The Marcos enigma

5 questions on the dictator Ferdinand Marcos


Nov 08 2016

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos still casts a huge shadow over the Philippines, three decades after a “People Power” revolution ended his rule.

Here are five questions and answers about Marcos and his family, after the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday he could finally be buried in the national heroes’ cemetery:

– How did he gain and keep power?

With a mixture of charisma, deceit, ruthlessness and tactical brilliance.

Born to a powerful political family in the northern Ilocos region, Marcos parlayed his connections, oratorical skills, an alleged record of World War II heroism and the glamour of his beauty queen wife Imelda to get elected to Congress, and then to the presidency in 1965.

Once in office, he started to subvert democracy, with the backing of the United States that needed him as an Asian ally in the struggle against communism. The United States also had huge military bases in the Philippines vital to the Vietnam War effort.

In 1972 Marcos declared martial law, claiming he needed to enforce extreme security measures to contain communism. He was able to continue manipulating the political system and his US backers until the 1986 uprising, when millions took to the streets and key military figures turned against him.

– What do critics say about his rule? –

That he oversaw historic levels of corruption and widespread human rights abuses, and that his misrule dragged the Philippines down from one the wealthiest nations in Asia to one of the most indebted.

Marcos and his allies stole $10 billion from state coffers, while his security forces killed over 3,200 people and tortured 35,000 others, according to historians and government investigators.

The country’s foreign debt rose from $2.67 billion in 1972, when Marcos declared martial law, to $28.2 billion in 1986, according to the World Bank. Critics say much of the debt went to ill-conceived projects which enriched him and his allies.

– What do his family say?

That he did nothing to apologize for and that martial law was justified to contain communism.

“There were so many different things that were initiated at that time that to this day are of benefit to the people,” his son and namesake, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., told AFP in an interview this year.

READ: Bongbong thanks Duterte for backing hero’s burial for dad

In an interview with AFP in 2009, Imelda Marcos declared she had been “so misunderstood” and that she only sought glamour so she could be a role model for impoverished Filipinos.

“My role as first lady was to be a star and a slave. To set the standard because mass follows class. And so I had to enslave myself so that everyone becomes a star,” she said.

– How much support does his family have and why?

Surprisingly for many people outside the Philippines, the Marcos family has been able to make a strong political comeback and rehabilitate the image of the dictator.

The Ilocos region, the home and bailiwick of Ferdinand Marcos, has always been loyal to the Marcoses, especially after enjoying huge largesse during his rule.

With the passage of time, the family has also been able to build support across the nation, with many Filipinos still suffering from corruption and poverty seeing little difference between Marcos and modern leaders.

“With growing frustrations over the failures of post-martial law leadership, from heavy traffic to uneven development, people are embracing historical amnesia,” political scientist Richard Javad Heydarian wrote.

Bongbong Marcos came a close second in the vice-presidential elections this year, garnering over 13.8 million votes.

– Could another Marcos rule the country again? –

Bongbong has presidential ambitions, and is being heavily pushed by his mother.

At 59, he is still young enough to run in the next presidential elections in 2020.
He can also look forward to support from current president Rodrigo Duterte, a longtime family friend. Duterte’s father was a cabinet member in the Marcos government.

Bongbong is challenging his loss in the vice presidential elections in court. If he loses, he may receive a cabinet post in Duterte’s government, which could be a strong platform for a 2020 presidential bid.

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