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Martial Law

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Ferdinand Marcos, the Senate president, defeated Macapagal in the presidential election to become the country’s tenth president in November 1965. A close ally of the United States, Marcos launched military campaigns against the insurgents including the communist Hukbalahap and Moro rebels in Mindanao. In August 1967, Manila hosted a summit that led to the creation of the ASEAN.

With his reelection in 1969, Marcos had to contend with worsening civil strife. An ideologist named Jose Ma. Sison founded the Communist Party of the Philippines on December 26, 1968. It was during the same year that University of the Philippines Nur Misuari founded the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the armed wing of Islamic resistance movement.

In June 1971, the government convened the Constitutional Convention to amend the Constitution. Ironically, Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972, following a series of bombings in Metro Manila, He abolished Congress, curtailed freedom of the press, imposed curfews, ordered the arrest of his political enemies, prohibited labour unions, and controlled the economy with the help of his cronies. Although his wife Imelda was credited for building some of the country’s finest monuments, she was criticized for personal extravagance, a form of which was maintaining a collection of 3,000 pairs of shoes.

Green Revolution

The so-called green revolution in the early 1970s, which introduced new farming technologies, enabled the Philippines to export rice to its neighbours. The International Rice Research Institute was established in Los Banos town, Laguna province where Thai, Vietnamese and other Asian researchers trained to develop their own rice production. Thailand would later become the world’s largest rice exporter and the Philippines one of the largest rice importers.

With the introduction of new farming technologies, the Philippines became heavily dependent on importer fertilizers, which are mostly fuel-based. The increase in world crude oil prices also pushed prices of fertilizers, to the detriment of Filipino farmers trying to adopt the modern technologies.

Chinese Tycoons

On June 9, 1975, the Marcos administration signed a joint communiqué with Communist China to restore official diplomatic relations. The Communiqué recognized that “there is but one China, of which Taiwan is an integral part. In return, China vowed not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Philippines and refrained from providing any substantial support to the Communist Party of the Philippines, the largest insurgent group in the country.

The largest success story in the Philippines actually involved Chinese merchants who left China in pursuit of business opportunities abroad. Unlike rich American investors, Chinese migrants came to the Philippines with little money but large determination that the country’s democratic society would help them become rich. True enough, they found goldmine in the Philippines. Today, the richest individuals in the Philippines have Chinese names, including billionaires such as Lucio Tan, Henry Sy, John Gokongwei, and George Ty. Together, they are the largest group of investors in the Philippines and control most of the largest companies in the country.

Overseas Workers

Under Martial Law, one man other than Marcos would singularly define labour relations in the Philippines and the role of the Filipino workers in the world. Labour Minister Blas Ople, a former journalist, authored the Labor Code on November 1, 1974 and launched the overseas employment program in 1976, which would send young and talented Filipinos who could not find work at home to other countries for dollar-earning jobs.

Ople obtained the permission of Marcos to deploy thousands of Filipino workers overseas to meet the growing need of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates for skilled workers and the rising demand for Filipino seamen in flag-of-convenience vessels. Hesitant at first, Marcos later conceded to the proposal, if only to tame the growing militancy building among the hearts of the young and intelligent Filipinos who could not find job opportunities in their own land.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) were established to intensify recruitment of Filipino workers. This would make the Philippines the third largest destination of dollar remittances in the world, next to the more populous countries of India and Mexico.

The Marcos administration also tried to court foreign investors, by committing guarantees against nationalization and imposing restrictions on trade-union activity. However, the blatant record of human rights abuses by the military under his administration was a big turnoff among foreigners. Under Martial law, the military and the police killed, abused, or arrested at least 10,000 Filipinos, including some of the brightest students and intellectuals. Many had disappeared without a trace.

While Marcos lifted martial law on January 17, 1981 in time for the visit of Pope John Paul II to Manila in February, he maintained most of his powers as a dictator. Benigno Aquino, an opposition senator living in asylum in the US, decided to return to Manila in 1983. His death, from assassins’ bullets at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport, sparked adverse sentiments against the Marcos administration.

Bankruptcy

As the economy stagnated under the Marcos administration because of a mix of bad economic policies, corruption and uncontrolled population growth, the government had to resort to foreign borrowing to finance the fiscal deficit. In October 1983, the Central Bank notified its creditors about its plan to default payment on debt amounting to US$24.6 billion. With the growing loss of confidence by the business community, the peso depreciated by as much as 21 percent in 1983. The gross domestic product shrank by 6.8 percent in 1984 and by 3.8 percent in 1985.

Emboldened by Marcos’ dipping popularity, the opposition gathered around Aquino’s widow, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, who would later challenge Marcos in the 1986 snap presidential election. When Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly) declared Marcos the winner amid allegations of widespread electoral fraud, protesters, buoyed by Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, trooped to the streets.

Following the defection of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces vice chief Fidel Ramos from Marcos, protesters began converging along EDSA near Ortigas Avenue, which would culminate in the ouster of Marcos from Malacanang Palace on February 25, 1986. The media called the bloodless uprising as the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution - something that political groups would later thought could be replicated time and again.

Democratic Rule

After Marcos, his family and his cronies fled from the Philippines, Aquino became president, organized a new government, freed the political prisoners and tried to restore democratic rule in the country. In February 1987, her government approved a new Constitution, which would later be subjected to heated debates over its restrictive provisions on foreign participation in the economy.

The 1987 Constitution restored the presidential system of government with a bicameral legislature composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives and an independent judiciary headed by the Supreme Court chief justice. To avoid a replication of Marcos’ excesses, the Constitution limited the president’s stay in office to one six-year term. It also created the autonomous regions of Muslim Mindanao and Cordillera and put agrarian reform as the cornerstone of the government’s plan for social transformation.

A renegade faction in the Philippine military launched a series of coup attempts against the Aquino presidency. Perception of political instability dampened economic activities and refrained the economy from matching the large strides taken by its Asian neighbors in the 1980s and 1990s. By this time, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have overtaken the Philippines in the race towards industrialization.

The Arroyo administration, while taking pride of having restored democracy, failed to bring the economy on track towards industrialization, and one of the factors singled out was the president’s political inexperience and lack of consistency in pushing for economic reforms. In the 1992 presidential election, Aquino endorsed the candidacy of her chosen successor – Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos.

In June 1991, Mount Pinatubo’s powerful eruption sent tons of ashes around the planet’s atmosphere. Subsequent lava/lahar flow buried several towns in Central Luzon and jolted the economy. The natural tragedy also forced American soldiers at Clark Field and Subic Bay to withdraw from their bases earlier than stipulated. The US turned over to the Philippine government the two bases with total assets amounting to US$1.3 billion. The Philippine government later transformed the two bases into special economic zones.

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