1965-1986: The Marcos Years
America lends a hand to an anticommunist dictator.
Today, the name Ferdinand Marcos conjures up images of oppressive
rule and of his wife Imelda's huge collection of shoes. Marcos was
elected president of the Philippines in 1965. His early accomplishments
in developing rural areas were overshadowed by his eventual
descent into crony capitalism and dictatorship. In 1972, he
declared martial law: Constitutional rights were suspended,
the legislature was closed and Marcos held on to power for another
President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda became infamous for their political corruption and lavish lifestyle. Marcos first made a name for himself in Philippine politics by successfully defending himself against charges that he had shot a political rival. (photo: Francois Lochon/Getty Images)
Successive American administrations tolerated and supported
Marcos in spite of his authoritarianism, seeking his help to
maintain a sizable military presence in the country. America's
bases in the Philippines played a vital role during the Vietnam
War, and after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, they served
as a counterweight to the Soviet naval base in Cam Ranh Bay.
But the U.S. bases were a contentious issue for many Filipinos,
who saw them as further evidence of America's enduring colonial
meddling. While the bases did create jobs and boost the local
economy, they also fueled crime and prostitution in adjacent
President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos during a conference in Manila, 1966. (photo: Yoichi Yokamoto/National Archives)
In the early 1970s, a Maoist rebel group called the New People's
Army (NPA) and a Muslim separatist group called the Moro National
Liberation Front (MNLF) formed in the southern part of the country.
The NPA expanded to include as many as 25,000 members while
the MNLF received aid and arms from Libya and Iran. The United
States, fearing communist insurgency, sent advisors to train
the Philippine army, as well as millions of dollars in military
aid and weapons.
The United States barely protested when Marcos used the struggle
against insurgents as an excuse to crack down on all political
opponents. Asked about the situation in the Philippines in 1984,
President Ronald Reagan replied, "I know there are things there
in the Philippines that do not look good to us from the standpoint
right now of democratic rights, but what is the alternative?
It is a large communist movement."
Corazon "Cory" Aquino is sworn in as president, 1986. Aquino entered politics after her husband, a prominent opposition leader, was assassinated by the Marcos government. (photo: Robin Moyer/Getty Images)
By the mid-1980s, Marcos's unpopularity among Filipinos was
impossible to ignore. He faced not only a guerrilla war but
also widespread public unrest. Hoping to placate his critics,
Marcos announced a "snap" presidential election to be held in
February 1986. Despite the government's attempts to fix the
results, Marcos lost to Corazon Aquino, the wife of assassinated
opposition leader Benigno Aquino. But Marcos stubbornly refused
to concede defeat, even as senior members of his military defected
and thousands of unarmed Filipinos took to the streets in an
unprecedented display of "people power." The tense standoff
ended when, at the urging of the United States, Marcos stepped
down and went into exile.
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