For the dictatorship to last, Marcos relied on the military institution, political repression, the support of the United States and a democratic façade through the 1973 constitution, the holding of the Interim Batasang Pambansa elections in 1978 – which his monolithic party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (New Society Movement), dominated anyway – and the symbolic “lifting” of martial law in 1981. Martial law also strengthened the military institution and gave its generals a lesson that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) can be a source of corruption as well as a political force by itself on the pretext of promoting “political stability” and deterring a leftist takeover. This would be put into good use later during the Aquino presidency – which was wracked by a series of attempted coups and mutinies – and in the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency.
Confluence of events
It was the perseverance of the people led by the radical reformists and the armed struggle of the Left and the Moro separatist guerillas that undercut Marcos power. This eventually led to its fall through the confluence of an acute financial crisis and a nationwide anti-dictatorship struggle that grew by the multitudes following the assassination of an anti-Marcos opposition leader.
The role of the U.S. proved to be critical at this point and the years to unfold in the change of the presidency. To frustrate the Left from positioning itself in the turnover of power and many anti-Marcos rivals from gravitating toward it, the U.S. began to withdraw its support for Marcos and worked for his replacement by a “Third Force” – led by Corazon Aquino – that Washington architects helped shape and finance. In order to reconcile both the pro-Aquino elite and the Marcos cronies, however, the new government had to accommodate these various political camps with the military institution itself making sure that those perceived to be pro-Left were gradually eased out. What actually took over, as a Washington political analyst would put it, was “Marcos without Marcos.”
Material to the legitimization and validation of any presidency is its ability to deliver the goods, i.e., to address the fundamental problems of poverty, inequality and social injustice that breed the conditions for social unrest. Precisely because both the Aquino leadership and the various regimes succeeding it assumed power not necessarily to address these fundamental problems but to save the traditional political system that began to crumble during Marcos – and to promote their own class interests as well – no government after him could deliver such goods.
That the country today has seen an unprecedented economic crisis as shown, for instance, by the fact that 10 percent of Filipinos are forced to work abroad – with many of them willing to toil in war zones just to feed their own families at home – and that more and more families are starving by the day signifies the futility of hanging on to a political rule that has long lost its legitimacy. One need only look at the surveys of the Social Weather Station or the surveys of Ibon Foundation showing how Aquino, Ramos and Estrada, began their presidency supposedly with a high popularity rating and ended up being discredited with plunging ratings at the end of their term. Compared to them, Macapagal-Arroyo is supposed to be the lowest by far in terms of public perception. And she hasn’t even reached her mid-term.
A complex matter
Today, the presidential succession is no longer simply a matter of who replaces who. This is as much a question that must be wrestled with by the people themselves in their millions, in short, how to become masters of their own destiny. It is a question of ending a political rule that ensures the domination by the rich and powerful over the majority of Filipinos under conditions of exploitation, oppression and repression. It is a question of terminating a political rule that promotes foreign interests at the expense of the country’s sovereignty and national patrimony.
Can the country continue to be governed under an already discredited presidency? If the current illegitimate president is replaced by constitutional fiat or succession, will this not cause the country further harm? If it is replaced by a military junta with a civilian façade, will we not be reverting to Marcos-type authoritarian rule? What then is the next move? What is the Filipino people’s choice?