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Analysis Of The Fall Of Ferdinand Marcos Essay

October 10, 2001 Word Count: 2466 Research Question: How did Ferdinand E. Marcos eventually fall from power?


Ferdinand E. Marcos was the longest reigning Philippine president in history. His rule spanned 20 years, beginning in 1965 up to his downfall in 1983. He was the first and only president re-elected so far (first in 1969 and second in 1981). After his second term, corruption in his administration was rampant. For 20 years he ruled the Philippines with an iron fist, and amassed a personal fortune. According to all sources, he managed to prolong his term for so long through his “private military” (Sonia M. Zaide, 217) that crushed or silenced opposition against him. His attempts to prolong his term however, were also responsible for the dissatisfaction of his people and the growth in opposition and against him which eventually led to his downfall, after the assassination of Benigno Aquino on 1983.


Marcos came from a rich and politically prominent family in Ilocos, a province in the northern part of the Philippines. He began his political career in 1949, being elected to the House of Representatives as congressman of Ilocos. In 1965, he was elected as President of the Senate. He then (as a Nacionalista, one of the 2 main political parties) ran for president and gained victory over the incumbent president, Diosdado Macapagal. Marcos promised to “make the nation great again,” and during his first term of 6 years Marcos gained widespread popularity through his extensive economic and political achievements. In 1969 Marcos became the first (and up to the moment, still the only) re-elected president of the Philippines. During his second term however, Marcos lost popularity due to the extensive graft and corruption of his favoured cronies, and the human rights violations of the Marcos administration when he proclaimed Martial Law on September 21, 1972. He lifted Martial Law in 1981 after reducing the opposition by intimidation.

During his second re-election in 1981, Marcos had only one opponent, Alejo Santos of the Nacionalista party, because Senator Benigno Aquino (who was his only credible opponent) was living in exile in the United States. During the next years, the Philippine economy was considered “the sick man of Asia” (Time Magazine). In 1982, Marcos was sickly and he was absent in many official ceremonies. During this time, his wife (Imelda Marcos) and her cronies were unofficially running the country. It was during this time, when on August 21, 1983, his long time rival, Benigno Aquino (wife of Benigno Aquino), returned to the Philippines. He was assassinated in broad daylight in the Manila International Airport by one of the government military escorts and this incident was captured by camera (Don Lawson, 1).

This infuriated the Filipino people, which was the final blow to his rule. After days of mass rallies and demonstrations all over the country, he called as snap election as part of his strategy to maintain his credibility in the international body. He was declared the official winner because of massive vote buying and cheating and intimation. The mass rallies and demonstrations continued nationwide which paralyzed the government operations ” for example, banks were closed and transport services were on strike, and part of the military rebelled, and all these led to the now popular EDSA Revolution (also known as “People Power”) on February 16, 1986 which toppled Marcos’ rule.


The causes of Marcos’ downfall can be divided into two parts ” long term causes and short term causes. Marcos’ acts of corruption which include: his attainment of large sums of money from the Philippine treasury during his reign, abuse of military power to suppress opposition and maintain a firm grip on presidency, and his political schemes to prolong his rule were responsible for creating an atmosphere of hatred and discontent on Marcos’ rule, under the overriding atmosphere of fear created by the resulting suppression of any threats to his power. These doings cultivated the seeds of dissatisfaction which soon developed into unified hatred towards Marcos’ reign. There was widespread discontent, but this discontent was still silent. The short-term or immediate cause of Marcos’ downfall was the Assassination of Ninoy Aquino. The “assassination brought Philippine’s economic shambles to world attention” (Fred Poole and Max Vanzi, 244) and lead to Marcos’ fall from power after the EDSA revolution.


The military was the initial basis of Marcos’ power. Marcos’ military control provided him with a huge political advantage. Marcos used the military to create an atmosphere of terror, to discourage opposition and eliminate any threats to his power to enable him to continue his rule over the country. During his reign, bribery and intimidation of voters during elections was rampant. As the corruption in the Marcos administration became widespread, demonstrations occurred as student activism rose, but were quickly suppressed by his military. An example of this is the “Battle of Mendiola” on January 1970, in which demonstrators tried to storm in the gates of the Malacanang Palace (the Philippine Presidential building, similar to the White House). It was the most violent of the student demonstrations (Florida C. Leuterio, 151). Due to the increase in violence Marcos imposed martial law in 1972. According to all sources consulted, there may have been a possibility that some acts of violence were planned by Marcos to ensure the legitimacy of his declaration of martial law.

Since the constitution limited his presidency for merely two terms, he was due to step down on December 30 1973. However, upon the proclamation of martial law, he would be able to perpetuate his rule over the Philippines, because the 1935 constitution had not stated the limitations for the length of martial law (Florida C. Leuterio, 153). Marcos then used the military to detain Filipinos suspected of subversion. This included all critics/activists (ranging from students to professionals), and potential political opponents. They were tortured by their captors and many were then held in military detention camps. Marcos’ “military establishment tightened its grasp into a stranglehold through increased terror” (Fred Poole and Max Vanzi, 208). Although POLITICAL SCHEMES TO PROLONG HIS TERM AND GAIN POWER For more than 20 years Marcos was able to prolong his term.

Through his political schemes and manipulations, Marcos was able to continue with his presidency despite the limitation of only eight consecutive years, the decline of his country’s economy, and the harsh conditions suffered by the majority of its citizens. Even before the presidential elections of 1965 Marcos received numerous military decorations which made him one of the most decorated heroes of World War II. Through this, Marcos gained popular American support, and gained an edge in the 1965 Elections. Sterling Seagrave (author of The Marcos Dynasty) states that Marcos had merely invented the feats made the Philippines most decorated World War II hero.

Don Lawson (author of Marcos and the Philippines) however, does not state that Marcos has invented those feats. During 1971 a Constitutional Convention was held to rewrite the 1935 constitution which would then enable Marcos to continue in power under the new constitution. On 1973 he enforced the new constitution which would give him both the powers of a president and a prime minister (until one is elected). The constitution was ratified through citizen assemblies by raise of hands. Due to the prevailing atmosphere, the people adopted to the new constitution. During elections, Marcos engaged in massive fraud to ensure his victory.


According to Australian investigator Reiner Jacobi the Marcos rule was economically disastrous for the Philippines. Financial he discovered showed that Marcos had “systematically looted his country for over 20 years.” He states that the Marcos’ taken at least $5 billion in “ill-gotten wealth” and that there is other material suggesting that Marcos took even more. Marcos “used his favourites”¦ to take charge of the nation’s natural and human resources and its big economic ventures.” Journalist Ron Whittaker goes on to prove that as Marcos and his family amassed a personal fortune, through stealing from the Philippine treasury.

He states that “Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars from the United States each year, Marcos’ government was falling increasingly into debt; and, even as his personal fortunes rapidly escalated, the majority of his people were living in poverty.” Although Marcos succeeded in intimidating his opposition and prolonging his term, his abuse of power exposed his corruptness to the people, which thus created an atmosphere of discontent towards him which continued to build up and would eventually cause his downfall. However, due to the atmosphere of fear Marcos has created, there was still a lack of motivation to call for reform and stand up against the threat of Marcos’ military.


The final blow happened when Benigno Aquino, his only credible opponent, was assassinated by his military escorts, with this incident captured in video tape and broadcast in the foreign media. The event shocked the not only the Filipino people, but the whole world, as footage of the assassination was aired internationally (Sonia M. Zaide, 217). The Assassination was the last act of injustice that the people would take from Marcos. This infuriated the Filipino people, who became bold because of their outrage. Benigno Aquino was transformed into a national idol (Florida C. Leuterio). It created anger in the Filipino’s that was able to supersede the atmosphere of fear. His death awakened the Filipinos to the “Evils of Marcos.” In addition to this militant groups (the August Twenty-One movement, Justice for Aquino, Justice for all, and BAYAN” were organized. They staged demonstrations calling for an end to Marcos’ rule. Aquino’s death caused a chain reaction of events that eventually forced Marcos out of power.

As the Philippine economy deteriorated the Filipinos became poorer and poorer. Anti-Marcos demonstrations cause the decline of the tourism industry. Rampant corruption discouraged foreign investors. High oil prices, and the price decline of traditional exports caused a slow down in economic activity. The government was forced to borrow from the IMF, World Bank, the US and its foreign creditors pressured Marcos to implement reforms as a condition for granting him economic and financial assistance. Their actions were like a vote of no confidence to the Marcos rule and legitimacy as the living conditions of the Filipino’s had furthermore worsened (Florida C. Leuterio, 165). Their actions resulted in further depreciation of the Philippine Peso. As many businesses slowed down, there were mass layoffs which, in turn, caused more poverty and the further disenchantment of the people.

Marcos’ effort to survive by calling and winning the snap elections on 1986 failed because of the massive cheating, and the people truly believed Cory Aquino was the true victor. Doubt and scepticism on Marcos furthermore threatened his rule. A group of reformist lead by Fidel V. Ramos, and Juan Ponce Enrile made plans to face the Marcos loyalist and overthrow Marcos. In an attempt to prevent a bloody civil war Cory Aquino launched civil disobedience nationwide in a movement which became known as EDSA or “People Power.” The Filipinos made a human barricade that prevented the two forces from attacking each other. US senator Paul Laxalt advised him to “cut, and cut clean.” Marcos was forced to exile in Hawaii on February 25, 1986.

According to Dr. Florida C. Leuterio (author of Philippine History and Government), despite the hopelessness of the situation, Marcos had not yet give up and attempted to impose martial law once again. The plan was code-named “Everlasting.” He was to send soldiers dressed in civilian clothing to spread violence and terror. This incident would eventually give him an excuse to once again impose martial law and thus, furthermore prolonging his term. However, before he could put his plan into act, the EDSA revolution took place. This truly exposes the corruptness of Marcos’ and furthermore proves his unjust nature and his illegitimacy as president. Sterling Seagrave adds that just before the inauguration of Cory Aquino, Marcos had contacted Enrile offering to set up a provisional government were Cory Aquino, Enrile, and Marcos would rule. This goes to show Marcos’ sheer determination to retain his presidency and prolong his term.


Ron Whittaker (a journalist who studies the effects on Media in politics) believes that the media has had a crucial role in contributing to the downfall of Marcos (both in exposing his corruption, and also in helping organize the EDSA revolution) and that Marcos might have retained his presidency if it were not for the media. He states that because of Marcos’ control over the media, the international community was not aware of the situation in the Philippines because unless certain attention is required, the “international media take their cues from local press coverage.” I strongly support this and believe that the media was essential in the downfall of Marcos.

The assassination of Benigno Aquino was a key factor and the immediate cause of Marcos’ fall from power. It was the event that fuelled the Filipino’s angers and made them take action. It was the event that caused international eyes to observe the situation in the Philippines. This in turn, forced Marcos to think twice before carrying out his military abuses.


The Marcos experience teaches us that power corrupts and creates a situation which ultimately impoverishes the country and its people. The main cause of Marcos downfall is the suffering and poverty he created during his rule. Not even his control of the military can sustain him forever. Eventually he lost major support of the people, the church, and part of the military mutinied. (Unlike Lee Kuan Yu of Singapore who was also an authoritarian leader, but he was perceived as honest and he was able to improve the economy of Singapore and the standard of living of his people. Even up to now Lee Kuan Yu is still active as a senior minister and highly respected all over the world, a sharp contrast to what happened to Marcos).

Even if Marcos did not commit the fatal mistake of assassinating Benigno Aquino, I believe that it merely hastened the process and it would be only a question of time, before he will replaced by the people in a popular election or uprising. In this world of modern television and CNN, a corrupt leader like Marcos would not be able to sustain his image as a legitimate leader of his people. In many ways, the experience of Soeharto, who also had complete control of the military, also proves that a leader today cannot survive if there is widespread corruption and poverty in his country. With the help of the pouring international media, Marcos not only gained opposition locally, but abroad as well, and as a result of this Marcos was eventually forced to step down from power.

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