaring and there was trouble in the streets.

Two months before the declaration of martial law in 1972, Almario wrote the cover story for the special edition of Weekly Graphic, a hard-hitting magazine, warning that if Marcos declared martial law he would be going against the Constitution.

The 1935 Constitution states that the President can declare martial law only in cases of rebellion, insurrection or invasion or imminent danger thereof.

But as early as February 1972, Manila Chronicle editor Amante Paredes had already come out with a front-page story quoting high-level sources on Marcos’ plan to impose martial rule to perpetuate himself in power.

That was also the time when Marcos heightened his anti-communist propaganda, accusing his opponents of conniving with the underground rebels to oust his government.

"But he (Mr. Marcos) was a smart lawyer and he said the country is facing a communist rebellion and a Muslim armed secession in the south," says Almario. "When you want to impose dictatorship, you’re going to lie to the people and tell them that they are going to get peace and order, justice, economic progress."

Marcos arrested alleged warlords, and Almario recalled having joined in his cell at Camp Crame, the strongman’s influential provincemate Roque Ablan and Moises Espinosa of Masbate.

"But that’s [arrest of warlords and strong local leaders] only for show, and he freed them afterwards when people believed that he was sincere," he says. The two men, Roque and Espinosa, became his trusted political allies in the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), the monolithic party that he organized after the Charter was amended, allowing him to run in a new parliamentary system of government.