Thursday, March 29, 2012

l. 10255 -- "This is what power is all about."

This section is about Ferdinand Marcos's rise to power. Marcos declared martial law on 22 September 1972, near the end of his second term as elected leader of the Philippines. He was constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term (l. 9385). Marcos chose to interpret a deliberately vaguely-worded letter, drafted by the US Ambassador, as instructions concerning the circumstances under which the US would find martial law acceptable. At the time, there was speculation that Nixon personally had given Marcos permission to proceed, but there is no evidence to support this claim (l. 9478).

“The Philippine political scene in 1959 was an almost incomprehensible tangle of party splits, personal vendettas and rivalries within rivalries” (l. 9560). The president, Carlos Garcia, was so corrupt that it stood out even against local standards. His vice-president, Diosdado Macapagal, was from the opposing political party. The president and vice-president ran against each other in a 1960 election. Macapagal won (l. 9595). In this election Marcos, a member of Macapagal's party, ascended from the lower legislative chamber to the Philippine Senate.

Macapagal's election did not change the culture of corruption. “Macapagal concocted nationalist issue as a distraction... [H]e expelled number of Chinese, many of them naturalized citizens” (l. 9610). He also shifted the national day from 4 July to 12 June, the day in 1898 that Emilio Aguinaldo declared Philippine sovereignty. Years later, Macapagal said, “... I noticed that nobody came to our receptions on the Fourth of July, but went to the American Embassy instead. So, to compete, I decided that we needed a different holiday” (l. 9615).

In 1965, Marcos abandoned Macapagal's party and gained the nomination for president from the opposing party -- “again illustrating the emptiness of party affiliations in the Philippines” (l. 9620). He was financed by rich Chinese as revenge for Macapagal's policies, and also by expatriate money from the US (l. 9625). Marcos won by 600,000 votes. “About five percent of the eight million ballots were rigged, and roughly fifty people died in clashes – a quiet election by Philippine standards” (l. 9631). Marcos was inaugurated on 30 December 1965, with US Vice President Hubert Humphrey in attendance (l. 9634).

Karnow goes very deeply in Marcos's biography, contrasting it with his claims and throwing Marcos's venality into high relief. This is fairly interesting but not as important to know today as when In Our Image was published. Marcos was academically successful and served bravely as a soldier but later embellished his achievements in both areas to the point of absurdity, as dictators are wont to do. When young, he was tried for the murder of a political rival of his father. He was acquitted by the Supreme Court in 1940, and maintained that his prosecution was politically motivated (l. 9712).

In 1954, Marcos discarded a mistress with whom he had four children to marry Imelda Romualdez, from a poor branch of a prominent family. During Marcos's legal occupancy of the Presidency, Imelda was far from the grotesque caricature she became: in September 1966, the Marcoses made an official visit to the US and received favorable attention from Lyndon Johnson and the Washington press corps (l. 9778). But Imelda eventually matched and perhaps overtook her husband in terms of lying and venality. One of many, many examples in the book: stealing money from a typhoon relief fund to fund an obscenely extravagant wedding for her daughter Irene (l. 9797). Karnow says that, because Marcos was caught in a very public indiscretion in 1968 and Imelda stood by him, he could not control her (l. 10000).

Karnow relates a story from 1984, near the end of the Marcoses' reign: “... we zipped through Manila in her stretch limousine, a squadron of motorcycle police escorting us across the usually clogged city. Noticing that the traffic was blocked at every intersection, I remarked that the motorists must have been waiting for hour in the stifling heat. Tossing her head, she replied, 'This is what power is all about' ” (l. 9810).

Although Lyndon Johnson was charmed by Imelda, what he really wanted was the Philippines to send troops to Vietnam to demonstrate that the war was an international effort. “In the end, Marcos sent only a token force to Vietnam, retaining nearly all the units to build roads and other pork barrel projects in the Philippines just before his next presidential election” (l. 9938), largely with US money. Later, for reasons still unclear, Johnson believed revealing that nuclear weapons were stored at US bases on the Philippines would strengthen Marcos's loyalty. It didn't. A former Johnson aide later said: “The instrument of our policy became the object of our policy. We had to submit to Marcos for the sake of the bases” (l. 9946).

As the end of his second term drew near, protests and civil unrest roiled through the capital and the country. Marcos may have instigated some himself. In any event, he felt that they played into his hands. In January 1971, he dismissed his army commander and Chief of Staff after they refused an order to prepare for martial law (l. 10026). Nevertheless, when martial law was eventually declared, Marcos had the full support of the military (l. 9646). He soon tripled the size of the military and increased its budget tenfold (l. 10083).

However, even paranoids have enemies. Karnow has an interesting story about Sergio Osmena, Jr., the politician son of the last commonwealth president, who tried to hire American hit met to kill Marcos (l. 10039). They were unsuccessful through lack of competence and Osmena had to flee the country (l. 10048).

Benigno S. "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., was arrested on the day that martial law was declared, and eventually spent years in jail. He expected widespread public opposition to martial law: “I judged Marcos correctly, but I misjudged the people” (l. 10059). Most people seemed to welcome the return of order, the disbanding of the corrupt legislature, the newly-cleaned streets, the confiscated firearms, the increase of law and order. There was a symbolic departure from the US-model government: Marcos replaced the bicameral legislature with a single National Assembly (l. 10073), and discarded the American-influenced 1935 constitution. He spoke publicly of a “rendezvous with Asia”. His foreign minister called Western-style democracy “an alien seed” in Asian societies accustomed to authoritarian rule (l. 10076).

The removal of democratic restraints caused high military officials and Marcos cronies to enrich themselves in many diverse field, including energy (l. 10111) and coconuts (l. 10133). Meanwhile, “[t]he Philippines owed more to the International Monetary Fund than any developing country in the world” (l. 10166), while Imelda engaged in high-profile and sometimes bizarre spending projects, like $31 million on a guesthouse made entirely of coconuts (l. 10177).

After Marcos declared martial law, the long-dormant Huk movement revived and spread to every province during the 1970s and 80s (l. 9987), at times joining forces with the Muslim separatist movement in the island of Mindanao (l. 10191). But Marcos's most articulate and influential critic turned out to be the Catholic Church (l. 10203), lead by Cardinal Jaime Sin, whom Marcos called a “meddlesome friar” (l. 10233).

In 1982, Reagan hailed Marcos as “a respected voice of reason and moderation” (l. 10240), and successive US governments of both parties did nothing about Marcos, citing Cold War expediency, in spite of fears that continue excesses would bring instability and threaten America's interests (l. 10242).

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