Aquino Takes Charge

Courtesy Reuters

As Corazon Aquino begins the tasks of reuniting a divided Filipino people, rebuilding the institutions destroyed by a discredited dictatorship and reviving a devastated economy, she has chosen to combine the spirit of reconciliation with measures to place her new government in firm control.

In view of the Marcos legacy, her task will not be an easy one. Ferdinand Marcos divided Philippine society. In a country accustomed to frequent and peaceful alternation of power among competing political groups, Marcos and his followers used corruption, violence and fraud to entrench themselves as a permanent ruling group. Their opponents remained outside, in embittered frustration. Now that the tables are turned, bitterness is on the other side. It will not be easy to restore good feeling.

Marcos also leaves a legacy of institutional decay. Repeated constitutional changes, devised by the former president and pushed through by means of questionable legality, produced a presidentially dominated system of rule. Under Marcos, a clever lawyer adept at using legalistic forms to distort the spirit of the law, the system became a self-serving autocracy.

Long established and respected institutions were turned into caricatures. The Commission on Elections, once an impartial guardian of honest elections, became an instrument for the subversion of the electoral process on behalf of the regime. In the armed forces, heirs to the American tradition of nonpartisanship, major elements were transformed into a praetorian guard whose main task was to protect the president against his countrymen rather than the country against its enemies.

Other institutions lost their independence. The judiciary, including the Supreme Court, became a pliable instrument of the president’s will. Civil servants lost both security of tenure and the right to vote as they pleased. The financial agencies of the government, no longer subject to full accounting, became milch cows for members of the presidential circle, who appropriated huge sums for their private purposes. In a most cynical example of the president’s willingness to corrupt his countrymen, public school teachers, who

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