What Caused the Philippines to Become Asia’s Basket Case of Wasted Democracy…

When I was writing my thesis, the only thought I had was to help create awareness amongst my fellow countrymen. I wanted to contribute something to society. Like Jose Rizal, the great Philippine hero, I believe that the pen is mightier than the sword.  Since it’s elections time again, I think that my research work can help people understand the dynamics of the  modern socio-politcal instutions of the Philippines.

After submitting and passing my Thesis for the completion of the degree of  Master in International Business Economics and Management at the Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel in Brussels, Belgium in 2011, my research, although almost 2 years old now, still unravels a lot of distortions that resulted into a dysfunctional Philippine government and the prevalance of Oligarchy in the islands. Please take time to read and be enlightened. Thank you!


Republic of the Philippines

This chapter will focus on the history of the Philippines after its independence from the United States on July 4, 1946. It will first give a short background on the Japanese occupation after defeating the combined Filipino and US forces who defended the Philippines during the Second World War. The Japanese became the third colonizers of the Philippines when they successfully conquered the entire archipelago. Their colonization, despite being a short one lasting from 1942 to 1945, has made an impact to the institutions that were set up by their predecessors. The re-establishment of order and the re-installment of the government have made sure that any changes were reverted back to what it was before the war occurred.

The chapter will then elaborate on the persistence of the dysfunctional institutions that evolved from the Spanish occupation until the end of the American regime. The American colonizers administered reforms in the socio-political institutions of the country but have maintained the same strategy that the Spaniards used when they first arrived in the archipelago. They attracted the principalia class and the Ilustrados to join the government so that they could easily subjugate the Filipinos. They managed to crush the revolutionaries by diverting the support of the elites and putting them in key government positions. The American regime was merciless in making sure that the enemies were defenseless in order to pursue with their plans of extracting wealth from the islands while making the Philippines one of their major suppliers of raw materials and a major market of their surplus. The Americans finally let go of the Philippines but the agreement signed by both the U.S. and the Philippines were filled with so much clauses in favor of the U.S. which virtually made the Philippines more of a neo-colony than an independent state. The political and economic institutions of the country, after the Americans left, were dominated by the elites eventually forming a strong class of oligarchs who made sure that their “de facto” power was strengthened in the provinces while they began monopolizing government offices at the national level. The period of 1946 onwards has been a witness to the growth in power of the national elites making progress for ordinary Filipinos more unattainable than ever.

World War II

The Philippine commonwealth was supposed to end in 1941, but the outbreak of yet another war, this time between Europe’s world powers and then later on the U.S. and Japan delayed the impending transformation of the former American colony to an independent state. The Second World War reached Asia and the Pacific when the Japanese bomb the largest US military base in Hawaii on December 6, 1941.

War came to America at 7:55 a.m. on a quiet Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The base on Oahu Island was the home of the United States Pacific Fleet and about 50,000 American troops. At Pearl Harbor was the largest concentration of U.S. forces in the Pacific (http://www.dummies.com). The war which was between the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria) and the Allies (U.S., Britain, France, USSR, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Yugoslavia) originally didn’t involve the U.S. (http://www.infoplease.com) but joined later on after the bombing of the Pearl Harbor which killed 2400 Americans and wounded another 1,200. Of those dead, 1,103 sailors and marines were killed when a Japanese bomb penetrated the forward magazine of the battleship USS Arizona, sinking the ship and the men aboard it (http://www.dummies.com). Then death of the innocent civilians and soldiers, who were unaware of the declaration of war between Japan and the U.S., triggered the war that was not supposed to reach the Philippine shores with devastating effects if it had not been a colony of the U.S.  The Philippines, although was already in transition to being an independent state, was not spared from the wrath of the Japanese forces. The combined U.S. and Philippine forces or U.S. Army forces in the Far East (USAFFE) headed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, despite their strong will to protect the Philippine archipelago, finally surrendered to the Japanese when their last stand in Corregidor, a small island not far from Manila bay, fell to the hands of the Japanese troops.

Corregidor held out for almost a month after Bataan fell (a province in the southern part of Luzon Isand), but surrounded by the enemy, and subjected to continuous attacks, it eventually capitulated when the Japanese invaded the island fortress. After so much heavy fighting, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, commanding the forces in Corregidor and its three other island forts, surrendered to the Japanese. The Japanese, however, refused to accept just the surrender of the Corregidor and its satellite islands, and demanded instead, the surrender of Filipino American troops in the whole Philippines to surrender on May 7, 1942 (Boncan et al, 2000, p. 359).

The surrender of the Philippine archipelago to the Japanese empire inevitably brought another period of turmoil in the islands. The rebel forces continued fighting off the Japanese even after Gen. Wainwright’s handing over of Philippine sovereignty to the Japanese troops. The Hukbalahap (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon or the People’s Anti-Japanese Army renamed Hukbong Mapagpalaya sa Bayan in 1950) under the leadership of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) or the Philippine Communist Party was established in 1942 to fight the Japanese invasion and occupation (Kimura, 2006 p.6) and the landlords in the provinces. The Japanese might have won but the war continued on in the hilly outskirts of the provinces and the mountainous regions of the Philippines.

 Japanese Occupation

The Japanese occupation of the Philippines began right after USAFFE surrendered but Manila was taken by Japanese forces on January 2, 1942. Immediately they declared the existence of Martial Law and established the Japanese Military Administration (Boncan et al, 2000, p. 359). The Japanese occupied the Philippines with the same aim in mind as their predecessors. They tried to exploit and extract wealth from the archipelago. They were more merciless than the former Philippine colonizers but their colonization processes involved the establishment of a new government to replace Quezon’s Commonwealth government (which was then in exile in Washington). They also abolished all political parties and reestablished in their stead Kalibapi (Kapisanan sa Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas or Movement in Service for the New Philippines) , a so-called mass party that was in fact led by “a charter member of the Nacionalista Oligarchy,” Congressman Benigno Aquino Sr. (Steinberg, 1967 as cited in Hutchcroft & Rocamora, 2004).  Some of the former government officials collaborated with the Japanese and helped them in achieving their goal. The elites in the provinces made sure that their interests were protected by helping the new colonizers extract wealth from the islands.

A puppet government was installed, with the formation of the Philippine Executive Commission, made of politically well placed Filipinos, among them Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Jose P. Laurel, later to become the nominal president of the country. Jorge Vargas, Quezon’s executive secretary and appointed Mayor of Manila just before Quezon’s departure, was named head of the commission.  Pragmatic above else a significant portion of the elite – fourteen out of twenty senators and thirty-five out of ninety-eight representatives collaborated with the Japanese command, to ensure retention of their political and economic power. Collaboration, of course, was not limited to politicians. Collaboration was not only limited to politicians. Quite a number of fortunes were made on the black market by unscrupulous businessmen supplying the Japanese with whatever materials were needed (Francia, 2010 p.181)

The elites were not hesitant in taking advantage of the situation, they were afraid to lose their “de facto” power so they helped the new colonizers pursue their interests. The government institutions during the Commonwealth were retained but everything was controlled by the Japanese colonials. Jose Laurel’s government was just a front to effectively extract wealth from the archipelago and to help the Japanese empire with their aim of dominating East Asia and the Pacific.

There was no freedom and anyone who opposed the overlords faced death. The Japanese soldiers were as cruel as (if not crueler than) the Americans during the Filipino-American War – they abused the people and raped the native women. The Filipinos suffered a lot of atrocities under the new colonial power that they wished for the Americans to return and save them. The short but very unforgettable Japanese occupation has scarred a lot of Filipinos killing thousands of innocent civilians. It’s a period in Philippine history that seemed to have lingered on up until this day.

The Philippines after World War II

The defeat of the Axis powers in Europe through the help of the Americans has resulted into the conclusion of the Second World War. The American soldiers successfully defeated the Germans ending the war that lasted for more than five years starting from Sept. 1, 1939. By the beginning of 1944 air warfare had turned overwhelmingly in favor of the Allies, who wrought unprecedented destruction on many German cities and on transport and industries throughout German-held Europe (http://www.infoplease.com). Eventually the war also ended in the Pacific and freed the Philippines from more than three years of Japanese occupation. Gen. MacArthur came back to the Philippines to free the islands from the Japanese forces. On Aug. 14, Japan announced its surrender but was it was only formally signed aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945 (http://www.infoplease.com). The liberation of the Philippines actually began when Gen. MacArthur and his men arrived in Leyte (an Island in Visayas) to start freeing the Filipinos from the cruelty of the Japanese.

The return of the Americans signaled a new chapter of history for most Filipinos. The rehabilitation of the country was the primary goal of the government which was now headed by Osemena (due to the death of President Quezon while the Commonwealth government was in exile in the U.S). Laurel’s government wasn’t recognized by the U.S. so the real government was the one that went to exile after the surrender of Corregidor in 1942. However, since the Philippines was supposed to have been officially freed from the Americans on July 4, 1946, elections were held on April 25, 1946 to establish the Philippine Republic (actually the third one if you consider Aguinaldo’s government and Laurel’s government).  Osmena ran for presidency but had lost his bid to become the president of the Republic of the Philippines.

The war, and the countless intra-elite disputes that it engendered, destroyed the Nacionalista monopoly on political power. For the first time since the early years of the century, major cleavages emerged within the elite that was once again divided over how to relate to a new occupying power. Not surprisingly, one of the most important issues in postwar politics related to the major divisions between those who had collaborated with the Japanese and those who had not (Hutchcroft & Rocamora, 2003 p. 270).

Osmena suffered a defeat because he didn’t get enough support from the majority of the elites.  One of the reasons why he lost the elections is that he refused to lie. The veterans of the war marched to Malacanang (Presidential Palace in Manila) to ask for their back pay but he told the truth about the treasury being bankrupt and that no funds will become available for such pays (Boncan et al, 2000). They, along with the elites, then decided to vote for a president who promised the opposite and who had been actively involved in the guerilla movement. Manuel Roxas (former Senate president in the Commonwealth government) although has actively served the Japanese colonials during their occupation of the islands, was cleared from all the collaboration charges by General MacArthur. He ended up, together with the other members of the newly formed Liberal Party, as the victor of the 1946 elections and the president of the first government “free” from any colonial rule. The formation of the Philippine republic was something that most Filipinos have hoped for through all those decades of being a colony. He was sworn in as the third president of the Commonwealth on May 25, 1946 but was later on installed as the first president of the Third Philippine Republic on July 4, 1946during the withdrawal of U.S. sovereignty over the archipelago and their recognition of Philippine independence (Boncan et al, 2000).

The first mission of Roxas’s government was to rehabilitate the major cities after suffering destruction during the height of the war. The U.S., through Osmena’s efforts during his presidency, provided funds to rehabilitate the Philippines. The U.S. granted the Philippine government compensation money to rehabilitate the public infrastructures that were destroyed during the war and also to provide government funds. The approved war damage claims amounted to $542 million of which only $388.15 million was actually paid (Boncan et al, 2000 p. 381). The money was used to fix public buildings, roads, bridges and to restore the public services that were disrupted during the Japanese occupation. The rehabilitation of the whole islands took some years before everything was back to normal. The primary concern of the people running the government however was to establish the old order prior to the Japanese invasion in 1942. Efforts to get the lands and the properties that were grabbed from the elites in the provinces were pursued by the people in government. The vast haciendas in the countryside were returned to the hands of the families who owned them since the Spanish era. General MacArthur, being close to the landed elite class during the American colonization didn’t bother to distribute the lands so that the masses can have some means to enable them to participate in the commercial economy. The pre-war status quo was that the conservatives wanted, and it was what they got (Francia, 2010 p. 193).

Pre-Martial Law Democracy and the Rise of the Oligarchs 

Philippine politics has always been defined by prominent personalities and not by ideologies. The issues that troubled the nation have always been set aside in favor of the popularity of the person running for office and by the loyalty of the voting public. The introduction of democracy by the Americans in the early 1900’s has been inefficient because it wasn’t intended for the benefit of the majority. To ensure that the elite class wouldn’t pursue the aspiration for self-governance, they have created “democratic” institutions that increased the autonomy of the ruling class in the provinces while expanding their opportunities at the national level (Hutchcroft & Rocamora, 2003). They also made sure that the masses were alienated from participating in the elections in order to maintain the status quo and to allow the elites to gain more control. The only people who were able to vote were the landed elite class who in turn chose according to the politician’s reputation and background. It was important because the official who will sit in the government office could either help them pursue their interests or do the opposite. Having the same character and affiliations as the voter would definitely make a difference. The politician would only then need to prove to the majority of the voters that he is willing to make compromises and dealings that will benefit the landlords who shared the same vision. This kind of system led to a very ingrained client-patronage system that has weakened the ability of the state to constraint its officials. The logic of Philippine politics became driven to a very considerable extent by the politics of patronage: dividing the spoils among the elite and expanding the quantity of spoils available to the elite as a whole (Hutchcroft & Rocamora, 2003, p.266). The people who were elected became indebted to the people who supported their campaign and to the people who gave favors to ensure victory. It was very dangerous because it led to prevalent nepotism and corruption. The official in power would normally try to return the favors to their family and friends once they are in office. They tend to appoint their relatives in government offices and award government projects to their friends. It became a norm to expropriate public funds so that they could increase their wealth and use the state apparatus for their interests which was mostly focused on rent-seeking. The government officials made sure that corporations owned by the state are controlled by the members of their families and by their friends. The unlimited profit potential of monopolizing the firms for the distribution of public goods and services was definitely something that compensated for the support that they received from their “patrons.” The elites sitting in office were indifferent to the needs of the rest of the population because they were not allowed to participate in the democratic process making their interest insignificant and irrelevant (Tupas, 2004). The restrictions were like an entry barrier for the common Filipino. They couldn’t elect the officials who would represent their interests and who could help them alleviate their situation. Although the law of right to suffrage was later revised, their landless status excluded them from any opportunity to affect the creation government policies that could help alleviate their situation.

Throughout the period 1946-1972 (since known as the period of pre-Martial Law democracy), the Liberals and the Nacionalistas alternated in power under the rules formally established in the 1935 constitution. Within a few years after the conclusion of the Pacific War, issues of the Japanese collaboration had been eclipsed by other concerns notably challenges from below the never-ending struggles among political factions to secure their hold on the patronage resources of the estate. Among the most important changes in the character of the Philippine democracy resulted from an enormous increase in the size of the electorate (Hutchcroft & Rocamora, 2003, p.271).

This was encouraged by the formal dropping of literacy requirement (Rood, 2002 as cited in Hutchcroft & Rocamora, 2003, p.271). It allowed the general populace to vote and to participate in the elections. The liberalization of the elections, however, only led to a more pronounced patron-client system because of the ability of the provincial elites to coerce and have the local populace in their respective municipalities vote for the officials that they would like to support in the national elections. In spite of the fact that the move was aimed at making the elections more accessible to the common Filipino, the long tradition of datu leadership since pre-Hispanic times made it difficult for the masses to really have their own independent decision when it came to voting the officials at the national level. Local elite patrons used a variety of means – kinship, personal ties, and the offering of jobs, services and other favors – to build a clientele composed of those from the lower social classes. This clientele constituted a large vote bank (Hutchcroft & Rocamora, 2003, p.271) which also gave the provincial elites the bargaining power and influence towards the politicians in Manila who were running for national office. This kind of set up only made the provincial elites increase their “de facto” power while indirectly influencing government policies through the politician who they have supported from the last elections. The politician would also be compelled to return the favor to the provincial elite (sometimes a local official as well) by using the state apparatus to help them increase their wealth and protect their interests. This also made the state apparatus weak enough to allow large scale corruption and red tape. The political institutions became a means to award those who have helped the incumbents win so that they can have the support of the same people for the next elections after their term have ended. Conversely, the president of the Republic, just like any other officials with lower positions, was not exempted from this type of client-patronage system.

Unlike the colonial governors appointed by Washington, however, Philippine presidents won office with the electoral support of provincial elites and Manila’s oligarchs. As to be expected, much of the Republic’s politics revolved about the contradiction between the president’s dependence upon elite families to deliver votes and his duty to apply the laws against violence and corruption to these same supporters (McCoy, 1993) …Philippine presidents used the state’s licensing powers as bargaining chips in their dealings with national and local elites thereby creating benefices that favored the dominant political families. Viewed within the paradigm of rent seeking politics, the Philippine political system was not based so much on the extraction of “surplus” from the production of new wealth but on the redistribution of existing resources and the artificial creation of rents – in effect rewarding favored families by manipulating regulations to affect a reallocation of existing wealth (Scott, 1976 as cited in McCoy, 1993 p. 12).

As a result of this type of politics, a number of families rose to prominence by increasing their wealth and by monopolizing the major industries of the country. Their favored status and sometimes their government positions, gave them the opportunity to influence government policy making to their advantage. It also ensured the protection of their conglomerates and the continued access to public resources. In essence, it became the new form of wealth extraction that the colonizers have previously employed in the islands. Despite of the existence of “democratic” institutions, the rulers and the few elites were able to appropriate and distribute economic gains among themselves by utilizing the same institutions that were supposed to serve the majority and provide public welfare.

The rise to prominence of the dominant political families, provincial and national elites resulted into an established oligarchy. The once varied class of the elites intermarried to combine their wealth and power to exclude people of lower class. These several families made sure that they controlled much of the country’s economic gains through their huge conglomerates and businesses. The different major industries in the Philippines were in their hands while the rest of the population was left impoverished and underdeveloped.

The continued dominance of the oligarchy in the Philippines became a barrier for the people who were outside their circles which limited the distribution of the country’s economic gains among themselves. Their “de facto” power grew even more as they began to monopolize the domestic market for goods and services. They have made themselves richer and extracted wealth by using the state apparatus. Their monopoly has not only led to the exclusion of the majority of the Filipinos but also to the exclusion of some elites who weren’t that opulent enough to be considered as part of the oligarchy. The presidency, with all the powers and control that the position entailed, was mostly viewed as the main source of patronage that supported the interests of oligarchic families in the country.

Social Unrest and Corruption

The post-World War II period has been marked by the continued control of the state apparatus by the oligarchs and the insistence of the United States to retain its control over the archipelago despite the independent status of the Philippine Republic. The funds that were provided by the Americans to rehabilitate the country came with conditions that have sacrificed some of its liberties. Trade, as it had been prior to independence, was monopolized by the U.S. The free trade agreement was extended to actually help the Philippines recover from the war but the effects were less diversification of products and the slowed industrialization of the local industries. Similar to the pre-war condition, the landed elites mostly concentrated on large scale production of cash crops while never attempting to innovate or improve their products. They were less focused on the domestic market since the reason of producing cash crops was primarily for export. The Philippine Trade Act (PTA), signed by both the U.S. and the Philippines right after the war made sure that the local industries would remain underdeveloped.

The act guaranteed duty free exports to the U.S. for eight years, after which tariffs would be imposed on the gradual scale until 1974, when Philippine exports would be subject to full tariffs. The PTA also restricted the Philippines from manufacturing goods that could compete with those made in the United States, thus providing U.S. imports an unfair advantage and stifling the incentive to industrialize. The bills most blatantly exploitative provision, however, was, the infamous “Parity” provision, which extended to U.S. investors the same rights that Filipinos had to develop the countries resources and to operate public utility companies (Francia, 2010, p. 203).

It gave access to the U.S. to domestic companies but denied other foreigners from competing because of the protectionist clause in the 1935 constitution stating that only 40 percent of local companies could be owned by foreigners. The Roxas administration amended the constitution to include the Parity Rights agreement although some lawmakers strongly disagreed. The bill eventually prevailed in the pro-American Philippine Congress under president Roxas.

Aside from the oligarchs and the pro-U.S. Philippine government, insurgence was also a perennial problem in the countryside. The Huks (Hukbalahap) who have helped the U.S. drove out the Japanese forces during the war revolted against the new established order because of the same age old problems. The inability of the state to properly distribute the lands in order to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor made their resentment towards the government more pronounced. The failure of the American colonial government to help alleviate the situation of the sharecroppers/tenant farmers and small land holders in the provinces led to a large scale uprising that threatened the established order. Moreover, the pro-U.S. stance of the Philippine government angered the “insurgents” adding more firewood to the fire.

The Huks renewed the pesantry’s struggle over social issues, such as land reform, health care and decent wages. Initially hesitant to support the Huks – it believed the revolution would begin in the cities – the PKP saw in this agrarian uprising a golden opportunity to seize stat power. Thus the revocation of the parity amendment and the withdrawal of American military bases were added to the Huk agenda. Both the Huks and the PKP leadership saw how fruitless parliamentary struggle had been. With a restive disillusioned peasant population of close to two million in Central Luzon, the Huks numbered to twelve to fifteen thousand armed fighters (Francia, 2010 p. 207).

The threat of the Huks became very imminent all throughout the postwar period. The Philippine government tried to prevent the struggle through its military arm but due to the growing unrest in the provinces where the provincial elites rule, members of the peasant class continued their fight for land reform. The years of being pushed in the margins resulted into an upheaval. Their clamor was due to the extreme inequality that began in the Spanish era up until the present. They were oppressed and were marginalized by the upper class by using the state apparatus to protect their interests. Social welfare was minimal and common Filipinos living in the countryside had no means to alleviate themselves from their social status. The Indios of the Spanish era, although now freed from forced labor and tributes, were still the same old poor people who never got out from being sharecroppers/tenant farmers and small land owners. Their aspiration for the equal distribution of land among them and the landlords manifested into an uprising from the grassroots which further evolved into an armed struggle. The Huks was a powerful force who made their presence felt through series of attacks that shook the government.

The landscape of the Philippine politics during the years after the Second World War remained as a strictly elite controlled business. There has been little effort to empower the masses although their votes were solicited by the candidates during elections. The politicians running for national office would normally woo the people by presenting their national platforms that included promises which were taken for granted after winning the campaign. The Philippine elections, which was about prominent personalities and not about the ideologies surrounding the party which the candidates represented, only enforced the prevalence of corruption and fraud. The client-patronage system was still prevalent between the provincial elites who controlled the votes in the provinces and the national politicians who needed the votes in order for them to win. The masses, which were taken advantage of because of their situation, were normally bribed to vote for a specific candidate. Fraud was also used to ensure the victory of candidates who were unsure of their victory. The incumbents would normally have the advantage of funding their campaigns because they have access to public funds which were intended for public goods and services. These funds, normally called the “pork barrel” were allotted by the Congress to the representatives of the districts and municipalities. The said funds are essential to congressmen who would run and campaign for the upcoming elections. It meant more money to fund the campaign and ensure his or her victory.

The ability of the politicians to expropriate funds was enforced by the “pork barrel” system because once the amount was allocated to a certain municipality the funds would be at the disposal of the congressman. The funds were then slashed into chunks while corruption happened during the appropriation of the costs (Cruz, 2010). The contractors (the contractors would sometimes hire subcontractors) who would normally do the infrastructure project for the district or municipality are most of the times family members, friends or relatives of the incumbent official. The congressman would normally get a “cut” from the firm for bringing in “business” for them. The contractors would in turn overprice the project by quoting expensive materials. The difference between the quote price and the actual price would be a direct profit for the incumbent official and his relatives or friends. It’s much more like the cabezas de barangays and gobernadorcillos during the Spanish era profiting from the tributes. This kind of scam, also known as “kickback” became the main mechanism of the public officials in extracting wealth to fund their future campaigns.

The prevalence of corruption in the government combined with the booming unemployment rate (due to lack of industrialization of the industries and less inflow of foreign capital) and the pro-US stance of the administrations that have come and gone before the 1960’s, have led to public discontentment. The decade, dominated by the Cold War between the U.S. and the former United Soviet Socialist Republic or USSR (comprised of the Russian Federation and the former East Bloc States), was marked by social unrest. The continued oppression of the masses and the prevalence of communist ideals resulted into a wide scale armed struggle. The PKP of the post-war era have evolved into the Communist Party of the Philippines headed by Jose Maria Sison, a former University of the Philippines professor (Kimura, 2006 p.18). The movement became active in the 1960’s, challenging the government and questioning its pro-U.S. stance. The movement also clamored for social change especially against the rampant corruption in the government and its inability to provide social welfare for the masses (which includes agrarian reform and the redistribution of arable lands in the countryside). Overtime, CPP merged with the Huks forming a movement called the CPP-NPA (New People’s Army). The communist rebels, who were known as the NPA, initiated attacks and challenged the state.

Martial Law

The “threat” of the insurgents and the growing power of the CPP-NPA allowed President Ferdinand Marcos to declare Martial Law which eventually legalized the change in the form of the Philippine government. Ferdinand Marcos was the sixth president of the Third Republic of the Philippines and the only president who ever won a second term. He was first elected in 1965 when he ran against President Disodado Macapagal. Marcos was a former member of the Liberal party but shifted to the Nacionalista Party when Macapagal chose to run for a second term which eventually denied Marcos of his ambition of becoming the standard bearer of the Liberals. This type of political turncoatism (switching political parties) became normal in Philippine politics since it’s mostly based on client-patronage system. The party of the incumbent president could bestow favors to those who supported his party but in cases of disagreements and conflicts, a party member could easily switch political parties because their loyalty would be to the better patron and not to the ideals that the party stands for.

Marcos, was not a part of the traditional oligarchic families although his family was involved in politics. His father ran for congress to represent their district in Sarrat Town, Ilocos but lost to his political rival.  Marcos learned his politics in his father’s pre-war campaigns for the National Assembly and he began his own political career as a defendant charged with murdering his father’s rival in their home province after the 1935 elections (McCoy, 1993 p. 16). His political ambitions landed him first in the Congress and then in the Senate and finally succeeded in conquering the highest position of the land. During his first term, Marcos pursued the same agenda of his predecessors. He rewarded all the people who have helped him to be in power while manipulating the state apparatus to amass wealth. Under the guise of the implementing positive changes in the government and creating employment for most Filipinos, Marcos continued with his plans of cementing his hold to power.

The Marcos administration “sought” to broaden the flow of the resources and executive contacts beneath the congressmen and into the municipalities, minimizing its dependence upon the political brokers in the legislative branch who have historically proven to be such a disappointment to incumbent presidents seeking reelection (Shantz, 1972 as cited in Hutchcroft and Rocamora, 2003). Marcos became the first president to win reelection when, in 1969, he raided the public treasury and thereby hastened the arrival of the country’s third major balance-of-payment crisis. As his defeated opponent grumbled, ‘(We were) out-gooned, out-gunned and out-gold (Hutchcroft and Rocamora, 2003 p. 275).

Marcos’s rise to power was carefully planned because he intended to remain president of the Philippines for a long time. His plans included the elimination of the oligarchic families in order for him to have full control of the institutions and the economy.  He also sponsored big infrastructure projects and loaned money from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to fund them. He made a lot of profit by expropriating the funds and by giving favors to his family and friends. The executive power of the president was unchallenged but his term was limited. Marcos got reelected but he was so obsessed in holding on to the presidency because of all benefits and the power that came with the position.

The year 1970 started with an unprecedented upsurge of student movements demanding political and economic reforms with various student groups holding demonstrations and picketing day after day. As the demonstrators were met with the police, bloody incidents followed. The student movements soon developed into broader anti-government movements involving industrial workers and peasants. The anti-government campaigns were linked to with various political forces, which included CPP…In addition, the worsening of the economy as seen in the increasing inflation and unemployment rates and the deterioration of peace and order situation due to the rising crime rates caused serious social unrest. Under these conditions, President Marcos, who was aiming to stay in power despite the constitutional prohibition on the presidential reelection for the third term, declared martial law in September 1972 ostensibly because of a communist revolt. The Philippine political scene entered a new phase (Kimura, 2006, pp. 18-19).

Proclamation 1081 was implemented on September 21, 1972 which placed the entire archipelago under Martial Law. The proclamation gave the president the power to utilize the government’s military arm in imposing order. Martial Law led to abuses and excesses of the armed forces. Civilians were rounded up and were imprisoned if found guilty of subversion. Civil rights were ignored and the most of the freedom that democracy represented was denied to the populace. It also legalized Marcos’s cling to power since martial rule has given him absolute power over everything. He legitimized his government by staging a Constitutional Convention that drafted a new constitution.  Most of the members of the Constitutional Convention who had opposed him had become imprisoned (Boncan et al, 2000, p. 406). The members of the Constitutional Convention of 1973 voted in favor of the new constitution which in turn legalized Marcos’s hold to power. A parliamentary form of government was established while Marcos was assured of his reign as president and prime minister.

Marcos also used Martial Law to crush his enemies and take control of all the conglomerates that belonged to the oligarchs. It gave him the chance to disenfranchise the oligarchic families who benefited from the state apparatus through their “de facto” power. He grabbed most of the assets of these families, taking over their businesses that monopolized the domestic market for goods and services. He created a new society where he was on top, together with his wife, Imelda, and their family and friends around them. He awarded his cronies with the former businesses of the oligarchs which in turn created a new kind of elite class. The Martial Law era was defined as “crony capitalism” because of the family and friends of the Marcoses who took over the economy. The traditional oligarchs of the past were denied of their assets including their lands. Marcos, however, took the opportunity to reward his loyal kin and friends so that they would continue to patronize. The U.S. supported Marcos all throughout his regime mostly because they wanted to remain present in Asia by maintaining their military bases in the Philippines. They also loaned him funds so that he would continue to have a pro-U.S. stance in regards to economic policies.  It was a good deal for both parties because Marcos needed the support of the U.S. so he could stay in power while the U.S. needed Marcos to remain dominant in the Far East and to continue monopolizing the trade between the two countries (Francia, 2010). Marcos’s authoritarian government, although experienced a few changes that was initiated through the years, lasted from 1972 to 1986.

People Power

The Marcos regime was another period of oppression in Philippine history that lasted for more than a decade. The common Filipinos were mostly affected by the lack of opportunities in the country. There was a strict implementation of law but the only ones who benefited from the authoritarian government were the Marcoses and their cronies. They transferred billions of dollars to secret Swiss accounts and rewarded all their loyal friends with opportunities to control public corporations and big businesses. The alienation of the masses was still prevalent but the upper classes gradually lost their privilege and access to the state apparatus. They could no longer extract wealth and take advantage of the weak institutions. This led to an uprising and the clamor to rid the country of Marcos’s together with his wife and their cronies. The oppression was no longer contained to the masses but also included much of the elites.

 “Ninoy” and the Revolution of 1986

Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., son of the Japanese collaborator Benigno Aquino Sr. during the Second World War, was Marcos’s number one critique before he declared Martial in 1972. Before then, it was generally assumed that he would ascend to the nation’s highest office as the Liberal Party’s standard bearer in the 1973 presidential elections (http://iamninoy.com). He was part of the traditional oligarchic families in Luzon who had lands in Tarlac, Nueva Ecija (a province in south Luzon) who married Corazon Cojuangco (member of the landed Chinese mestizo clan) in 1954. They were two of the most influential families in Tarlac and their marriage represented the union of two powerful oligarchic families in the country (McCoy, 1993). His vocal stance against Marcos made him his number one enemy. The declaration of Martial Law became a means to shut him up by detaining him in one of the military camps in Manila. He wound up the most high-profile political prisoner as Ferdinand Marcos suspended the Constitution, abolished Congress, silenced the opposition and the media, and ruled by decree on the pretext that he needed emergency powers (http://iamninoy.com). His imprisonment for a period of eight years represented the oppression that Filipinos (including members of the oligarchic families) experienced.

In March of 1980, Senator Aquino had suffered a heart attack and was then allowed to depart for the United States with his family. After a successful heart operation and three years quiet exile life with this family in Boston, which included teaching at Harvard University, in 1983, he decided to fly back to Manila to try and engage the dictator in a constructive dialogue in which he hoped Marcos would agree to peaceful transfer of power (Francia, 2010, p. 253).

The return of “Ninoy” to the Philippines on August 19, 1983 was a turning point in Philippine history. He was supposed to go back to his homeland but he never made it out of the airport when he arrived because he was assassinated while going down the tarmac of the plane. Together with another victim, Ronaldo Galman, “Ninoy” was mercilessly gunned down by an assassin who, up until today, remains unknown.

Ninoy’s death caused a lot of controversy that slowly shook the hold of the Marcoses to power. His martyrdom ignited the desire of most Filipinos to overthrow the dictator and Imelda including all their cronies who have continually drained the country of its resources. The ballooning debt of the Philippine Republic and the rampant corruption of the government officials seemed to have taken its toll. It began to get bottled up and majority of the Filipinos wanted change. The deteriorating state of the country and the financial crisis that followed also made an impact to the situation in the archipelago. Local civil groups, the international community but mostly the oligarchs spread propaganda to end Marcos’s dictatorship so that they can go back to power and retrieve the lands and the corporations that were confiscated by the Marcos regime. With the assassination of Ninoy in 1983, the traditional elite abandoned Marcos and organized effective opposition efforts under the mantle of his popular widow, Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco Aquino (Hutchcroft and Rocamora, 2003, p. 276).

The snap elections was actually Marcos’s answer for the growing pressure coming from all sides but mostly for the pressure coming from the international community which became too strong for Marcos to ignore. The elections were held on February 7, 1986 participated by none other than Marcos running for president this time against Aquino as Liberal party’s standard bearer. As expected Marcos used the resources of government and employed fraud to win the elections. In the end Marcos together with his party won the snap elections but the people knew that Marcos was not to trust. It was found out that Marcos used fraud to manipulate the tabulation of election results.

On February 20, 1986, the Batasang Pambansa (National Assembley) declared Marcos president-elect…the 57 opposition assemblyman walked out. On the same day, Aquino and Doy Laurel (her runningmate) were similarly proclaimed in a mammoth “people’s victory rally at Rizal Park (a park in Manila), where Aquino gave instructions for civil disobedience campaign…she now called upon Marcos to hand over the reins of government to her. Rebuffed, she called her followers to adopt a number of steps such as boycott of crony banks, newspapers….(Boncan et al, 2000).

Aquino’s clamor for mass action against the Marcos regime resulted into a huge scale revolt participated by all social classes. Although the perpetuators of Aquino’s rise to power were the disenfranchised oligarchs, her charisma and her “widow of a martyr” status gave her “de facto” power over the populace. The masses, who were tired of the oppression under the Marcos regime, the middle class and the elites, staged a rally along Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue (EDSA) which lasted for several days. Their “upheaval” became a threat to Marcos when the military forces withdrew their support to the president. Marcos, having lost the support of the army eventually fled out of the country through the help of the U.S. and remained in exile in Hawaii until his death in 1989. The “bloodless” revolution succeeded and legalized Aquino’s presidency and the restoration the “democratic” institutions and the civil rights of the Filipinos.

Reestablishment of the Old Order

The victory of the “EDSA” revolt was considered as the triumph of “democracy” against authoritarianism but it was actually the victory of the old oligarchs against Marcos and his cronies. The oligarchs were no longer disenfranchised and were determined to recover their conglomerates and their lands. Aquino, being part of the Cojuangco and Aquino clan became the major patron of her relatives and friends. Her presidency was meant to restore order, including a new constitution, and she did all she could to return all the businesses that were taken over by the Marcos cronies. She had the chance to redistribute it to the majority of the Filipinos but her loyalty to her kin kept her from doing so.

Aquino saw her primary duty as restoring the structures of pre-Martial Law democracy…Despite the major changes, the political system that Aquino reconstructed with the 1987 constitution restored many political institutions that can be traced to the 1935 constitution most importantly a presidential form of government that went back to the political system built by the American colonial authorities and Filipino leaders (Hutchcroft and Rocamora, 2003 p. 277).

The new president had the power to create a whole different form of government but since the elites were apt in manipulating the old system, very few significant changes were made to benefit the majority of the population. Aquino’s appointive Constitutional Commission debated an antidyanstic clause at length, seeking to prevent another president from making the Palace a familial preserve (McCoy, 1993 p. 18). The term of the president was also shortened to a term of six years in order to limit the influence of the president and to avoid any attempt to stay too long in power.  These changes were superficial because the same people remain in power and the same client-patronage system was still prevalent among the politicians. The officials were still part of the elites and there were no major representation of the masses. Aquino’s administration, instead of pushing for real reforms, succeeded in restoring the old order and putting back the same oligarchic families to power.

Political pressures forced President Aquino to compromise the spirit of this extraordinarily strict constitutional principle when she revived the legislature. In the May 1987 elections many of the president’s relatives by blood or marriage won seats with the support of the ruling political party headed by her brother, Jose Cojuangco. Moreover, occupying a narrowing political center between the communist left and the military right, gradually moved into an alliance with the provincial elites who had chafed under Marcos’s centralized regime. Although initially hostile to reforms, regional politicians allied themselves with her when she reopened Congress as an assembly of elites with the land-reform legislation (McCoy, 1993 p. 18)

Aquino had the ability of distributing the vast lands in the country to the sharecroppers/ tenant farmers and small land holders but she failed miserably. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) was passed in Congress but it was not properly implemented due to a number of clauses that prohibited the farmers from really owning a piece of land. There were also few programs that addressed the problem in terms of capital once the lands were already distributed. In the end the farmers only sold back the lands to the original owners because it was too expensive to maintain. The problem was the same old age problems, since the majority of the landed elites sat in Congress, the implementation of such laws that would make them give up their wealth never worked. Even Aquino’s family was part of the oligarchs who owned vast hectares of lands in Tarlac, Nueva Ecija. It was difficult for the president to enact a law that would estrange her from her kin. In the end the efforts to implement reforms became only as futile as ever.

The turn of the 1990’s witnessed a continued downward trend for the Philippines. Unemployment was becoming a perennial problem while the population grew and the demand for public goods and services became more pronounced. Social welfare seemed to have been less and less prioritized which resulted into the growing discontent of the general populace. Poverty has become more prevalent as seen in the growing number of shanty towns in Metro Manila. Aquino’s government inherited all these problems from the previous administration but was unsuccessful in bringing any positive change. In the end the continued dominance of the oligarchs kept the majority of the Filipinos in the margins while the situation of the Philippines, despite of a number of government reforms since the post-war era, has only gone from bad to worse.


The post-World War II period was a significant period for change and reform but the dominance of the landed elites in politics provided them more power than ever. They have managed to exclude most of the Filipinos not only in participating in the local economy but also in participating in politics. The old ilustrados and principalias of the past have emerged into the oligarchic families who rose into prominence by combining their “de facto” power with politics. The provincial elites who owned vast hectares of lands penetrated the government providing them with the chance of extracting wealth through “rents”. By utilizing the political institutions the elites enabled themselves to expand their businesses. Their rise to prominence helped them and their family members to establish a national oligarchy. The independence of the Philippines from the U.S. also provided these oligarchs to take over the political and economic institutions established by the Americans in the 1900’s. It was their turn to exploit the country of its resources and to profit from the local industries. The lands that served as the one thing that could create “de facto” power provided these oligarchs more opportunities in increasing their wealth.

The U.S., not giving up their hold to the Philippines, through a number of disadvantageous trade agreements, continually hampered the diversification and industrialization process of the major local industries.  Growth remained slow in the archipelago while the oligarchs expanded their conglomerates. Although Marcos managed to disenfranchise the oligarchs during his regime by creating a new set of oligarchs comprised of his cronies, they’ve managed to regain power once the dictator was overthrown. The old order was reestablished by awarding back their businesses and their lands. The state remained weak as ever while the institutions remained dysfunctional. The result was catastrophic for the millions of Filipinos who were suffering from poverty and underdevelopment. The demand for public goods and services could not be met while the oligarchs and the government officials remain insensitive to the needs of the populace.




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About InsearchofIthaca

Clouie loves travelling around the world, learning languages and cooking. After finishing his Master's Degree in International Business Economics and Management, he now aspires to follow his one ultimate dream of becoming a writer and an author.