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Republic of the Philippines, The Marcos Regime

MNLF, Huks, Marcos regime, Moro National Liberation, opposition leaders

The 1965 elections gave the presidency to Ferdinand E. Marcos, the Senate president and Nationalist Party candidate. Rapid economic development created by the American military buildup in Vietnam and ambitious public-works projects, financed by foreign loans, brought prosperity during Marcos’s first term. He was easily reelected in 1969, making him the first Philippine president to win a second term. The Marcos government soon faced several challenges on the domestic front, however. Government debt led to lackluster economic growth, while criticism increased over the dominant U.S. economic position in the Philippines. Many Filipinos actively opposed the continued presence of the U.S. military bases and Marcos’s support for United States policy in Vietnam. In addition, by the early 1970s two separate forces were waging guerrilla war on the government: the New People’s Army (NPA), the militant wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that included former Huks, and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a Muslim separatist movement based in the southern islands.

Meanwhile, government and opposition political leaders agreed to draft a new constitution to replace the American-authored constitution of 1935. That constitution limited the president to two terms. The delegates in charge of drafting the new constitution never finished their work, however, and the 1973 presidential elections never took place. Marcos, citing the need for national security, declared martial law on September 21, 1972. Congress was dissolved, opposition leaders arrested, and strict censorship imposed. A new constitution was promulgated in January 1973, but transitional provisions attached to it gave Marcos continued absolute power, and elections were indefinitely postponed. Marcos ruled by decree.

The United States continued providing military and economic aid to the Philippine government. The country’s continued borrowing and eventual inability to repay its foreign debts led to a severe economic recession in the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, monopolies were established in most sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, media, construction, financial services, and agriculture. Marcos and his wife, Imelda, and their closest associates and relatives controlled these monopolies through a system known as crony capitalism.

Marcos ended martial law in 1981, but he retained sweeping emergency powers. Most opposition groups boycotted the elections held in June of that year, and Marcos won another six-year term as president. In 1983 the widely popular opposition leader Benigno Aquino was assassinated upon his return from years in exile. The political archrival of Marcos, he was one of the first opposition leaders to be arrested after the declaration of martial law.

The assassination led to mass demonstrations in Manila and revitalized the political opposition. For the first time the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church openly opposed the Marcos regime. Regular strikes and demonstrations demanded Marcos’s resignation. Legislative elections were held in 1984 and, despite a boycott by some opposition groups and widespread government vote rigging, opposition parties registered large gains. Meanwhile, a commission concluded that Aquino’s murder was the result of a military conspiracy. However, all 25 defendants were summarily acquitted in 1985.

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