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On the night of September 22, 1972, President Ferdinand E. Marcos imposed martial law on the Republic of the Philippines. Mr. Marcos since has been ruling the archipelago nation under a system that some of his aides call "constitutional authoritarianism" and others of them call "authoritarian constitutionalism." It is, in fact, a military-supported dictatorship, albeit of a rather unrepressive variety.
The President's move probably should not have come as any great surprise. There had been frequent predictions over the past several years that the Philippines' increasing political anarchy, its many social and economic problems and, some said, its President's thirst for power, made a turn toward authoritarianism likely.
When that turn came much of the outside world tended to view it simply as part of an Asian trend; the Philippines, somewhat belatedly, was following in the direction of South Korea, Indonesia, South Vietnam, Taiwan, Burma, Singapore (to a degree), and Thailand (as of then). The Philippines, it seemed to many abroad, was just another bit of Asian landscape with soil that had proved unsuited to the cultivation of Western democracy.
Any analysis of the situation in the Philippines ought to begin by at least questioning that all too facile assumption.
The Philippines, despite its somewhat deserved reputation as a land of "goons, guns and gals," is not a banana republic in which pear-shaped colonels in sunglasses have taken turns toppling each other in petty coups d'état. The Republic of the Philippines has no history of military rule, nor any tradition of political strongmen-no Diems, Rhees or Sukarnos.
The Philippines, unlike any of its neighbors except Japan, had a functioning democracy for a quarter-century, ever since it achieved independence in 1946. Until 1969, when Marcos won a second four-year term, no Philippine president ever had been reëlected. Rascals frequently were turned out of office in the Philippines, even if new ones then were voted in. There was a genuine balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of the government, even if this sometimes resulted in political stalemate and administrative inaction. The Philippines also had a thoroughly free, if frequently irresponsible, press.
Three hundred and seventy-seven years of Spanish colonialism followed by 48 years as an American colony and commonwealth overlaid the Philippines' fundamentally Malay culture with far more Western veneer than can be found elsewhere in Asia. Perhaps it isn't even a veneer, for many Filipinos don't really consider themselves Asians at all.
The Philippines has a higher rate of literacy, a broader middle class (particularly if measured by education), and a significantly higher degree of popular political awareness than the rest of Southeast Asia. It is a nation of voluble and individualistic people; politics was-and is-discussed in rural barrios as well as in middle-class suburbs.
There is something both cynical and presumptuous about Americans, or other Westerners, writing off the Asian continent-and most particularly the Philippines-as somehow unsuited to democracy. In the 1960s it was fashionable for American policy-makers, or anyway policy propagandists, to talk of teaching democracy to Asians. Each time a Southeast Asian satellite took a faltering, or phony, step toward democracy it was hailed in Washington as a moral victory and, somewhat more practically, was used to drum up support for foreign aid programs or military commitments.
In the 1970s it has become equally fashionable to disparage the relevance of democracy to fundamental Asian problems. The code words now seem to be "effective administration" and of course "economic development"-and sometimes that modish concept called "development of local government institutions." But it's almost as if these worthy aims are considered these days to be incompatible with civil liberties and the right to vote.
It is in part, and perhaps in large part, because of America's example and her preachments that democracy does matter to some millions of Asians. It mattered, for example, to the Thai students who last fall toppled the Thai generals. It certainly matters to a great many Filipinos, who often seem to have more faith in America and her ideals than America presently seems to have in herself. The Philippines learned its democratic politics under long-term American tutelage and, patronizing as it may sound, America ought to be touched by the Philippines' recent turn toward authoritarianism to at least the same extent that a teacher would be touched by his brightest student quitting school.
None of this is to argue that Philippine democracy functioned very well. Despite its democratic institutions and its active, or hyperactive, political life, the Philippines was-and remains-in many respects a feudal society.
Politicians tended to serve the interests of economic oligarchs or of themselves rather than those of the general public. There were no substantive differences between the two major political parties, Nacionalista and Liberal. Both served primarily as vehicles of patronage, and politicians switched from one to the other as new smokers switch brands. Social justice never was an integral part of the democratic system. Democratic rights were useless luxuries to many of the very poor who, despite an often surprising degree of political awareness, willingly would sell their votes to local political warlords or to their employers for five or ten pesos. At its best Philippine democracy was akin to old-style U.S. ward politics where a personal, tactile relationship existed between voter and politician and where loyalty worked both ways. At its worst Philippine democracy was political banditry in which warlords cowed and exploited political serfs.
Certainly Philippine politics, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, were becoming increasingly anarchic and violent and ever more blatantly corrupt. When a thoroughly unscientific 1972 Manila newspaper poll showed elective politicians ranking twenty-seventh in public trust and respect, behind barbers, taxi drivers and night club performers, it probably captured fairly accurately the mood of a public that was strongly alienated from politicians and perhaps from the state of the political system.
But Filipinos were not and are not alienated from the concept of democracy. If they were in a mood to tolerate a turn toward authoritarianism it was because of certain bitter experiences with the workings of the system and with politicians who corrupted that system. Filipinos do not tolerate authoritarianism because they are ignorant about democracy, which is the case with many people in neighboring states. The Philippines, for all of its political defects, was more of a democracy than almost any other Third-World country, and Filipinos have paid a real, not a token, political price for whatever benefits-in government efficiency, economic prosperity and social reforms-martial law may provide.
Many, perhaps most, Filipinos may be willing to pay that price, at least for a limited time. Martial law and its social sweetener, the President's New Society reform program, appear to have been accepted, however cautiously, by the majority of Filipinos. But even among those Filipinos who support martial law there are a sizable number who question the President's stated justifications for imposing it and who continue to doubt his motives and his sincerity. These Filipinos would prefer martial law without Marcos.
The paradox of martial law is that the man who presided for seven years over the gradual disintegration of the old society and who was in no small part responsible for its faults and failings is now father to the New Society. The master practitioner of the old politics of pork barrel and payola is now preaching the new politics of discipline, honesty and austerity. The imposition of martial law amounted, in a sense, to a new Marcos pulling off a coup against the old Marcos; to have faith in the President's promised reforms one thus must have faith in a reformed President.
Mr. Marcos has admitted to a degree of responsibility for the sad state of Philippine affairs during his earlier, elective incarnation, but he lays most of the blame on political opponents and on a political system that, he argues, stymied his efforts to govern and reform. It is certainly true that the fault for past failings is not the President's alone.
In any case, the President's supporters contend that he now is motivated by a sincere desire to reform the Philippines and the Filipinos and thereby to assure himself a savior's role in Philippine history. Presidential critics view Marcos as less messianic than machiavellian. They say the President is motivated by egotism, by political predacity and, though Marcos has become a very rich man already during his political career, by personal and family financial greed. The various theories as to motivation may not be mutually exclusive, particularly in so complex a man.
When the President entered office in 1966 he was a youthful and vigorous national war hero with a popular program of social reforms. In his first term he did, in fact, keep some of his promises and could point to certain tangible accomplishments like new schools and roads, rural electrification, and the Green Revolution of miracle rice strains.
In 1969 the President might well have won a relatively honest election, but this one was extraordinarily dishonest even for a country in which blatant vote buying and political shootouts were fairly commonplace. It left the country politically exhausted, the economy in chaos, the political opposition deeply embittered, and the public more cynical than ever before.
Once elected, Marcos made some headway in righting the economy. A 1970 stabilization agreement with the International Monetary Fund cleared away at least some of the economic debris of the election campaign. The peso was devalued, the budget brought more into balance, domestic credit tightened, and a four-year economic development plan formulated. Foreign aid commitments to the Philippines increased, notably from the World Bank. A group of energetic technocrats were brought into Malacañang (the Philippine White House) to implement economic policy.
But all of this looked better in theory than in practice. The positive economic moves came nowhere near offsetting the general social and political deterioration. The technocrats were frustrated by politically influential foes-and friends-of the President. Local political warlords, backed by private armies of gun-toting retainers, ruled political and political-economic fiefdoms. Many of these were the President's own vassals, important elements of his political machine and power base, but they severely inhibited efforts at effective administration. Corruption, ranging from petty bribery to large-scale extortion, became increasingly flagrant and all too many of the perpetrators were political pals of the President.
Economic collapse had been averted, but important areas of the economy continued to stagnate and unemployment increased. So did violence, both random and organized; criminal gangs frequently operated in partnership with local police and politicians. Propagandists and organizers of the extreme Left gained converts, or at least listeners, particularly among the young, and Manila was rocked by serious student riots in 1970. In the southern islands a Muslim insurgency, sparked largely by conflicts over rights to land, gathered intensity. Government programs became mired in endless political bartering and bickering, in Congress and out, and even programs already in motion, such as the Green Revolution, faltered, as more and more of the administration's energies were invested in political battles and intrigues.
The 1971 congressional elections were marked by violence, including a bombing incident at Manila's Plaza Miranda where Liberal Party candidates were holding a rally. A number of prominent Liberal leaders were injured. The Liberals went on to virtually sweep the election-a result viewed widely, and no doubt accurately, as a protest against the President and his administration.
In 1971 a Constitutional Convention was convened, with pro-Marcos forces seeking to write a new constitution that would replace the presidential system with a parliamentary one. The deliberations were protracted and bitter. The President's opponents and probably a fair percentage of the public viewed the new constitution that was being written as a vehicle by which the President could escape the two-term limitation of the old constitution and perpetuate himself in power as a parliamentary prime minister.
Amid all this political struggle, nature added another crisis. In the summer of 1972 massive floods turned much of central Luzon into an enormous lake. The government, supported by U.S. relief teams and aid funds, responded rather efficiently to this crisis. But by the summer of 1972 there was a strong sense that even if Marcos could deal with crises from the heavens he couldn't cope with all his man-made and self-inflicted problems.
In that late summer and early fall of 1972 there occurred a number of bizarre incidents.
A fishing trawler, the M/B Karagatan, was boarded by the military after it ran aground off Digoyo Point in Luzon's northern Palanan Province. The ship contained a cargo of several thousand M-14 rifles and other military supplies, apparently intended for New People's Army (NPA) insurgents who were active in the area. The NPA, technically the military-political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Marxist/Leninist, is the most troublesome, militant and Maoist-oriented of several Communist factions in the country.
The government made a grand hullabaloo over the Karagatan affair, sending in troops to scour the jungles and planes to strafe deserted hilltops, holding press conferences and issuing white papers, and generally exaggerating a Communist "menace." But the government never did name the outside source of the arms nor did it clear up a number of other minor mysteries about the affair. Critics contended that the whole affair had been secretly staged by Marcos henchmen, though no proof ever was provided to back up that allegation.
In early September there was a series of mysterious bombings in the Manila area, but little damage was done and no culprits ever were caught. The government again cried "Communist menace" and the opposition again cried "fraud." Finally, on September 22, there was an assassination attempt, or dramatization thereof, against Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile. It is reasonably certain that this incident was choreographed at Malacañang, and the same probably holds true for the bombings.
That night the President proclaimed martial law. He cited the Communist threat, and to a lesser extent the Muslim rebellion, and spoke of "unmitigated forays, raids, ambuscades, assaults, violence, murders, assassinations, acts of terror, deceits, coercions, threats, intimidations, treachery, machinations, arsons, plunders and depredations," all of which threatened to overthrow the government. The constitution, he explained, empowered him to impose martial law in cases of invasion, rebellion, insurrection or imminent danger thereof. Events, he said, forced him, reluctantly, to fulfill his constitutional responsibility.
His stated justifications hardly accorded with reality. The NPA, even if it had ordered a few thousand rifles and carried out some ineffectual Manila bombings, still constituted something well short of a major national threat. Its strength, even by the estimates of official military spokesmen, was no higher than 1,000 armed activists, 10,000 part-time "combat support" cadre, and perhaps 100,000 active peasant sympathizers. These totals are not particularly impressive in a population of 40 million. Aside from the mysterious Karagatan incident, the NPA had been receiving very little, if any, outside military support. Its base areas were small, scattered and generally remote. It was having only very limited success at motivating the peasant masses to Maoist militancy.
The Muslim insurgency in the south-in parts of mineral-rich Mindanao and on the smaller islands of the Sulu chain-was more serious in strictly military terms. Regular army units were engaged in sporadic skirmishing with fierce and well-armed Muslim bands. Army patrols were being ambushed; villages, both Muslim and Christian, were being sacked and burned; and there were more than 100,000 refugees who had fled the areas of heaviest fighting. Still, this insurgency was, by definition, localized. The Muslim cause, essentially preservation of their land and way of life, had no appeal in the rest of the Christian Philippines. And, despite some contacts between Muslim and NPA insurgents, the Muslim chieftains and the Maoist students were not fighting the same war.
The Muslims, moreover, were then-as they are now-fighting an ultimately losing struggle against what amounts to Philippine Manifest Destiny-the opening of the southern frontier, the march of Philippine Civilization. Over the past two decades hunger for land had driven hundreds of thousands of Christian settlers south to the frontier territory; along with them went the big timber and mining interests anxious to tap Mindanao's largely unexplored wealth. The situation bears some striking similarities to the winning of the American West. The Christian settlers can be seen as Nebraska homesteaders; the mineral and timber magnates as the U.S. railroad barons; and the Muslims, sad as it may be, as the Indians.
The Muslims, who comprise about five percent of the total Philippine population, rapidly are becoming a minority even in southern areas that were once almost entirely Muslim. Often exploited by their own tribal leaders, frequently lacking legal title to the land they traditionally have tilled, and increasingly overwhelmed by Christians and their more modern civilization, the Muslims are fighting from frustration as much as anything else. They are highly proficient guerrilla fighters and there is evidence they are receiving some military supplies from nearby Sabah in Malaysia and perhaps even from Libya. In the fall of 1972 they constituted a serious military problem, but surely not one that threatened to topple a government in faraway Manila.
If the Communist "menace" and the Muslim "war" served as constitutional justifications for martial law, President Marcos still had to sell martial law to the people of the Philippines and to foreign public opinion. He did this by proclaiming his New Society, a set of ambitious promises of social and economic reform, coupled with some practical steps to curb general anarchy and violence.
The President's opening moves were dramatic and popular. He imposed some price controls, particularly on basic food items, and arrested some "economic saboteurs" allegedly responsible for the spiraling price of sugar. He imposed a curfew from midnight to four in the morning. He outlawed private ownership of weapons, a major move in a nation where machismo is a cardinal virtue and the gun is a symbol of manhood.
Within several months an announced total of half a million firearms had been voluntarily surrendered. Perhaps as many more weapons, including most of the automatic and high-powered ones, still remain at large. But at least they are hidden away these days rather than carried about. Goons no longer are waving guns around in bars and politicians no longer are strutting about with armed retinues. Private armies no longer are armed, at least not openly, and many have been disbanded, at least for the time being.
These measures, plus sharply increased criminal arrests, caused a dramatic drop in the Philippine crime rate in the first few months of martial law. The crime rate since has been rising and indeed may now be back up to about the pre-martial-law level. But there is far less shooting and there are far fewer homicides. It is important that the average Filipino undoubtedly feels safer these days, even though this may be largely because the President closed down most newspapers and has strictly controlled the news in those media that remain in operation. Lurid crimes which once filled much of the front pages no longer are reported; readers or viewers learn only about those crimes that are solved.
A more controversial early martial-law move was the jailing (or in absentia arrest and exiling) of prominent politicians. These included not only some important opposition leaders and presidential critics, but also a number of congressmen, provincial governors and other local warlords who were supporters, and even friends, of the President.
The seeming nonpartisanship of the arrests certainly made the move more publicly palatable and perhaps even popular. There are indications, however, that the military insisted on the jailing of some pro-Marcos warlords, particularly those with large private armies, as a price of its support for martial law. (The military was not uniformly enthusiastic about the imposition of martial law and there probably is some truth to reports that military leaders successfully blocked a plan by Marcos to impose it back in 1970.)
In any case, the pro-Marcos politicians who were arrested were all released within several months, though they may remain somewhat humbled by their experience and presumably have been made aware that personal political fiefdoms are no longer secure from central authority.
Among those jailed in the early days were a number of the Philippines' most prominent journalists who had been sharp political critics of the President. Some spent a year in detention, but all have now been released.
Most of the prominent opposition politicians also were released within a year and many within a few months. The conspicuous exceptions are Liberal Party Senators Benigno S. Aquino and José W. Diokno. Senator Aquino has been charged with violation of an anti-subversion act and with illegal possession of firearms and was at one point brought before a military court to hear the charges. Senator Diokno has not been formally charged. Both men have announced their refusal to defend themselves against any charges brought by what they regard as an illegal and unconstitutional regime, and neither has yet been brought to trial.
Senator Aquino is deputy leader of the Liberal Party and is the one Filipino politician who probably rivals Mr. Marcos in political acumen and ambition and, the Senator's critics would argue, in political opportunism as well. He had a strong chance to be the Liberal Party's presidential candidate in the 1973 election; had it been held he might well be president of the Philippines at this moment. He is the politician most feared by President Marcos and were he now at large, either abroad or in the maquis, he would provide some leadership to anti-Marcos elements. In jail, however, he gradually is being forgotten, by both Filipinos and by foreigners. (Senator Aquino had many political friends in the United States and elsewhere, and he undoubtedly expected more support from them than he has gotten.) The odds are that Senator Aquino and probably also Senator Diokno will remain in jail, where their treatment seems to vary, perhaps depending on the President's moods, from comfortable to strict and spartan.
Moreover, some hundreds of young leftists, mostly students, still are being detained without any due process; some of these unprominent prisoners are said to have suffered harsh interrogations. And the opposition politicians and journalists who have been released remain under surveillance and live under the threat of reincarceration. The state security apparatus has been expanded and agents have infiltrated the universities, the church and other institutions. The press has been severely muzzled and criticism has been replaced by sycophantism. "Rumor-mongering" has been declared a crime, and Filipinos can be arrested for outspoken criticism of the regime.
It must be said, however, that Philippine martial law is relatively relaxed and unrepressive by Asian, or perhaps by any, authoritarian standards. Critics of the President tend to lower their voices and to speak to friends in the privacy of their homes, but a visitor to the Philippines still can find plenty of critics willing and anxious to talk, though not, of course, to be quoted. Rumor-mongering has become an even more active and arcane art in the absence of reliable news reports. Strong-arm behavior by local military or civil officers does occur, but appears to be exceptional and probably no worse than abuses previously committed by local warlords.
In short, the Philippines is not by and large a nation gripped by fear. Words like "tyranny" seem out of context. Caligula once said: "Would that the Roman people had but one neck" to wring; Mr. Marcos rather seems to be wishing that the Philippine people had but one wrist to slap.
Philippine martial law also is surprisingly unmartial. The military has been given wide-ranging powers to help administer and enforce presidential decrees, and in some places local military commanders have assumed some of the functions formerly handled by locally elected officials. But the extent of military involvement in civil affairs varies considerably from place to place, seemingly depending on whether the local military commander or the local civil officials have closer ties to the President. At the center, President Marcos, surrounded by a small and largely civilian palace staff, remains very much in control of the generals, only a few of whom would rank among the dozen or so most influential people in the country. The military, only about 65,000 men, including some 25,000 members of the Philippine Constabulary (a kind of national military police), is not very visible in most parts of the country.
It also should be added that the President has gone to quite extraordinary, and in a practical sense quite unnecessary, lengths to try and make his martial law regime look legal and legitimate. On December 31, 1972, the President by decree created a national system of citizens' assemblies, called "barangays." In January 1973, these were convened around the country and asked to vote on a set of propositions submitted by the administration. By votes in the range of 90-99 percent, they approved creation of barangays as the "base of government"; approved the continuation of martial law; disapproved the holding of scheduled November 1973 elections; approved the new constitution that had emerged from the constitutional convention (thereby, according to Marcos, legally ratifying it); disapproved the convening of an interim national assembly, as called for in the new constitution; and disapproved the idea of a national plebiscite to ratify the new constitution.
Theoretically, the Philippines under the new constitution has a parliamentary system with broad powers vested in the office of prime minister. Actually, there is no parliament, Marcos has not yet proclaimed himself prime minister, and he continues to rule by decree. The barangays were convened again in July and approved, again by more than 90 percent, President Marcos' continuing in office beyond the December 31, 1973 expiration of his second presidential term and until he could complete the reforms initiated under martial law. This means indefinitely.
The barangay system, of course, is patently fraudulent. Many of the claimed 35,000 assemblies never met at all. Where they did meet the results often were prepared before the vote was taken. Local officials in charge of the exercises scarcely had to be told which way the vote was supposed to go. If the voters needed any elucidation the local officials provided it. The voting, in nearly all cases, was conducted by show of hands.
Why should the President have bothered? To some peasants at the bottom of the social ladder the "new democracy" may have seemed no more purposeless than the old (though at least under the old system they sometimes got paid for their votes). But the whole barangay exercise fooled few if any Filipinos, and it could hardly be called a public relations success abroad. In point of fact, Marcos probably is ruling with the tolerance, and perhaps even support, of a majority of Filipinos, but seeking to prove that point by a political charade more likely weakened, rather than strengthened, his credibility. That Marcos nonetheless bothered may be simply that he is a man of legalistic mind; the exercise and the various constitutional contortions may make martial law seem somehow tidier to him. A less generous explanation would be that the President's ego demands manufactured manifestations of public adulation.
Ultimately, Filipinos and Philippine history probably will not judge Marcos on how martial or unmartial his new regime is, still less on how convincing his political cosmetics are. Rather, he will probably be judged on what his New Society can accomplish for the Philippines.
Aside from "peace and order," which seems to the people to have improved more than it actually has, the major area of improvement has been economic. By almost any statistical measurement, last year was a very good year for the Philippine economy.
Export performance, balance of payments, and foreign exchange reserves have all shown significant improvement. The dramatic rise in export receipts, about 60 percent above 1972, largely was a function of higher world prices for traditional Philippine commodity exports, but there also has been some increase in the export of manufactured goods. The government, meanwhile, restricted imports, particularly of some luxury goods. The dramatic improvement in balance of payments will be affected by new demand for imported capital goods and by the rise in world petroleum prices, but if world prices for copper, sugar, copra and other Philippine exports stay high the outlook should remain generally bright.
The overall investment climate has been much improved, both by "peace and order" and by a series of decrees that have simplified and liberalized tariff, tax and banking regulations. Manila hotels these days are packed with Western and Japanese businessmen (as well as tourists), and the government claims that the rate of new investment, both foreign and domestic, has more than doubled since martial law was declared. An oil exploration law, long mired in political dispute, has been enacted by decree, and foreign oil companies currently are doing exploratory drilling in promising offshore waters. The Philippines has many other natural resources still to be tapped.
The gross national product (GNP), which rose about four percent (in real terms) in 1972, is said to have risen by about seven percent in 1973. Philippine officials, moreover, claim that in 1974 the GNP will show a rise of ten percent.
But there is a catch in all this. The effect of the improvement, at least so far, has been to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The President's propagandists like to say that the Philippines now is being run along "modern management lines"; if the Philippines is to be considered a kind of corporation, with Marcos as chief executive officer, then it is unfortunately fair to say that the big shareholders are getting big dividends, the smaller middle-class investors smaller dividends, and the noninvestors, the very poor, scarcely anything at all.
The nascent business boom has yet to make any appreciable dent in Philippine urban unemployment, estimated at more than 12 percent. Meanwhile, prices of basic foodstuffs as well as manufactured goods have been rising much faster than wages. The Filipino working man continues to get poorer in real terms. Marcos' economists may well be correct, however, in believing that wage increases would only spur inflation and that making the rich substantially poorer would only serve to cripple economic activity without making the poor substantially richer. It is no doubt also true that given enough time some of the new prosperity will seep down to the poor.
The fact remains that those who are being asked to tighten their belts a bit more and awhile longer are precisely those whose belts already are pulled tightest. The situation certainly begs the question of whether some tinkering with a capitalist economy and some long-range social reforms constitute a bold enough approach to the Philippines' economic and social imbalances.
Despite much propaganda about combating the country's economic oligarchy, the President has shied away from anything like a systematic assault on the great Philippine families and fortunes. Land reform (for some sound economic reasons among others) has not been extended to the great sugar, coconut and fruit plantations. Most land-based fortunes remain secure and, given rising world prices for these export commodities, the landed rich are getting richer. So too are the rich whose fortunes are invested in urban property, banking, insurance, mining and manufacturing. While the rich are paying somewhat higher taxes to the New Society, they also for the most part are making more money than ever before.
The rich, moreover, have seen no need to change their style of life, despite all the administration's talk about austerity. The very rich continue to maintain, and often to flaunt, their private airplanes and fleets of fancy cars, their diamond jewelry and Paris fashions, their urban mansions and country estates. Philippine social disparities often seem greater than those elsewhere in Asia, and this may be less because rich Filipinos are richer than, say, rich Japanese or Singaporeans than it is because rich Filipinos seem to delight in ostentation. On this score not much has changed under the New Society.
There has been some very selective dismantling of economic empires, most notably that of the Lopez family with which the President has been involved in a long and bitter political feud. Fernando Lopez was Marcos' vice president in pre-martial-law years. The Lopez case, however, is the exception.
From the point of view of the rich, martial law has provided some welcome order, economic progress, and simplified political relationships. Many "old society" politicians were servants of economic oligarchs, but if they served the rich they sometimes also bit the hands that fed them. So the rich seem to be shedding few tears for out-of-power politicians. Corruption, of course, continues and the rich continue to pay off-but the general level of graft probably is somewhat reduced; certainly there are fewer people these days who have to be paid off. Not all of the rich are fans of the President, but those who dislike him for personal or other reasons still support him because every economic oligarch has skeletons in his closet and any economic empire could be selected, as was the Lopez one, for dismemberment.
For the poor the President has provided a great many promises and a whole herd of scapegoats. These include Communists and oligarchs, rumor-mongers and "backsliders," economic saboteurs and "clerico-fascist intriguers," and sundry villains who allegedly have conspired to kill him.
The most significant of the New Society promises probably is land reform. The President by decree abolished tenancy in rice and corn farming, but a decree and a program are two different things. Once the President had "liberated" the tenants, at least on paper, his experts had to sit down to figure out from whom. The answers seemed to come as something of a surprise. Most of that rice and corn land was not owned by the economic oligarchs; much of it, rather, was in the form of farms of a few dozen hectares owned by members of the middle, or at best upper-middle, class-by army majors, schoolteachers, country lawyers, small businessmen and others who might have a few tenants as well as a few brothers or cousins tilling the land. These are the sort of people that no regime wants to alienate, and the political problem-coupled with practical ones like compensation funding, lack of rural credit and worries about productivity-has resulted in reduced and protracted land reform goals. In theory all land above a seven-hectare limit was to be distributed among tenants; in practice only land above a 22-hectare limit is being affected, at least for the time being. During the first year of the New Society, only about ten percent of the roughly one million rice and corn tenants were granted "deemed title" to the land they work.
This is, at least, a beginning. The goal is laudable and the various obstacles are surmountable, but the issue does serve to indicate the complexity and long-term nature of basic social reforms. The government is allocating more money than ever before to social programs and public construction, principally in the rural areas. Some New Society programs, such as encouragement of technical and vocational education, are sound and practical. Other goals, such as doubling per hectare rice yield, are overly ambitious. Still other announced aims, such as "democratization of wealth" and "extirpation of privilege," are simply slogans.
The President's planners, if not his propagandists, admit that it will take billions of pesos and many years before the effects of even the most practical programs come to be widely felt. It also will require even greater efforts at birth control (an area in which the Philippines, for some years, has been making sincere if limited efforts) if progress is to keep ahead of population growth. At the present population growth rate of three percent per year the Philippine population would double in about 25 years.
But there is another, more immediate problem which involves the will and perhaps the character of Marcos. Despite the stated, and possibly entirely sincere, desire of the President to enact reforms, despite the diligence and undoubted sincerity of many of his ministers and technocrats, reforms still run into roadblocks, particularly at the provincial and local levels. Local politicians and economic interests with real or rumored ties to the President still have the power to stall social reforms. The President has announced an anti-corruption campaign and claims to have dismissed some 7,000 corrupt civil servants, but all too many government officials, including some at high levels, still expect kickbacks or bribes for doing or not doing their jobs.
Certain reformist organizations, like the Federation of Free Farmers which has long been working for the same goals that the New Society now espouses, appear to be distrusted at Malacañang. Sincere social reformers, including activist clergymen, have been arrested as subversives. Meanwhile, a number of the President's less reputable "old society" cronies, men whose interest, if any, in social reform remains a well-guarded secret, continue to have access to Malacañang and to act as if they retain influence with the President. It's almost as if Marcos cannot quite decide which is more important: old friendships or the New Society. Rumors of new business involvements by the President and his family circulate widely and are generally believed by Filipinos. And for all the talk of national austerity and sacrifice the President permits his wife, Imelda Marcos, to pursue her peregrinations with the international jet set and to entertain secondrung European royalty at lavish Philippine functions.
None of this entirely negates the New Society's potential, but it all creates a serious credibility problem for the President, and embarrasses and dispirits some of the well-motivated men around him.
Whatever the shortcomings of Marcos and his New Society, he seems in little danger of losing his hold on the Philippines. There are a number of threats, but they are more potential than actual.
The Communist insurgency continues in scattered sections of Luzon. Militarily the Communists seem somewhat less active than prior to martial law. Politically they may be a bit stronger; martial law appears to have made some formerly moderate opponents of Marcos more sympathetic to the NPA cause. But the Communist movement was not a national menace in the fall of 1972 and it isn't one today. If it is gathering converts and strength, it is doing so very gradually.
The Muslim fighting in the south has intensified somewhat since martial law was imposed, but the combat remains sporadic with sharp spurts and then lulls. A series of amnesty offers and promises of special development programs for Muslim areas seem to have had little appeal to the insurgents. Some U.S. sources say the army lost about 1,000 soldiers and several irregulars in the south during 1973. The recent fighting on the island of Jolo resulted in a number of military casualties as well as the death of several hundred civilians and the devastation of the town of Jolo. The Muslim problem will continue to plague Marcos and probably his successors, but it is a containable, if not a soluble, problem.
The Roman Catholic Church probably has the strength to mount a challenge, and if many of the liberal young priests had their way the church would be doing so now. But many of the bishops and older priests who comprise the church leadership are disinclined to get involved in an open church-state confrontation. Some dioceses have issued statements of concern about authoritarianism and have protested the arrests of some activist priests, but the church is not of one mind about martial law. Issues that might unify conservative bishops and liberal young Jesuits-such as a hinted government interest in taxing certain church property-are not the kinds of causes that would generate much mass support. And even if the church openly challenged Marcos on libertarian issues it is far from certain that the pulpit would prove as powerful as the throne.
The students represent another potential threat. There are half a million college students in and around Manila, and the government certainly is wary of them, particularly since the student revolt in Thailand. Most Filipino students, however, are not political activists. The campuses are infiltrated by government agents; the most militant student leaders either have been arrested or have fled to the NPA. Perhaps if Marcos gives the students a dramatic enough issue or if some other group begins civil disturbances the students might take to the streets, but for the moment the student mood seems meek.
The United States has important interests and strong influence in the Philippines, and if for any reason Washington made it clear that it was disenchanted with Marcos this might be enough to encourage open opposition by various currently quiescent elements of the society. But Washington has maintained official silence on the turn toward authoritarianism and in the public mind silence tends to equal support.
In fact, the U.S. government probably is fairly satisfied with the situation in the Philippines. There is about a billion dollars of U.S. private investment in the country, and American businessmen tend to be pleased about the present situation for most of the same reasons that Filipino businessmen are pleased. With major military bases in the Philippines (Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base) the U.S. military obviously is anxious to preserve warm relations with Marcos. Also, Washington must occasionally wonder about what it would have to do if a Communist insurgency really threatened to take over the Philippines; if martial law seems to make that eventuality even more unlikely, then that is yet another reason to stick with Marcos.
Since martial law was imposed the President has opened diplomatic relations with several East European countries and has developed some trade and cultural ties with the Soviet Union and China. These moves, of course, are hardly ones to which the United States can object. There are some thorny U.S.-Philippine issues to be settled, mainly concerning the July 1974 expiration of the Laurel-Langley trade agreement, but any bilateral negotiations likely will run more smoothly now that neither Marcos nor the United States has to contend with criticism from the Philippine Congress and press.
All of these factors may add up to a fairly persuasive case for maintaining good relations with Marcos. In addition, Washington could argue that nothing would be gained by expressing disapproval of martial law or other Marcos moves. The United States did make a point of publicly dissociating itself from President Park Chung Hee's declaration of martial law in South Korea in October 1972, and words from Washington had no appreciable effect. A statement of concern about Philippine authoritarianism could serve simply to raise expectations among anti-Marcos elements, who then would expect America to somehow act as well as speak.
U.S. officials also might contend that American criticism of Marcos could play into the President's hands. There is a strong streak of nationalism among Filipinos and, though the United States probably is more popular in the Philippines than anywhere else in Asia, there also are some undercurrents of anti-Americanism. If Marcos could make a public issue out of American "meddling" in Philippine internal affairs, it could win him some public support.
U.S. officials might make any of those arguments in defense of U.S. policy, but in point of fact they have never been under any real pressure to offer a defense. Influential segments of the U.S. public have been deeply disturbed by the death of democracy in Greece; many Americans are profoundly moved by the problems of political dissenters in the Soviet Union. But it seems that no one in America, except for some Filipino emigrés, is upset over the loss of liberties in the Philippines. Filipinos can be excused for wondering whether the moral concern of Americans extends to people with brown skins.
In sum, Marcos remains a valued U.S. ally. While some U.S. diplomats may worry privately about the dismantling of a democratic system that was modeled on America's-or about what some future Philippine government may think about America's present policy toward Marcos-they tend to keep their worries to themselves.
One institution that obviously has the power to topple Marcos is the army. After a quarter-century of institutional noninvolvement in political affairs, the military now has had a taste of political power. There could come a point at which the military decides that it needs Marcos less than he needs it and that it can do his job better than he can. The odds of this happening, however, seem pretty slim.
Many military officers are proud of the fact that there has never been a coup d'état and they see their present semipolitical role as supportive and temporary only. The military is small and its units are widely scattered; there are few idle regiments sitting around the Manila area in a position to plot coups. Not all senior military officers are Marcos loyalists, but the two most powerful generals are. They are Fidel V. Ramos, chief of the Philippine Constabulary, and Fabian Ver, chief of the Presidential Security Command.
Philippine military officers, like other Filipinos, tend to be politically aware, and some certainly have personal reservations about the President or are influenced by criticisms that friends or families may have of martial law. If the United States indicated any distaste for Marcos, a coup could become more likely. Or if there were serious civil disorders the military, or elements of it, might prefer toppling a besieged president to shooting down students in the streets. As things are, the military seems to be standing with Marcos.
Rising mass expectations may pose a long-run danger to the President. He certainly has made more promises than he can keep, and the New Society has raised more hopes than can be satisfied. Impoverished squatters or unemployed workers someday could take to the streets in frustration. But poor Filipinos, by and large, are patient people, they are used to unkept promises; and if the New Society provides them with even a little it will be more than they ever have had.
A major economic crisis might crumble the President's existing public support, estrange interest groups that now back him, and draw opposition elements together. But the government coped reasonably well with a 1973 rice shortage; it has been dealing effectively with the current oil crisis; and the general economic future looks brighter than it has for many years.
The one eventuality that quite likely would plunge the Philippines into political chaos would be the sudden death of the President. At this point there is no line of political succession; Marcos is only 56 and in good health. For better or worse he has discarded the rules by which the game of government used to be played. And the new rules he is making, even if they come to include one pertaining to succession, lack both the weight of tradition and the strength of generally accepted legitimacy.
As of early 1974 the major contenders to someday succeed Marcos are his politically active and ambitious wife, Imelda; Defense Secretary Enrile; and the uniformed military, either in the form of a junta or in the person of a general like Ramos or Ver. Already there are some signs of subtle political jockeying, mostly by the First Lady's partisans trying to place men loyal to her in key second-level civil and military positions.
Marcos still seems to be the shrewdest politician in the Philippines. There are strong forces supporting him, and the majority of Filipinos do not seem to be against him. The opposition is highly fragmented: Maoist students, liberal clergymen, Muslim rebels, a few bitter economic oligarchs, some unemployed politicians and some skeptical social reformers have nothing in common except varying degrees of antipathy to Marcos. Under present and foreseeable circumstances that it not enough.
There is little nostalgia among Filipinos for the way things used to be, and there is no evident alternative to the way things are now.
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