Marcos declared martial law in the form of Proclamation 1081 over the entire country on September 21, 1972, using the activity of leftist student groups and insurgent groups such as the New People’s Army (NPA), anti-Vietnam-War demonstrations and a series of bomb explosions in downtown Manila as an excuse.

He dissolved Congress; suspended rights of habeas corpus, freedom of speech, press and assembly; and imprisoned the opposition Liberal Party leaders. Normally a constitutional last resort designed to protect the masses, martial law was declared by Marcos to keep himself in power and to protect his cronies. Asia’s most vibrant democracy was no more.

Under the president’s command, the military arrested opposition figures, including Benigno Aquino, journalists, student and labor activists, and criminal elements. A total of about 30,000 detainees were kept at military compounds run by the army and the Philippine Constabulary.

Weapons were confiscated, and “private armies” connected with prominent politicians and other figures were broken up. Newspapers were shut down, and the mass media were brought under tight control. With the stroke of a pen, Marcos closed the Philippine Congress and assumed its legislative responsibilities. During the 1972-81 martial law period, Marcos, invested with dictatorial powers, issued hundreds of presidential decrees, many of which were never published. *

Like much else connected with Marcos, the declaration of martial law had a theatrical, smoke-and-mirrors quality. The incident that precipitated Proclamation 1081 was an attempt, allegedly by communists, to assassinate Minister of National Defense Enrile. As Enrile himself admitted after Marcos’s downfall in 1986, his unoccupied car had been riddled by machinegun bullets fired by his own men on the night that Proclamation 1081 was signed. *

Many people believe that Marcos ordered the planting of the bomb that gave him the excuse to declare marital law. After wards he held a series of meeting and plebiscites which drew up new constitution declaring the that Marcos would remain the President and Prime Minster indefinitely, ruling over a rubber-stamp parliament.

Marcos: Martial Law Prelude to a “New Society”

Marcos claimed that martial law was the prelude to creating a “New Society” based on new social and political values. He argued that certain aspects of personal behavior, attributed to a colonial mentality, were obstacles to effective modernization. These included the primacy of personal connections, as reflected in the ethic of utang na loob, and the importance of maintaining in-group harmony and coherence, even at the cost to the national community.

A new spirit of self-sacrifice for the national welfare was necessary if the country were to equal the accomplishments of its Asian neighbors, such as Taiwan and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Despite Marcos’s often perceptive criticisms of the old society, Marcos, his wife, and a small circle of close associates, the crony group, now felt free to practice corruption on an awe-inspiring scale. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Political, economic, and social policies were designed to neutralize Marcos’s rivals within the elite. The old political system, with its parties, rough-and-tumble election campaigns, and a press so uninhibited in its vituperative and libelous nature that it was called “the freest in the world,” had been boss-ridden and dominated by the elite since early American colonial days, if not before. The elite, however, composed of local political dynasties, had never been a homogeneous group. Its feuds and tensions, fueled as often by assaults on amor proprio (self-esteem) as by disagreement on ideology or issues, made for a pluralistic system. *

Marcos’s self-proclaimed “revolution from the top” deprived significant portions of the old elite of power and patronage. For example, the powerful Lopez family, who had fallen out of Marcos’s favor (Fernando Lopez had served as Marcos’s first vice president), was stripped of most of its political and economic assets. Although always influential, during the martial law years, Imelda Marcos built her own power base, with her husband’s support. Concurrently the governor of Metro Manila and minister of human settlements (a post created for her), she exercised significant powers. *

Land Reform Under Marcos

Land reform has been a concern since independence. Spanish and American rule left arable land concentrated in the hands of 2 percent of the population and those owners will not give up their land without compensation. Attempts made to provide land, such as the resettlement of Christian farmers in Mindanao in the 1950s, have not provided enough land to resolve the problem. Until land reform takes place, poverty will be the nation’s primary social problem. [Source:]

In September 1972, the second presidential decree that Marcos issued under martial law declared the entire Philippines a land reform area. A month later, he issued Presidential Decree No. 27, which contained the specifics of his land reform program. On paper, the program was the most comprehensive ever attempted in the Philippines, notwithstanding the fact that only rice and corn land were included.

Holdings of more than seven hectares were to be purchased and parceled out to individual tenants (up to three hectares of irrigated, or five hectares of unirrigated, land), who would then pay off the value of the land over a fifteen-year period. Sharecroppers on holdings of less than seven hectares were to be converted to leaseholders, paying fixed rents. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Marcos land reform program succeeded in breaking down many of the large haciendas in Central Luzon, a traditional center of agrarian unrest where landed elite and Marcos allies were not as numerous as in other parts of the country. In the country as a whole, however, the program was generally considered a failure. Only 20 percent of rice and corn land, or 10 percent of total farm land, was covered by the program, and in 1985, thirteen years after Marcos’s proclamation, 75 percent of the expected beneficiaries had not become owner-cultivators.

By 1988 less than 6 percent of all agricultural households had received a certificate of land transfer, indicating that the land they were cultivating had been registered as a land transfer holding. About half of this group, 2.4 percent, had received titles, referred to as emancipation patents. Political commitment on the part of the government waned rather quickly, after Marcos succeeded in undermining the strength of land elites who had opposed him. Even where efforts were made, implementation was selective, mismanaged, and subject to considerable graft and corruption. *

Life Under Martial Law in the Philippines in the 1970s

Under the provisions of martial law, Marcos shut down Congress and most newspapers, jailed his major political opponents, assumed dictatorial powers, and ruled by presidential decree. During the early years of martial law, the economy improved, benefiting from increased business confidence and Marcos’s appointment of talented technocrats to economic planning posts. But over the next few years, major segments of the economy gradually were brought under the control of the Marcos crony group. Monopolies controlled by Marcos cronies were subsidized heavily, seriously depleting the national treasury.

The previously apolitical, professional armed forces were used by Marcos to enforce martial law and ensure his political survival. Even after Marcos rescinded martial law in January 1981, he continued to rule with virtual dictatorial powers. Thus, it came as no surprise that Marcos won an overwhelming victory in the June 1981 presidential election, an election that was boycotted by most opposition forces. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Most Filipinos–or at least those well positioned within the economic and social elites–initially supported the imposition of martial law. The rising tide of violence and lawlessness was apparent to everyone. Although still modest in comparison with the Huk insurgency of the early 1950s, the New People’s Army was expanding, and the Muslim secessionist movement continued in the south with foreign support. Well-worn themes of communist conspiracy–Marcos claimed that a network of “front organizations” was operating “among our peasants, laborers, professionals, intellectuals, students, and mass media personnel”–found a ready audience in the United States, which did not protest the demise of Philippine democracy.

But as the years wore Filipinos found little if anything positive to say about martial law or Marcos. During the Marcos era, the Philippines had one of Asia’s worst human rights records. The army and police were notorious for their use of torture. Victims—which included political dissidents and suspected drug dealers— were beaten, flogged, given electric shocks. Victims. Marcos also muzzled the press, and banned strikes. Marcos claimed that demonstrations against him were staged by “subversives and people under the influence of drugs.” An estimated 50,000 people were detained for alleged political crimes under Marcos in the first five years after martial law was declared.

According to Lonely Planet: “With martial law imposed, the Philippines was plunged into a darkness reminiscent of the Japanese occupation – only this time it was at the hands of a fellow Filipino. A curfew was imposed, the media was silenced or taken over by the military, international travel was banned and thousands of anti-government suspects were rounded up and thrown into military camps. An estimated 50, 000 of Marcos’ opponents were jailed, exiled or killed. Marcos then set about raising revenue by handing over great tracts of prime land to foreign investors and imposing heavy taxes on those who could least afford them.”

Martial Law a Lost Opportunity to Improve the Philippine Economy?

Amando Doronila wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Martial law was an epochal event, a turning point in the history of the country. It marked the dismantling of a political system, a democratic polity, albeit a seriously flawed one. Remembrance has been refocused to some of the more appalling aspects of the martial law years, for example, the atrocities of the regime, human rights violations, the disappearances of targets of repression, the economic plunder perpetrated by the dictatorship, the economic disaster stemming from economic policies determined by crony capitalism, and the unprecedented scale of corruption. These are the more obvious landmarks and legacies of dictatorship, which basically is a system that fosters abuse of power leading to other disastrous consequences. [Source: Amando Doronila, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 22, 2004 \=\]

“It is lost to us that Ferdinand Marcos demolished democracy in 1972 to make way for the introduction of authoritarianism that was riding a wave sweeping most of Asia in that decade-to mention the more outstanding models, the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party, Lee Kuan Yew’s soft authoritarianism in Singapore, Suharto’s dictatorship in Indonesia, and the authoritarian regime in Malaysia. We were a latecomer to Southeast Asia’s authoritarian club. \=\

“In most of these Asian countries with authoritarian regimes, authoritarianism was not just a weapon for stifling democratic impulses but even more so it was a tool for economic expansion and development. When Marcos declared martial law, he was not just concerned with crushing the communist insurgency and destroying the political infrastructure of democracy, which allows the political opposition to obstruct government initiatives and to check its corruption and abuses. Marcos had a larger purpose than these. The larger purpose was to use martial law as the facility and stage for economic takeoff and development, emulating the models of economic success of our neighbors. Park Chung-hee’s South Korea and Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore were shining examples of economic growth taking place under a climate of political stability and unhindered by political opposition in a democratic ambience. \=\

“The point to remember is that martial law was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity given to a Filipino leader to build the economy and make it march with the pace taken by other authoritarian regimes in Asia. Because of his excesses, abuses and corruption, Marcos squandered that opportunity. Martial law in the Philippines was a failed political experiment as an engine to drive radical change and economic growth and development. The 14 years from Sept. 21, 1972 to the restoration of democracy in February 1986 were years of squandered opportunities and wasted national resources.” \=\

Impact of Marcos on the Philippine Democracy

Democratic institutions were introduced to the Philippines by the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. The apparent success of these imported practices gave the Philippines its reputation as “the showcase of democracy in Asia.” Before 1972 the constitutional separation of powers was generally maintained. Political power was centralized in Manila, but it was shared by two equally influential institutions, the presidency and Congress. The checks and balances between them, coupled with the openness of bipartisan competition between the Nacionalista and Liberal parties, precluded the emergence of one-person or one-party rule. Power was transferred peacefully from one party to another through elections. The mass media, sensational at times, fiercely criticized public officials and checked government excess. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Marcos inflicted immeasurable damage on democratic values. He offered the Filipino people economic progress and national dignity, but the results were dictatorship, poverty, militarized olitics and a politicized military, and greatly increased dependence on foreign governments and banks. His New Society was supposed to eliminate corruption, but when Marcos fled the country in 1986, his suitcases contained, according to a United States customs agent, jewels, luxury items, and twenty-four gold bricks. Estimates of Marcos’s wealth ran from a low of US$3 billion to a high of US$30 billion, and even after his death in 1989, no one knew the true value of his estate, perhaps not even his widow. *

If Marcos had been merely corrupt, his legacy would have been bad enough, but he broke the spell of democracy. The long evolution of democratic institutions, unsatisfactory though it may have been in some ways, was interrupted. The political culture of democracy was violated. Ordinary Filipinos knew fear in the night. An entire generation came of age never once witnessing a genuine election or reading a free newspaper. Classes that graduated from the Philippine Military Academy were contemptuous of civilians and anticipated opportunities for influence and perhaps even wealth. Marcos’s worst nightmare came true when Corazon Aquino used the power of popular opinion to bring him down. *

Economy Under Marcos After Martial Law was Imposed

During the first years of martial law, the economy benefited from increased stability, and business confidence was bolstered by Marcos’s appointment of talented technocrats to economic planning posts. Despite the 1973 oil price rise shock, the growth of the gross national product (GNP) was respectable, and the oil-pushed inflation rate, reaching 40 percent in 1974, was trimmed back to 10 percent the following year. Between 1973 and the early 1980s, dependence on imported oil was reduced by domestic finds and successful energy substitution measures, including one of the world’s most ambitious geothermal energy programs. Claiming that “if land reform fails, there is no New Society,” Marcos launched highly publicized new initiatives that resulted in the formal transfer of land to some 184,000 farming families by late 1975. The law was filled with loopholes, however, and had little impact on local landowning elites or landless peasants, who remained desperately poor. *

After Marcos was ousted the Philippines owed about US$28 billion to foreign creditors. Borrowed money had not promoted development, and most of it had been wasted on showcase projects along Manila Bay, or had disappeared into the pockets and offshore accounts of the Marcos and Romualdez families and their friends and partners. Many Filipinos believed that they would be morally justified in renouncing the foreign debt on grounds that the banks should have known what the Marcoses were doing with the money.

Even Cardinal Jaime Sin declared it “morally wrong” to pay foreign creditors when Filipino children were hungry. Aquino, however, resolutely pledged to pay the debt. Otherwise, the nation would be cut off from the credit it needed. Although the Philippines could pay the interest on the debt every year, it could not pay the principal. This never-ending debt naturally inflamed Filipino nationalism. A Freedom From Debt Coalition advocated using the money to help the unemployed instead of sending the hard currency abroad. *

Corruption and Crony Capitalism Under Marcos

Eric Pace wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Marcos’s aura was also tarnished by accusations and problems concerning his country’s business and economic life. Under his rule, the Philippines was afflicted with widespread corruption and vast unemployment. There was widespread poverty, along with a few sectors of great wealth.” [Source: Eric Pace, New York Times, September 29, 1989]

The largest, most productive, and technically most advanced manufacturing enterprises were gradually brought under the control of Marcos’s cronies. For example, the huge business conglomerate owned by the Lopez family, which included major newspapers, a broadcast network, and the country’s largest electric power company, was broken up and distributed to Marcos loyalists including Imelda Marcos’s brother, Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, and another loyal crony, Roberto Benedicto.

Huge monopolies and semimonopolies were established in manufacturing, construction, and financial services. When these giants proved unprofitable, the government subsidized them with allocations amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos. Philippine Airlines, the nation’s international and domestic air carrier, was nationalized and turned into what one author has called a “virtual private commuter line” for Imelda Marcos and her friends on shopping excursions to New York and Europe. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Probably the most negative impact of crony capitalism, however, was felt in the traditional cash-crop sector, which employed millions of ordinary Filipinos in the rural areas. (The coconut industry alone brought income to an estimated 15 million to 18 million people.) Under Benedicto and Eduardo Cojuangco, distribution and marketing monopolies for sugar and coconuts were established.

Farmers on the local level were obliged to sell only to the monopolies and received less than world prices for their crops; they also were the first to suffer when world commodity prices dropped. Millions of dollars in profits from these monopolies were diverted overseas into Swiss bank accounts, real estate deals, and purchases of art, jewelry, and antiques. On the island of Negros in the Visayas, the region developed by Nicholas Loney for the sugar industry in the nineteenth century, sugar barons continued to live lives of luxury, but the farming community suffered from degrees of malnutrition rare in other parts of Southeast Asia. *

Impact of Marcos on the Philippines Military

Ferdinand Marcos was responsible for making the previously nonpolitical, professional Armed Forces of the Philippines, which since American colonial times had been modeled on the United States military, a major actor in the political process. This subversion occurred done in two ways. First, Marcos appointed officers from the Ilocos region, his home province, to its highest ranks. Regional background and loyalty to Marcos rather than talent or a distinguished service record were the major factors in promotion.

Fabian Ver, for example, had been a childhood friend of Marcos and later his chauffeur, rose to become chief of staff of the armed forces and head of the internal security network. Secondly, both officers and the rank and file became beneficiaries of generous budget allocations. Officers and enlisted personnel received generous salary increases. Armed forces personnel increased from about 58,000 in 1971 to 142,000 in 1983. Top-ranking military officers, including Ver, played an important policy-making role. On the local level, commanders had opportunities to exploit the economy and establish personal patronage networks, as Marcos and the military establishment evolved a symbiotic relationship under martial law. *

A military whose commanders, with some exceptions, were rewarded for loyalty rather than competence proved both brutal and ineffective in dealing with the rapidly growing communist insurgency and Muslim separatist movement. Treatment of civilians in rural areas was often harsh, causing rural people, as a measure of self-protection rather than ideological commitment, to cooperate with the insurgents.

The communist insurgency, after some reverses in the 1970s, grew quickly in the early 1980s, particularly in some of the poorest regions of the country. The Muslim separatist movement reached a violent peak in the mid1970s and then declined greatly, because of divisions in the leadership of the movement and reduced external support brought about by the diplomatic activity of the Marcos government. *

Relations with the United States After Marcos Imposed Martial Law

Relations with the United States remained most important for the Philippines in the 1970s, although the special relationship between the former and its ex-colony was greatly modified as trade, investment, and defense ties were redefined. The Laurel-Langley Agreement defining preferential United States tariffs for Philippine exports and parity privileges for United States investors expired on July 4, 1974, and trade relations were governed thereafter by the international General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

During the martial law period, foreign investment terms were substantially liberalized, despite official rhetoric about foreign “exploitation” of the economy. A policy promoting “nontraditional” exports such as textiles, footwear, electronic components, and fresh and processed foods was initiated with some success. Japan increasingly challenged the United States as a major foreign participant in the Philippine economy. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The status of United States military bases was redefined when a major amendment to the Military Bases Agreement of 1947 was signed on January 6, 1979, reaffirming Philippine sovereignty over the bases and reducing their total area. At the same time, the United States administration promised to make its “best effort” to obtain congressional appropriations for military and economic aid amounting to US$400 million between 1979 to 1983.

The amendment called for future reviews of the bases agreement every fifth year. Although the administration of President Jimmy Carter emphasized promoting human rights worldwide, only limited pressure was exerted on Marcos to improve the behavior of the military in rural areas and to end the death-squad murder of opponents. (Pressure from the United States, however, did play a role in gaining the release of Benigno Aquino in May 1980, and he was allowed to go to the United States for medical treatment after spending almost eight years in prison, including long stretches of time in solitary confinement.)