On September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos, twice elected President of the Philippines, imposed martial law and assumed dictatorial power. Somewhat more than eight years later, on January 17 of this year, he announced the lifting of martial law. Because this event took place just three days before the inauguration of President Reagan and one month before the Philippine visit of Pope John Paul II, it seems reasonable to infer that Marcos-whom the Carter Administration, as well as leading figures of the Catholic Church in his own country, had periodically criticized for his government's violations of human rights-thought the lifting of martial law would be an important step toward improving relations with these two foreign leaders.

For the Reagan Administration, too, unimpaired good relations with the Philippines are important. The Philippines is the United States' largest former colonial possession, a close ally, the site of major air and naval bases, a significant trading partner and recipient of American investments, and an erstwhile proud "show-window of American democracy."

It is useful, therefore, to assess how eight years of martial law have affected the course of Philippine economic and political development, in what direction Marcos and his country now appear to be heading, and how martial law and its termination have affected and should affect our relations with the Marcos Administration.


A visitor to the Philippines from an advanced industrial society is likely to be struck by a sense of double vision. On the one hand he sees a rational modernizing government committed to economic growth, social justice and efficient administration, moving energetically forward with the help of a dedicated corps of Western-trained technocrats. This picture of the regime is presented with great skill to international aid and lending agencies, which continue to pour funds into the Philippines. On the other hand, the foreign visitor sees a thoroughly traditional regime: arbitrary, wasteful, venal, and preoccupied with the personal gratifications and familial interests of the ruler.

Both images of the Marcos regime are accurate, reflecting what a Filipino psychologist has called a "split-level system of values"-one modern and Western, the other traditional and Southeast Asian. Both sets of values are shared by most educated Filipinos, including President Marcos, who evidently wants to become both his country's greatest modernizing leader and the richest man in Asia.

Western observers at first sight are most impressed by Marcos' modernizing efforts. Even Marcos' Filipino opponents, attuned to traditional values and behavior, agree that many positive achievements can be credited to Marcos and martial law, and this tempers their criticism to some extent.

A comparison of average annual growth rates for various economic indicators for two time periods-one preceding martial law (1960-70), the other consisting mostly of martial law years (1970-78)-shows some substantial improvements that can, in part, be credited to Marcos' martial law government. The average annual growth rate for gross domestic investment increased from 8.2 percent to 11.1 percent.1 The average annual growth rate of exports increased from 2.2 to 5.4 percent, while that of imports declined from 7.2 to 4.7 percent. However, in 1979 there remained a trade deficit of $1.55 billion.2 The annual rate of population growth has declined under martial law from roughly 3.0 percent to less than 2.5 percent (1980 estimate) as a result of an impressive, non-coercive population-control program. Finally, average GDP (gross domestic product) growth rates increased from 5.1 to 6.3 percent. Recently, however, growth has been slower: in 1979 the real GNP growth rate had fallen to 5.5 percent, declining further to 4.7 percent in 1980.

The President's freedom from congressional restraint since he imposed martial law has made possible a marked improvement in the basis of taxation and in the effectiveness of tax collection. The resulting growth in revenues, together with heavy public borrowing and cuts in government employment, have made possible substantial increases in capital investment for development and in expenditures for social services, law and order, and national defense.3

The Philippines, like other oil-importing countries, has been hard hit by OPEC's oil price increases. The resulting rise in foreign exchange requirements, together with the Administration's heavy investment in development projects, has necessitated massive borrowing abroad, partly from international lending agencies and increasingly from private lenders in the Eurocurrency market. The Philippine public debt, approximately $350 million in 1965, now stands at roughly $12 billion. The World Bank estimates that borrowing from all sources, which currently is $2.5 to $2.6 billion a year, will rise to as much as $4.5 billion a year by 1985.4 While the Philippine government enjoys the strong confidence of international lending agencies, in part because of the ability of Marcos' technocratic advisers, some independent observers believe that debt rescheduling may become necessary within a year or two. Also, some recent World Bank studies and privately published "risk analyses" have expressed concern about the creditworthiness of the Philippines if the Marcos regime were to be replaced.

Soaring fuel costs and foreign borrowing have brought rising rates of inflation-a record 20 percent in 1980-which have not been matched by increasing cash incomes. A World Bank study of Philippine poverty found that between 1972 and 1978 real wages for skilled workers in Manila and its suburbs fell by 23.8 percent; for unskilled Manila laborers the decline was 31.6 percent.5 Since the 1960s, the authors of various World Bank studies have concluded, purchasing power has dropped "in both urban and rural areas, in all regions, and practically all occupations," and the gap between rich and poor is "worse in the Philippines than elsewhere in the [Southeast Asian] region, and is exceeded only in Latin America."6 Philippine government projections hold out little hope for any increase in the share of the national income that will go to the lowest income group during the coming decade.7

Marcos' greatest successes, both economically and politically, have been achieved in the major rice- and corn-growing areas, which contain most of the rural population. In recent years the country has become a rice exporter. The importance of this achievement, however, is lessened by the fact that wheat imports now exceed rice exports, reflecting changes in Filipino eating habits.8 The increases in rice and corn production have been accomplished by permitting grain prices to rise gradually, by taking advantage of newly developed seed varieties, and by investing substantial resources in rural infrastructure development.

In addition, under martial law, Marcos instituted a major program of land reform. The program has been confined to lands under rice and corn cultivation, where sharecropping has been common. It has also been limited to the holdings of relatively large landowners, despite earlier intimations that all tenanted rice and corn lands would be affected. Nevertheless, the land-reform program has been more far-reaching than several previous attempts, which were always obstructed by a landowner-dominated Congress.

Because the government has usually been lenient in collecting land amortization payments from the peasants, the main political effect of land reform has been to win goodwill, or at least to defuse chronic opposition to the government among the peasants of central and southern Luzon, the country's largest rice-growing area. Because Manila is in the center of the region, an uprising in Luzon would be especially threatening to any national government. Reports by competent observers suggest that while the poorest of the region's peasants and landless laborers remain very poor, land reform and infrastructure development have been successful enough to prevent the region from becoming a center of serious opposition to the regime. Either because of this, or because the region has been the home ground of the pro-Moscow wing of the communist movement (some of whose leaders now collaborate with Marcos), the rival China-oriented, Maoist-controlled New People's Army has been relatively inactive in Central Luzon, concentrating its efforts at armed revolution in other regions.

Less happy social and political consequences have ensued from the Administration's attempt to expand production in the non-grain, natural resource-based export industries. The major traditional exports-sugar, coconut products, timber and metal ores-have suffered either from current or recent declines in world prices or, in the case of timber, from decades of overcutting and underreplanting. To compensate, the government has attempted to promote the development of new commercial crops, such as oil palm and bananas, and to expand acreage under traditional export crops.

In contrast to rice and corn, most natural resource export industries, while subject to economies of scale, provide relatively little employment, and therefore have not been subjected to land reform. With the exception of sugar, these industries are carried on mainly in remote frontier provinces of the south and east or in the uplands of the more long-settled northern islands. There the government has permitted the acquisition or leasing of great tracts of land by large-scale Filipino and foreign agri-businesses, sometimes in exchange for rice lands that have been brought under land reform. While these consolidations of land have generally been carried on in areas of relatively thin population, they have nevertheless displaced substantial numbers of homesteaders and members of tribal minorities, sometimes to the accompaniment of bloodshed. The damming of some mountain valleys in northern Luzon for hydroelectric development, one of Marcos's World Bank-supported efforts to meet the energy crisis, has brought with it similar displacements. These distant developments have attracted little notice in Manila. But several of these remote localities and, more generally, the economically most depressed regions of the country-the Cagayan Valley, the Bicol, the eastern and central Visayas, and northern Mindanao-have become redoubts and recruitment areas for the Maoist New People's Army, which finds them, as the late Chairman put it, friendly waters in which to swim.

One controversial aspect of the Marcos Administration's policy regarding export commodities has been the establishment of a number of governmental or officially favored private monopolies to finance, process, purchase, ship and sell abroad particular export products. The announced purpose of these new monopolies is to secure higher prices for the producers and to maintain stabilization funds against the cyclical fluctuation of world commodity prices. But there have been some serious miscalculations and alleged anomalies in the sales efforts of these monopolies, resulting in substantial losses to the industries concerned. Furthermore, in the absence of adequate accounting for the large differential between world prices and those paid to the original producers, some producers charge that portions of the profits withheld from them are being skimmed off by Marcos intimates, themselves major investors in such export industries, who have been placed in charge of the monopolies.

Complaints have been especially bitter in the sugar industry, located mainly in the western Visayas, where producers have been receiving a fixed price of U.S. 12 cents per pound while the world price during the past year has risen as high as 46 cents per pound. Last December, a group of sugar planters took legal action against the government's National Sugar Trading Corporation to block it from selling their crop at what they believed was far too low a price without their consent.9 The favored purchaser of the crop was rumored to be a Marcos crony. For the first time sugar plantation owners and their workers are united in their opposition to the government, and there are reports of violence and the killing of sugar cane workers by the armed forces. Similar complaints are heard about the monopoly in the currently depressed coconut industry.

One of the Administration's major efforts, and one that would not have been possible had economic nationalist elements in the old Congress been in a position to oppose it, has been the industrialization program. This has entailed a shift away from the previous strategy of import substitution in favor of export-oriented industrialization and trade liberalization. By the late 1960s import substitution appeared to be incapable of guaranteeing either a sustained growth in employment or a supply of cheap consumer goods for the lower income strata.

As implemented by the Marcos government since 1972, export-oriented industrialization has shown a bias toward large-scale, capital-intensive industries. This has brought with it a major effort to attract large foreign investors. Industrialization has also furthered the growth of a new oligarchy composed of members, kinsmen and friends of the ruling family, who have received substantial favors in the form of government loans and other forms of assistance in establishing themselves as owners of new industries.

To date, the economic returns on this industrialization effort have been somewhat disappointing. Manufacturing as a whole, during the period from 1970 to 1978, grew at an average annual rate of 6.8 percent, only a little faster than during the preceding decade and at slightly more than half the rate in the neighboring countries of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.10 Export manufacturing has been expanding at an annual rate of over 30 percent, but it still represents only 15 percent of total manufacturing output.11 Furthermore, because Philippine export manufacturing is primarily of the enclave type, involving assembling of semi-manufactured imports to which less than 30 percent of the value is added locally, the real growth in export production is considerably slower than export-manufacturing figures might suggest. In 1979-80, therefore, with the assistance of a World Bank industrial/structural adjustment loan, Marcos committed his country to a drastic five-year program of further tariff and import-licensing reductions, and to fostering more highly labor-intensive export industries. The World Bank appears to be less enthusiastic about the 11 costly new, major industrial and mining projects announced by Marcos in late 1979, designed to process local mineral and other resources; currently the Bank plans to provide financing for only one of them.12

Marcos' foreign investment and trade liberalization policies have come under vocal, if now politically impotent, attacks from diverse quarters. Various economists both in and outside the government are critical of the Administration's penchant for giant energy- and capital-intensive projects, and would prefer more small operations, offering more rural as well as urban employment. Filipino manufacturers, who before martial law had been part of a strong protectionist alliance in combination with nationalistic political leaders and Marxist intellectuals, complain about the favored position of new oligarchs and multinationals, and of the competition from imported consumer goods. From the Christian and Marxist Left there is criticism of the Administration's low-wage policy and its prohibition of strikes in "vital industries," a policy that the government justifies by the low productivity of Philippine labor and the need to expand employment by competing with other low-wage, exporting countries. As a result, urban laborers, who have been beset by increasing unemployment, are also suffering from a decline in real income.

For the mass of city dwellers, the most visible achievement under martial law has been a massive public works construction program. There has been a rapid growth of new highways, public buildings, cultural monuments, costly and overspecialized medical centers, and urban beautification projects. Generous government loans have also been made for a surge in hotel construction, in turn promoting the visits of large numbers of unattached male Japanese tourists who, in the words of one observer, have turned Manila into one of the brothels of Asia.13

Some of the new construction projects were greatly needed and benefit the public at large, while others show an excessive bias toward the needs and pleasures of the upper and middle classes. Such manifestations of the First Lady's "edifice complex" often ride roughshod over the interests of the very poor, notably those living in the large urban-squatter settlements, who find themselves displaced by large-scale development projects, their organizations disregarded, their demonstrations suppressed, and their leaders arrested and sometimes tortured by the military. Marcos and his wife, the mayor of Manila, have attempted to compensate the poor through the construction of some low-income housing projects and by instituting a program of urban land reform under which some squatters are to be permitted to buy the land on which they have been living.

Broadly speaking, the social and political results of Marcos' policies in the countryside have been to undermine the power of the old rural, land-owning gentry by expropriating large tenanted estates in the rice- and corn-growing areas and by sharply reducing the incomes and the independence of the old sugar and coconut plantation oligarchies. In their place, Marcos has left a peasantry grateful for its new lands and for the government's infrastructure support; a rural professional middle class relieved that the small landholdings from which they drew supplemental incomes have been spared expropriation, and ready to provide moderate leadership for the peasants; and a new oligarchy of giant agri-business operators who are close to Marcos and depend on him for the preservation of their privileges. However, the growing number of landless rural laborers, plus dispossessed homesteaders and tribal peoples, remain an impoverished and potentially revolutionary class.

In the cities, the effect of the new capital-intensive export push has been to curb the power of a nationalistic native business elite, which grew wealthy from the policy of import substitution, and to give preeminence to the new Marcos-connected oligarchy. Both in its urban industrial and rural agri-business operations, this new oligarchy for the present depends heavily upon the collaboration of foreign multinational corporations and upon Philippine governmental and overseas financing. It depends also upon the skills of the higher level professional managerial elite. This latter group, though it includes many individuals who are critical of Marcos, finds itself well rewarded and, on the whole, gently treated by the regime. It will continue to play a major role under successor governments.

A survey of the government's management of the Philippine economy since 1972 would be inadequate without some further comments on a subject that is much discussed among the business community: the new business empires of the ruling couple, and their relatives and friends. It is common knowledge in the Philippines that these empires are very large, that they have given this "new oligarchy" dominant or monopolistic ownership of numerous key industries, and that they were acquired in part by methods that would not meet even the rather permissive conflict-of-interest rules observed in pre-martial law days. A widely circulated study of the holdings of this new oligarchy, extracted from the records of the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission, lists 259 corporations wholly or partly owned or directed by close kinsmen of the President and his wife or by members of their circle. While the names of the ruling couple do not appear on the list, it is widely believed in Manila that they are silent partners in, or the true owners of, many of these firms.14

Several consequences flow from this empire-building. It adversely affects the attitudes of the business and professional communities toward what they might otherwise consider an attractive regime. It gives the President and his circle a strong incentive to cling to political power and to maintain the mechanisms that prevent open criticism of their management of national affairs. It distorts development by leading to the commitment of scarce publicly supplied resources to projects which, though profitable to members of the new oligarchy, often are not in the country's best interest. Finally, it raises the question of what will happen to these business empires under a successor government.

As for Marcos' direction of the economy as a whole, it would appear that he has neither managed it so well as to ensure his popularity and political survival, nor so badly as to make his overthrow probable. Thus, how long he will continue to rule is likely to depend as much on the popular reaction to the political features of his government as on its economic performance.


One popular action of the Marcos dictatorship in most of the Philippines was the confiscation, at the beginning of martial law, of privately owned firearms and the disbanding of the private armies of local politicians. This put an end to the gun-toting Wild West atmosphere that had prevailed in the cities as well as the countryside since World War II, and that had allowed the strong and the well connected to bully the weak. An immediate result of the declaration of martial law, a rural-based American anthropologist reported, was that villagers who had fled to the towns for safety moved back to their villages once again. Even the suspension of local elections, regretted by the rural gentry who quadrennially competed for local office, was welcomed by many of the rural poor because it put an end to the weeks of politically inspired violence, during which they were subjected to intimidation by the armed goons of local candidates.

In the Muslim-inhabited parts of the far southern islands of Mindanao and Sulu, however, the attempt to confiscate arms produced not peace and order but the escalation of a previously simmering rebellion into a full-scale guerrilla war. The underlying cause of the Muslim rebellion was the post-World War II flood of Christian Filipino immigrants from the central and northern parts of the country into what once had been a wholly Muslim and pagan region, to the point where Muslims are now a majority in only two of the 18 provinces of the main southern island of Mindanao.

Threatened with the loss of their ancestral lands and with the dilution of their distinctive culture, the Muslims, mainly under the leadership of various young, educated organizers of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), have attempted to win independence for their region, or at least to stem the tide of Christian immigration, by resort to arms. This attempt had been opposed by the country's armed forces. The call for the surrender of privately owned firearms in 1972 was perceived by Muslims as a prelude to their own extermination and led to an intensification of their struggle, in which they were assisted by Libya with weapons smuggled in through the North Borneo states of Malaysia.

Marcos has attempted to deal with the Muslim rebellion, now estimated by the government to involve some 15,000-20,000 insurgents, through a combination of concessions and increased military force, offering limited autonomy and developmental assistance to the predominantly Muslim provinces. An agreement for negotiations between the MNLF and the Philippine government, concluded in Tripoli in 1977, has broken down, as has a subsequent cease-fire agreement. Sporadic fighting continues with no end in sight. Christian settlers and some of the military call for a more aggressive campaign to put the Muslims in their place once and for all, and some accuse the President of allowing the war to continue in order to justify the prolongation of his dictatorship. Thus, while a minority ethnic group's rebellion, far from the center of power in Manila, does not by itself weaken a Christian president's control over the great majority of provinces inhabited by Christian Filipinos, if the conflict were to continue indefinitely it could help to bring about a military coup.


Martial law was declared in 1972 while a constitutional convention, elected the previous year to revise the 1935 Constitution, was in the middle of its task. Many Convention members viewed adoption of a parliamentary form of government as a solution to the executive-legislative conflicts produced by the American system of separation of powers that had been established in the Philippines during the colonial period. But independently minded delegates' support for parliamentary government eroded rapidly when Marcos and his partisans in the Convention announced that they favored the change. It was widely believed that Marcos supported parliamentary government because it would free him from the two-term restriction on presidential office and allow him to rule indefinitely as the country's first prime minister. The methods used by Marcos to assure the adoption of the new constitution-the alleged bribery and intimidation of Convention delegates, the voters' ratification of the Convention's work by a show of hands at open public meetings instead of by secret ballot, and the ambivalent position taken by the Supreme Court concerning the legality of the ratification process-seriously undermined the document's legal status in the minds of the country's educated stratum, in particular the large and influential legal profession.

The whole process of constitutional reform has been tainted by Marcos' subsequent use not only of his martial law powers, but of provisions of both the old and the new constitutions and of numerous hastily arranged referenda to obtain public endorsement of repeated changes in the system of government that no independent legislature would have approved. These changes always seemed designed to assure Marcos' own ascendancy. He used the power to facilitate the transition from presidential to parliamentary government in order to abolish the old Congress without putting a genuine parliament in its place and ruled for six years without any legislature.

During the final three years of martial law, the President moved cautiously in the direction of restoring democracy by permitting the election of a largely powerless Interim National Assembly in 1978 and of local officials in 1980. Both elections, however, were accompanied by opposition complaints (supported by independent observers) of massive fraud and intimidation designed to assure the victory of pro-Administration candidates.

It must be asked whether a variety of authoritarian structures and procedures established under martial law now have become so firmly entrenched that they will prevent restoration of a genuine constitutional democracy or, at least, will remain a lasting threat if it is restored. Among these authoritarian innovations has been the subordination of various formerly independent or politically neutral institutions to the political needs of the executive. A once-critical press has been turned into the sycophantic adjunct of the government through a combination of government-mandated self-censorship and the transfer of ownership to the President's family and friends. The justices of a once-independent Supreme Court and of lesser courts, stripped of their security of tenure, now dutifully make decisions acceptable to the President. The Commission on Elections, in the past a bipartisan and essentially impartial protector of the electoral process, has become the instrument of the ruler, obliged to commit or tolerate electoral fraud in the interest of presidential partisans. Members of the bureaucracy have lost both a secure tenure and the right to vote as they please. Thus, during the 1978 Assembly elections, civil servants and members of their families were under intense pressure to vote for the government's candidates or risk unspecified punishment. Financial agencies of the government have become accustomed to seeing their assets commandeered by members of the ruling family. Previously independent and competing trade unions and business and professional associations have been pressured to consolidate into a more unified system of organizations under varying degrees of state supervision or control. All units of the government, as well as educational and other institutions, reportedly now find themselves saddled with agents of a massive network of informers controlled by the intelligence establishment.15

Although the practice is not new in the Philippines, the arrest and detention of individuals suspected of sedition or subversion has been widespread under martial law. The offenses now appear to be defined broadly to include any active opposition to the Marcos regime. Those jailed have included prominent members of the Philippine intelligentsia and professional classes. Many have been incarcerated without charges or access to due process of law, and some have been tortured or killed while being interrogated. One estimate presented to an American congressional subcommittee placed the total number arrested and detained since 1972 at over 60,000.16 Most of these have been released. Early in 1980, diplomatic sources put the number still held at over 1,000. A year later, according to Philippine government sources, 312 political violators remained in detention.17

Most dangerous to the future prospects for democracy has been Marcos' use of the armed forces as the principal instrument to maintain his rule. As a result, a military which in the past had been the obedient, non-political servants of the civilian authorities has evolved into a potentially independent political force. Since Marcos first became a congressman, he has shown a special solicitude for the military. It was with the concurrence of a trusted group of officers that he declared martial law. During the next eight years the armed forces more than quadrupled, from 60,000 to 275,000. (Not included in the latter number are a variety of new home-defense and other paramilitary organizations.) This expansion has been accompanied by rapid promotion and pay raises for all ranks, the increasing involvement of officers in nonmilitary spheres of government, and, for the first time, reports of large-scale corruption and self-enrichment in the higher ranks of the officer corps. The period of martial law also brought a rapid movement into key commands of the President's fellow Ilocano-speakers from the northern provinces of Luzon. Thus, by recent count, 18 of 22 general officers of the Philippine Constabulary, whose duty it is to preserve internal peace and order, were native Ilocanos.

Of particular importance for the maintenance of the regime has been the expansion of the once relatively insignificant Presidential Guard Battalion into a modified infantry brigade, housed on the presidential palace grounds, which now serves as the nucleus of a large and complex Presidential Security Command.18 The predominantly Ilocano officers of the presidential guard come from an elite body within the military and are routinely rotated among other units throughout the country. Their personal loyalty to the President is unquestioned. The commander of the Presidential Security Command and concurrently the head of a complex of intelligence agencies is the President's relative and aide-de-camp, Constabulary General Fabian Ver. This officer also effectively controls the Manila Constabulary Command, the ordinary Manila police forces, and various private security-guard agencies, all of which are largely Ilocano in composition. In addition to these forces protecting the President, there are two powerful combat units based in central and northern Luzon.

The military has taken pains to keep its presence in Manila as inconspicuous as possible. City dwellers mainly come in contact with the city police, and probably few are aware of the existence of the Presidential Guard Battalion. This helps maintain an atmosphere of normalcy in Manila. The heavy concentration of Ilocano firepower both in and near the capital city should be more than sufficient, however, to protect the President from either a serious uprising among Manila's predominantly Tagalog-speaking inhabitants or from an attempt by non-Ilocano elements within the military to suddenly seize power. Yet the heavy reliance on Ilocanos raises the possibility that if Marcos or, after him, an Ilocano-dominated military junta were confronted with a major rebellion, an interregional conflict would ensue which might place the Tagalogs and Visayans in revolt and find the Ilocanos, led by major portions of the armed forces, striking back from their homeland in the north.


Opposition to the Marcos regime consists of several distinct groups. Most well known is a group of prominent political figures, calling themselves the United Democratic Opposition, who built their reputations before 1972 and who have maintained them by publicly opposing the new regime. They include such individuals as former President Diosdado Macapagal, former Senators Benigno Aquino, Jr., Jose Diokno, Salvador Laurel, Gerardo Roxas, Jovito Salonga, Lorenzo Tañada, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Jose Laurel, Jr. The group draws members from both the old Liberal and Nacionalista parties. While they take no single position on substantive questions of public policy, most of them can be described as economic nationalists and political pragmatists. On social policy they range from conservative to mildly liberal; some might be described as social democrats. They are united primarily by their opposition to one-man rule and by their willingness to criticize it publicly. Several of them have served repeatedly as the legal defenders of political prisoners and have been imprisoned themselves. Some have boycotted the elections held under martial law; others have run as opposition candidates. With the old political parties in a state of hibernation, these veteran political leaders can do little but speak out against the regime. However, in the absence of a forum in which younger leaders can build reputations and followings, their voices are the most widely heard. In a genuinely free presidential election, a member of this group would be the strongest opposition candidate and probably would win.

In armed opposition to the regime are elements of the Philippine communist movement. Organized in 1930, the Philippine Communist Party had its first major successes during and immediately after World War II in Central and Southern Luzon through the military achievements of its Hukbalahap guerrilla army. Although it was suppressed early in the 1950s, the Communist Party made a resurgence during the 1960s by spearheading the nationalist movement, especially among the youth. At the same time, the Party split in two. The pro-Soviet wing adopted a parliamentary, rather than an armed revolutionary strategy for achieving power. Some of its reputed leaders now serve in the Marcos government as propagandists or administrators. The Maoist wing chose armed struggle and in 1969, three years prior to the imposition of martial law, organized the New People's Army to serve as its military arm. NPA guerrilla bands, now estimated by the Philippine Armed Forces to have a total armed strength of less than 5,000, are active in widely scattered parts of the country, where they tie down local units of the Constabulary in periodic and usually inconclusive small-scale engagements. As noted earlier, the NPA has been relatively inactive in the rice-growing region of central Luzon and has concentrated its efforts mainly in highland and frontier areas, as well as in some relatively isolated and impoverished provinces of the central Philippines, notably the eastern Visayan island of Samar. This complicates the task of the Constabulary and ensures that units of the NPA will survive for a long time to come. But until it can establish strong bases both in the densely populated rural approaches to Manila and in the city itself, the NPA stands little chance of overthrowing the Philippine government.

Also opposed to the Marcos regime are various individuals and groups who look to the teachings of the Catholic and Protestant churches for inspiration. This Christian opposition is composed largely of people who have no interest in holding public office. They have no single preeminent leader and lack a unified organization, nor do the members hold a uniform position on questions of social and economic policy. They do share, however, a belief in taking a stand against the regime's infringements of human rights as well as against the tendency of government planners to overlook the interests of the poor in the headlong pursuit of rapid economic growth.

Their most prominent clerical figure is Manila's Jaime Cardinal Sin, a moderate on questions of social policy. His confrontations with the regime, confined initially to a defense of established Church rights and to periodic criticism of the First Lady's extravagances, finally led him to call publicly for the lifting of martial law. Some bishops have taken similar positions and have used their pulpits to call for more thoroughgoing social reform. These prominent churchmen are especially effective as critics of the Marcos regime both because they cannot be accused of personal political ambition and because, in this predominantly Catholic country, they can speak publicly with little fear of direct retaliation. Equally influential as a group is the Association of Major Religious Superiors, whose Task Force on Detainees regularly documents and publicizes the mistreatment or killing of political prisoners.

In addition to its clerical members, some of whom are Protestant ministers, the Christian opposition includes some prominent laymen, among them a number of able, Jesuit-trained business managers who may serve a future government in place of Marcos' technocrats. The leading lay figure of the Christian opposition is former Senator and Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus, a Christian Socialist. Since 1972 and the beginning of martial law, Manglapus has been the spokesman of the non-Marxist exile opposition group in the United States.


During the first few years of martial law, opposition leaders found little support among the public at large. The old politicians who today form the United Democratic Opposition had been in some measure discredited because of their identification with the Philippine Congress, which had become synonymous with waste, corruption and obstruction. The Marxists, particularly those at the universities, had alienated much of the urban population by their frequent demonstrations, which disrupted normal life in the cities. During these early years the clergy was not yet politically active. Marcos, on the other hand, had regained some popularity by his audacious declaration of martial law, which many hoped might cure the country's political malaise. In 1973, Marcos might have won his referenda, though by smaller margins, even if they had been fairly conducted.

By the mid-1970s, as the early achievements of martial law did not appear to be followed by additional gains and as the scale of the Administration's abuses became widely known, disillusionment set in. Many who at first had been willing to wait and see concluded that it was time to bring martial law to an end. By the close of the decade, though some still spoke favorably of the regime and many others had lost interest in politics, prevailing opinion among the educated stratum had shifted decisively against both the President and martial law, and a widespread desire to see them go was clearly evident. There was a new appreciation, among thoughtful Filipinos, of the value of checks and balances. Both the moderate and Marxist opposition leaders meanwhile had risen again in public favor, not because people believed that they could govern more ably than Marcos, but because their courage in opposing him publicly cast them as the only available instruments for removing him from power. The opposition was now joined by members of the clergy.

This shift in public opinion was, in part, the result of dissatisfaction with economic conditions, particularly the rising cost of living. But it also was due to disappointment with the way Marcos had used his extraordinary power as a crisis ruler. Having freed his technocrats from interference by members of the Congress, he permitted his kinsmen and cronies to interfere instead. Having promised to root out dishonest bureaucrats, he carried self-enrichment in his inner circle to unprecedented lengths. A consummate lawyer, he repeatedly twisted the law to suit his own ends. A soldier, he corrupted the military. A war hero, he would not give his opponents a fair chance at elections. A ruler who called on his subjects to develop self-discipline, he seemed incapable of containing either his wife's or his own appetite for unlimited power and wealth. Not surprisingly, after eight years of this, despite his great talents and the success of many of his programs, Marcos had lost the confidence of most of his country's educated population.

When Third World autocracies have been toppled as a result of popular action, the cities have usually played a crucial role. It is there that students and laborers organize and demonstrate; it is there that the armed forces are ordered to fire on demonstrators but then refuse to continue the bloodshed. Without his soldiers' support, the ruler either flees or falls. In the Philippines, too, in the absence of a large-scale insurrection in the countryside, the capital city is the most likely place for an attempt to bring down the government. Therefore, recent accounts in the foreign press that public opinion in Manila is turning increasingly against Marcos and that he is in some danger of being overthrown cannot be ignored. Similar forecasts have been made by leaders of the opposition. Their judgment, however, may be somewhat colored by their hopes. It would be risky, therefore, to simply accept these reports and to conclude that Manila is approaching a revolution.

The probability that Manila will erupt into violence depends in large part on such unmeasurable factors as the interplay between the Philippine national character and Marcos' personality and skill, subtleties that foreigners are particularly ill equipped to evaluate. At best they can describe their impressions and, on that basis, make guarded guesses about the future.

The Marcos regime has not shown the large-scale brutality in suppressing its opponents in the cities that is the hallmark of dictatorial regimes in certain other parts of the world. Indeed, compared to what might be expected of some other Filipino politicians if they enjoyed uncontrolled power, Marcos has shown a good deal of restraint and sophistication, especially in controlling, and sometimes co-opting, his critics among the intelligentsia. The rank and file, for their part, are not given to mass demonstrations of fury or to mass violence. Filipinos are individualists. They are also reticent about open displays of anger, unless provoked beyond endurance. The Iranian street mob, now so familiar to American television viewers, simply has no counterpart in the Philippines. Nevertheless, hostility to Marcos is widespread and real, is expressed with vehemence in private conversations, and will remain a threat to his regime.

In 1978 I had the opportunity to observe the Interim Assembly election campaign in Manila, where a serious opposition slate had entered the race. It was apparent that the great majority of the city's people supported this slate. Neighborhood rallies for the opposition were packed with members of the working and lower-middle classes, who stood for hours to hear the candidates lambaste the regime. Neighborhood rallies for the government candidates, on the other hand, drew much smaller numbers, mostly children and neighborhood riffraff who had been provided with chairs and sandwiches and, in some cases, had been paid to attend. Only when the government changed its tactics and bussed thousands of teenagers to rallies at central locations was it able to create the appearance of massive backing.

The opposition sent out word to its sympathizers to show their support on the evening before election day by making noise, blowing horns or beating pans for 15 minutes. When the appointed time arrived the noise began, rose to the level of bedlam, and continued in various parts of the city for three to four hours. That night I was at the home of friends in a wealthy subdivision where no nearby sounds interfered with the distant roar from the poorer parts of Manila. I expressed the view that if there were obvious government cheating, as was generally expected (and as proved to be the case), there would be large demonstrations leading, perhaps, to the fall of the regime. My Filipino hosts assured me that I was mistaken-nothing would happen. And in fact nothing did. The morning after the clearly fraudulent results were announced, stillness reigned. Some opposition leaders, followed by a few hundred people, staged a peaceful protest march and were arrested. And that was the end of it.

Another foreign observer, visiting a government office where there had been strong support for the opposition, found the employees reconciled to their disappointment: "Some were angry. Most, however, laughed it off, saying the election was good fun while it lasted, but no one should have expected the outcome to be any different as long as martial law held sway."19 An opposition strategist offered this explanation: "Marcos knows his people well. If he bloodies us, we will revolt. But if he only threatens us, which he does often, we will think of our safety and obey him." It is for this reason, no doubt, that water cannons and batons, but not firearms, are used to suppress the demonstrations that periodically occur in the city. A soldier who witnessed the "noise rally" as well as the calm after election day had a somewhat different explanation: "People knew that they had some freedom during the elections, but that the freedom was over after election day. They felt it was hopeless."


On January 17, 1981, in a grand ceremony attended by the diplomatic corps, President Marcos announced the lifting of martial law. The main effect was to end the military trials and military detention of civilian offenders, moving them to the national penitentiary. At the same time, Marcos released some political prisoners and ordinary criminals and formally transferred his legislative powers under martial law to the Interim Assembly. Of its 185 elected members, 169 belong to his New Society Party, and only four or five are in genuine opposition.20

The significance of these steps was undercut by the President's announcement that a broad range of authoritarian controls would continue. Under a constitutional amendment adopted during the martial law years, and which remains in effect after martial law, he continues to have the power to by-pass the Assembly when an emergency exists and to legislate alone at what appears to be his own discretion. Furthermore, all decrees issued under martial law remain in effect, including two previously unpublished codes dealing with security and public order. These permit preventive detention, continue the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus for certain offenses in the war-torn south, and give the President authority to control the admission of students to schools. This last provision should effectively deter political activism by students. In addition, although publication of opposition papers and the holding of demonstrations are now allowed, permits are required for both of these activities. This serves not only as a disincentive to establishing newspapers that might later be suppressed but also as a deterrent to genuinely critical reporting. Finally, the armed forces were assured by Marcos that their role would remain unchanged by the lifting of martial law.

Twelve days later, as a seeming afterthought, the President announced a step much more important than the lifting of martial law. Opinion surveys had shown, he alleged, that the public did not favor parliamentary government of the British type. Therefore, the Interim Assembly would be asked to revise the 1973 Constitution to establish a presidential-parliamentary system of government along French lines. Constitutional amendments designed to effect this change were adopted by the Assembly in February of this year and ratified in April, in a plebiscite that was protested by the opposition and reportedly accompanied by the usual election frauds. The amendments included two important provisions. One granted presidents and those acting on presidential orders immunity from suit for their official acts during or after their terms of office. The second set the minimum age for presidential candidates at 50-just high enough to exclude Marcos' most formidable opponent, 48-year-old Benigno Aquino. (Marcos himself was first elected to the presidency at 48.) Elections to choose a president for a renewable six-year term were scheduled for the middle of June, the time of school vacations, when university students would find it difficult to organize protest demonstrations.

At first, the United Democratic Opposition announced its willingness to participate in the elections and to run a presidential candidate if certain conditions were met: the appointment of a genuinely independent Commission on Elections, equal access to the media, and a campaign of sufficient length to give their candidate a serious chance to reach the voters. These conditions were not met, however, and UNIDO decided to boycott the elections. Because the communist opposition was excluded from the race by an amendment denying accreditation to parties that seek to achieve their goals through violence, there remains no significant obstacle to the President's reelection. Marcos found an obscure one-time governor and Defense Secretary to run against him as a token Nacionalista Party candidate. That is where matters stood when this article went to press. Regardless of who the opposition candidate or candidates turn out to be, the results of the elections are a foregone conclusion.

As for the new form of government, the combination of the nearly dictatorial powers held by the French president under the de Gaulle constitution, the authoritarian legislation carried over from the period of martial law, and Marcos' commanding majority in the Interim Assembly, means that the constitutional change has transformed a temporary, emergency dictatorship into a perhaps less arbitrary, but no less powerful, permanent form of authoritarian government. In view of the manner in which referenda and elections have been conducted during the past eight years, this seems to remove the opposition's last hope for a genuinely democratic decision concerning the form of government or the identity of its head. By this latest move, Marcos appears to have assured himself a position for as long as he wants as his country's nearly absolute ruler.

Any belief, therefore, that Marcos has offered the Reagan Administration a liberalized regime is questionable. Instead it appears that Marcos has concluded that the time is propitious to move in the opposite direction. The lifting of martial law under these conditions is not likely to quiet domestic opposition to Marcos and his government. A paper prepared for an international financial institution has noted that the opposition groups have attacked both martial law and Marcos' leadership per se for a host of political and economic reasons that would exist even if martial law had never been imposed and that will not disappear with the lifting of martial law, as long as Marcos retains power. That is an accurate assessment. But unless his health declines-and there is at present no confirmation of rumors to that effect-Marcos is likely to govern for some time to come. Resentment against him, though widespread, does not appear to be sufficiently intense, outside the narrow circle of political activists, nor are living conditions so intolerable as to make a genuine popular uprising likely. There will continue to be periodic demonstrations by organized groups, but the military units entrusted with the defense of the regime are large, loyal, well positioned, and trained to avoid bloodshed. Because much of the authoritarian nature of the regime now is hidden behind democratic appearances, many Filipinos probably welcome the long-awaited end of martial law and may be disposed to give the President an extended second honeymoon.

Internationally, Marcos has strengthened his position by naming as his first Prime Minister his most prominent technocrat, Finance Minister Cesar Virata. A former Dean of the Business School of the prestigious University of the Philippines and a man with an enviable reputation for personal integrity, Virata enjoys the confidence of the international financial community and has been largely responsible for the government's ability to secure large loans abroad. His appointment will do much to assuage foreign bankers' unease about the Marcos government. Whether Virata will be able to use his considerable bargaining power to curb the excesses of other members of the ruling group and, in particular, of the military remains to be seen. In the past, the technocrats have had little success in this regard. Filipino political observers note that Virata has no personal "power base," i.e., controls no regional political machine and commands no soldiers. This weakens him in Filipino if not in foreign eyes.

Virata's greatest test will come when Marcos leaves the scene. The most recent constitutional amendments provide that on the death of a president an Executive Committee headed by the prime minister shall exercise power until a new president is elected. But the generals who have risen to power under Marcos, as well as Mrs. Marcos and her partisans, are not likely to accept a successor who does not guarantee the preservation of their privileges. For its part, the democratic opposition will call for a scrapping of the Marcos constitution and a quick return to genuine democracy under civilian leadership. Prime Minister Virata or the next president, then, will have to choose between coming to terms with the opposition by democratization, or attempting to maintain the authoritarian system that Marcos has fashioned. The first course risks provoking the hostility of, and perhaps a seizure of power by, the generals; the second means increased attacks from the democratic and communist opposition.

Marcos himself could make a peaceful transition to democratic government more likely by now transferring real power to Prime Minister Virata. Marcos has often spoken about the difficulty of dismounting from a tiger once dictatorship has been established; he now has an opportunity to climb down gracefully. But there would be risks to Marcos in such a maneuver. The clearest demonstration that Virata had assumed real authority would be his ability to clip the wings of some of Marcos' most powerful associates. This could provoke a coup, not only against the Prime Minister but against Marcos himself. It is highly doubtful that Marcos would take such a risk.

Whenever succession comes, younger elements within the officer corps may play a significant independent role. While foreigners know little about this subject, Filipinos with connections in the military report some dissatisfaction (particularly among officers who have fought in the south) with the inconclusiveness of that war, with the politicization of the military's role, and with the favored position of the Ilocanos. Many officers probably share the prevailing Filipino middle-class attachment to democratic values. Many others are mainly concerned with getting their turn at the money-making opportunities now available to members of their profession. Yet it must be assumed also that some of those who were cadets during the heady days of student radicalism in the 1960s were not immune to the appeals of that movement. At least one of them, a military academy instructor, defected to the New People's Army some years ago. Presumably he won some disciples among his former students.

In December 1979, it was reported, 13 officers and some enlisted men were arrested for plotting a coup. This recent event suggests that if the Marcos government began to falter, or if a successor government were beset by internal conflict or faced increasingly uncontrollable opposition, it might be toppled by a group of younger officers who had not been closely associated with the Marcos regime. Some members of the democratic opposition, in fact, see in this possibility their only realistic hope for the restoration of democratic government. But whether a military coup would lead to a democratic, or at least to a competent, government or even to a government friendly to the United States, is far from certain.

Over the long run, the goals of the democratic and communist opposition leaders will continue to be in conflict. In confronting a government by Marcos or his successors, they might collaborate with each other for a time. Afterward they would inevitably fall apart. In a free election, I have suggested, the democratic opposition would win. Whether they could hold power over the long haul, however, is less certain. In a country where opportunism has been more the rule than the exception among the political elite, and where political organizations usually have been weak and devoted to the short-run needs of individual politicians, the members of the communist opposition-the New People's Army and their "National Democratic Front," including some of the clergy who have joined them-display an earnestness and a dedication that cannot fail to impress even those who question their goals. These members of the educated stratum and their working-class and peasant supporters appear to have built a complex of underground organizations and a communications network that is unprecedented in the Philippines. They have come very far since the decimation of the Communist Party in the 1950s. Their strength, according to well-informed American observers, is growing slowly but steadily. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that unless the Filipino people are persuaded by a reformist government that it can achieve fundamental, equalizing changes in the society and in the economy, the advocates of revolutionary change may, in the end, prevail.


It is the conviction of the Philippine Left-and the charge is echoed by many members of the centrist opposition-that President Marcos imposed his dictatorship with American approval and that he could not maintain it without American support. For the Marxists "feudalism, fascism and imperialism" are inseparably linked, and the removal of the last of these is a precondition for the destruction of the other two. Whether leaders of the moderate opposition really believe that Marcos could survive without American support is unclear. But it is perhaps part of the colonial legacy that there remains an exaggerated view of what the American government can accomplish in the Philippines.

In late 1972, at a time when rumors of an impending declaration of martial law were widespread in Manila, the U.S. Ambassador, Henry Byroade, who also heard them, reportedly urged Marcos not to proceed. Having been assured that no such action was even being contemplated, the Ambassador was taken by surprise when, a few days later, Marcos imposed martial law. Whether at higher levels in Washington there was foreknowledge or advance acceptance of martial law remains unclear. It is clear, however, that American officials most familiar with the Philippines recognized from the beginning the danger to the Philippines and to American interests of a prolonged interruption in the democratic process and feared that this might be Marcos' intention.

In any case, the American ability either to maintain Marcos in office or to persuade him to restore a genuinely competitive democracy seems exaggerated. While American financial and material assistance is important to the President, it is not essential to his survival. Given the strength of his internal power base, the availability of other sources of loans, investments and military hardware, and the recent experiences of the Shah of Iran and of Nicaragua's General Anastasio Somoza, it is not likely that American pressure could persuade Marcos to relinquish power if he were not inclined to do so.

In fact, the Philippine policy established by the Nixon, Ford and Carter Administrations since September 1972 has followed two tracks. The United States has sought to maintain its long-standing good relations with the Philippines and thus with the Philippine government of the day. At the same time, it has taken a consistent, if low-key, critical stance toward martial law and has criticized reported human rights violations, which have proliferated under martial law.21

All three American Administrations have attached particular importance to the bilateral Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 and to the continued use by American air and naval units of the previously American, now Philippine, military bases at Clark Field and Subic Bay. Both of these positions were reaffirmed by the Carter White House in January 1979, following bases negotiations begun during the Ford Administration. In return for the continued use of the bases, the Carter Administration agreed to make its best effort to obtain, over a five-year period, $500 million in security assistance appropriations for the Philippines.

The American presence at these two military bases has been a particular bête noire for the Philippine Left and has been criticized by other Filipinos as being more likely to act as a magnet for foreign attack than a source of protection. The 1979 agreement on use of the bases has been attacked by many of Marcos' opponents as a sign of U.S. support for martial law. Yet in view of the growing Soviet naval presence at Cam Ranh Bay, several hundred miles from the Philippines, the strategic importance of these bases to both the American and the Philippine governments is difficult to dispute.

Criticism of the financial aspects of the agreement also seems somewhat exaggerated. The total $500 million agreed to by the Carter Administration is one quarter of the sum originally suggested by the Philippine government and one half of that reportedly offered by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during the last weeks of the Ford Administration. Of the sum being provided, 40 percent is in the form of economic aid, channeled through the Agency for International Development for standard AID-type development projects; 50 percent is in military sales credits; and only ten percent, or $50 million, is to be in outright military aid grants. By comparison, that sum is a small fraction of the loans extended to the Philippines by various international lenders and of estimates of the President's personal fortune. It is difficult to believe that the Marcos regime would depend on such a modest sum for its survival.

Nor is it evident that the use of the bases represents American participation in the Philippine military's control of the Filipino people. It is Philippine policy not to allow foreign ground troops into the Philippines for defense except as a last resort, and it seems highly unlikely that American troops would be introduced into the Philippines to help an autocrat suppress a popular revolt. As it is, the few American officers of the American Military Assistance Group stationed in Manila are under instructions to stay away from the war zones in the south. A similar policy is pursued by the U.S. AID Mission, which takes no part in development programs in the Muslim regions.

The American AID Mission has been in the Philippines since the late 1940s and has operated under a succession of Philippine administrations. In Fiscal Year 1981 the United States will provide $38.5 million in development aid in the form of loans and grants (in addition to the funds for economic development provided under the military bases deal). AID staff members think highly of the Marcos Administration's rural infrastructure development programs which, in line with the American congressional mandate and with current developmental thinking, place a special emphasis on improving the earning capacity of the rural poor. While the Americans would have preferred to see a more thoroughgoing program of land reform, they recognize that it goes considerably further than previous efforts. The fact is that while they are privately appalled by the venality of the Marcos Administration, American and other foreign economists are more impressed by the overall economic policies of the Marcos Administration than by those of his predecessors or of his critics in the Filipino business community and their opposition allies.

The United States represents the largest source of foreign investment in the Philippines-an estimated one billion dollars, roughly three times the estimate for its closest competitor, Japan. During the colonial and early post-colonial periods, American property owners in the Philippines enjoyed certain special privileges. But these were gradually ended during the early 1970s, and Americans now operate under the same conditions as other foreign investors in the Philippines. Indeed, much of the recent foreign investment has come from Japan and Western Europe rather than from the United States.

A most important, if intangible, American asset in the Philippines is the continuing goodwill and trust of a large portion of the older generation of Filipinos from all social strata. The preservation of this asset should be a major objective of American policy. Filipino goodwill toward the United States and toward individual Americans is the legacy of a half-century of relatively benign colonial rule, of a shared struggle against Japan during World War II, and of a "special relationship" between the two countries, persisting since the establishment of Philippine independence in 1946. As a result, English serves as the lingua franca of the elite and is understood by a large part of the population. American cultural influence is pervasive; the American model of modernity dominates all others. For Filipinos, the United States is still the best known and most admired example of a stable democracy, and remains the Philippines' only tested ally.

Filipino attitudes toward the United States were demonstrated a few years before the declaration of martial law when a movement proposing American statehood for the Philippines won surprisingly wide support. Today the United States is still the preferred destination for long lines of would-be immigrants, the principal place of study for those seeking foreign degrees, the preferred place of asylum for Filipino political exiles of all ideological persuasions, and the main stage for efforts by both the opposition and the Marcos government to win foreign sympathy and support.

One result of this pervasive American impact on the Philippines is that members of all established political groups, including the older Marxist leaders, have a good deal of knowledge and understanding of the United States; and, whatever their views about us, they have had some experience in dealing with Americans on matters of mutual interest. All of the leading members of the United Democratic Opposition, including those most noted for their strictures against American policies and American influence in the Philippines, have been involved for many years in hammering out the terms of the evolving relationship between the two countries. There are few, if any, among the democratic opposition with whom an American government could not develop a mutually acceptable intergovernmental relationship.

However, this assumption cannot be made about the next generation of opposition leaders. Younger Filipinos have no personal recollection of the prewar years or of World War II; their formative years were the 1960s, the decade of stridently anti-American nationalism. For this reason, it is in the American interest to see a return to democratic government while the older generation of leaders is still on the scene.

For the present, it seems unlikely that a non-communist government replacing the Marcos regime would abrogate American rights to use the military bases in the Philippines, although the new government would be compelled by the rhetoric of the present opposition to renegotiate the terms of such use. Similarly, it is unlikely that such a new government would-or could-reverse the industrialization strategy established by Marcos, which depends heavily on foreign investments. Certain foreign firms making the least useful contributions to the Philippine economy, might, of course, be expelled, and the requirements for new investments would surely be tightened to some degree. However, unless the American connection were replaced by a Soviet or a Japanese one-both equally unlikely for different reasons-a Philippine government committed to foreign-assisted security and development simply has no other place to go.

Historically, the United States has had a special interest in maintaining constitutional democracy in the Philippines. Its establishment was the major announced goal of American colonial policy and a precondition for granting independence in 1946. For almost three decades thereafter, the Philippines was portrayed as the "show window of American democracy" in Southeast Asia. Though a Filipinized, nineteenth-century version of its American model, it functioned fairly well, and before martial law it gave promise of adapting itself to the changing needs and pressures of the time. Nevertheless, martial law was preceded by a period of growing cynicism about the value of preserving a form of government which brought with it massive corruption and few benefits for the poor. The blame, of course, lies in part with Marcos himself, for he was the country's elected president at the time. The traditional American association with Philippine democracy helps explain the dismay with which Marcos' declaration of martial law was greeted at the American Embassy in Manila. It also accounts for the American position during the Nixon, Ford and Carter Administrations toward martial law.

Formally and correctly, that position, in the words of one American official, was one of "neither approving or not approving" of martial law. Informally, however, all three Administrations sent signals, which should have been clear to those who were willing to see them, of American doubts about the need for imposing martial law and of American hopes for its early termination. This view was communicated both privately and publicly by several American ambassadors and, finally, by Secretary of State Edmund Muskie. It has been expressed symbolically by the fact that President Marcos has not been invited to Washington for a state visit since before 1972, when martial law was imposed. In the Philippines, where visits to the American capital are considered important for every president, the meaning of this omission is clear.

In addition, during the Carter years there was repeated public criticism of the state of human rights in the Philippines, particularly with regard to the treatment of political prisoners. High American officials have interceded on behalf of prominent political detainees, and Filipino officers believed to have been involved in torturing of prisoners have been excluded from training programs in the United States.


Some critics have suggested that the Philippines may become another Iran or Nicaragua and that American policy should be guided by its experience in these countries. It can be argued that a moderate, pro-American dictatorship might be less objectionable from the American point of view than an equally harsh but strongly anti-American replacement.22 But the parallel can be overdrawn. The Philippines has had seven elected presidents since the end of World War II. All have maintained good relations with the United States, and all but one have adhered to the rules of democratic politics. Thus, the Philippines differ from Iran and Nicaragua in two significant ways. First, authoritarian government is not the norm in the Philippines and, even under the most skillful rulers, cannot be maintained indefinitely. Second, while Marcos has been a good friend of America, the United States has many other friends in the Philippines. Only a minority of Filipinos can be called anti-American, and of these only a minority hope for the establishment of a communist regime.

For these reasons the United States has both fewer, and more, options than it seemed to have in Iran or Nicaragua. It has fewer options in that it cannot tie its interests to the maintenance of a friendly dictatorship. It has more options in that there are other capable and popular Filipino leaders, well known to American officials, who would restore a political system more attractive both to Filipinos and to Americans, leaders who would not be significantly less friendly to the United States than is the Marcos regime. However, the longer the restoration of democracy is delayed, the greater the possibility becomes that the present authoritarian system will be replaced not by a democratic but by a totalitarian-and bitterly anti-American-government.

Marcos cannot reestablish a genuinely competitive democracy without putting his political power at risk. The United States cannot force him to take such a risk. But with regard to the most recent constitutional amendments, we should not assist him in passing off an imitation of democracy as the real thing. It is important for future good relations between the two countries that whatever Filipinos may believe the American role to have been in supporting the declaration of martial law in 1972, they must be convinced that the United States did not conspire in, does not approve of, and will not accept without strong protest the imposition now, by undemocratic means, of something similar to martial law as a permanent form of government.

Finally, the Carter Administration, in calling Marcos' attention to the human rights violations committed by some of his subordinates, was in the good company of a large portion of the Philippine clergy and of the democratic opposition's most courageous and respected leaders. Nevertheless, having been absolved by President Marcos of liability for any past mistreatment of political prisoners, Constabulary members are likely to continue their abuses. Nothing would be gained-and much would be lost-if the United States were now to lessen its interest in the human rights of a people with whom it has had a long and friendly relationship.

1 World Development Report, 1980, Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1980.

2 "Financial Times Survey: Philippines," Financial Times (London), November 7, 1980.

4 Eduardo Lachica, The Asian Wall Street Journal, January 16, 1981.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 The Asian Wall Street Journal, August 31, 1978.

8 Justin J. Green, "Manila Diary," Philippine Studies Newsletter, October 1980, p. 12.

9 Henry Kamm, The New York Times, February 5, 1981.

10 World Development Report, 1980.

11 "Financial Times Survey: Philippines," loc. cit. footnote 2.

12 Lachica, loc. cit. footnote 4.

14 "Some Are Smarter Than Others." A portion of the list was reprinted in The Philippine Times (Chicago), December 10, 17, 24 and 31, 1979. For a former American official's observations on the methods employed to build these business empires, see Stephen B. Cohen, "The US Should Keep Its Distance," Manchester Guardian Weekly, March 1, 1981, p. 8.

15 Bonifacio H. Gillego, "The Invisible Army of Marcos' Dictatorship," Philippine News (Chicago), April 15-21, 1981.

18 Filemon V. Tutay, "Handling Security at the Summit," Philippines Lawman, May 1980.

19 Benedict J. Kerkvliet, "Resources for Research on Local Philippines Society," Philippine Studies Newsletter, October 1980, p. 5.

20 In a country where there had been an evenly balanced two-party system since 1946, and where no party won more than 65 percent of the popular votes or 80 percent of the seats at a postwar, pre-martial law congressional election, such a weak showing by the opposition is fairly convincing evidence that the Assembly is not the product of genuinely open elections.

21 An excellent account of Philippine-American relations during the Marcos presidency through 1977 may be found in Claude A. Buss, The United States and the Philippines, Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1977.


You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Carl H. Landé is Professor of Political Science and East Asian Studies at the University of Kansas. He has specialized in Philippine affairs since 1953 and is the author of Leaders, Factions and Parties: The Structure of Philippine Politics, and other works.
  • More By Carl H. Lande