Column: Marcos was the worst

The closest a column of mine has come to going viral (over 5,500 shares, some 3,000 Facebook recommends on This was published on September 10, 2013 — a day before the late, still-unburied dictator’s birthday.

GLORIA ARROYO practiced what the Freedom from Debt Coalition called “fiscal dictatorship”—impounding allocations at will and realigning items in reenacted budgets without congressional authorization. (Those who visit her at the hospital where she is detained may continue to deny reality, but it was this control of the budget that allowed the pork barrel scam to flourish.) Joseph Estrada centralized jueteng operations right in Malacañang. (He also forced the Social Security System to buy stocks for which he received a P180-million commission.) Compared to Ferdinand Marcos, however, Arroyo and Estrada were rank amateurs.

Marcos institutionalized corruption on such a scale we continue to feel its effects today. In his 20 years in power, the country’s foreign debt metastasized from about $1 billion to over $25 billion; in a statement released last year, FDC repeats the estimate that as much as a third of all that debt, about $8 billion, went into his pockets or those of his cronies. The country will continue paying for all that debt until 2025.

I am of the opinion, however, that the money was secondary, even incidental, to Marcos: what he really wanted was power. He was among the brightest of his generation; he prided himself on his legal acumen; but it was his political skills that drove him, like a daemon.

Writing in November 1976, the eminent scholar David Wurfel described Marcos as a superlative Machiavellian. “His political skills are practically unequalled in Philippine history and, in fact, he must rank high among Asian power-holders today in the sophistication of his tactics—indeed one of Machiavelli’s most apt disciples. He is also, unlike Diem [Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam], finely attuned to the nuances of Filipino behavior. Said Rafael Salas, his former Executive Secretary, who resigned before martial law, ‘He knows the average Filipino: to what degree [he] can be scared, what are the limits before he becomes violent. Within these limits, he will apply any sort of artifice.’”

The diaries Marcos kept, beginning with his second term, help throw light on the sophisticated artifices he fashioned and then applied. I haven’t read all of the diaries; I don’t know anyone who has. I have only managed to read the pages available online, especially those on the Philippine Diary Project. But even the investigative journalist William C. Rempels acknowledges, in his updated “Diary of a Dictator,” that the copies he received in the late 1980s were missing many pages. I am curious to know whether Manolo Quezon, now back in Malacañang as a one-man brain trust and resident historian, has had a chance to see the originals for himself.

There is also the fact that Marcos wrote his diaries with an eye on history; he was posing, and at times deliberately fabricating the record he assiduously committed to paper (which was, more often than not, official Malacañang stationery). Like almost everything else he did or had his name attached to (for instance: “Tadhana: A History of the Filipino People”) the Marcos diaries cannot be taken at face value.

But if even Spanish colonial chronicles can be read and studied profitably to shed light on the history of the colonized Filipino, then surely the Marcos diaries can be read and studied to good purpose, too.

If we do, we can then find out that the dictator kept exclusive, indeed divine, company.

On April 16, 1973, he wrote: “One of my advisors wrote to me of spiritual retreats that I should not be in the company of my subordinates. I must tell him when I see him one cannot call God a subordinate! For that is the company I keep.”

It is possible that Marcos was merely indulging in a bit of whimsy, perhaps rehearsing a quip in advance. But the pages of the Marcos diaries I read suggest that humor or wit was not his strong suit. Coupled with his innumerable references to Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill, this passage seems to me to strike the authentic note, of self-aggrandizement.

The diaries have the virtue of being written over a long period of time; it allows the reader to see that Marcos was preparing a “Contingency Plan” (Feb. 28, 1970), a “new plan of government and society” (Jan. 4, 1971), a “possible proclamation of martial law” (Sept. 9, 1972) not only weeks but years ahead of time.

And when he finally decides to strike, the self-deception is absolute. On Sept. 28, 1972, five days after imposing martial law, he writes: “The legitimate use of force on chosen targets is the incontestable secret of the reform movement.”

The Palace coup he has engineered is rationalized as a reform movement. (Indeed, he calls it the New Society.) Many other coup plotters or power grabbers in history have seen their task as social reform. But “chosen targets”? Set aside, for the moment, the startling fact that the first wave of arrests included three sitting senators (Ninoy Aquino, Pepe Diokno, Monching Mitra). What kind of democratic reform requires the “use of force”?

On Sept. 25, 1972, after listing several completed tasks (and indulging in a patently illegal consultation with two Supreme Court justices), he strikes a self-congratulatory note. “It is indeed gratifying that everyone now finds or discovers I am some kind of a hero!”

But what a hero. Even if we credit his repeated rationalizations that he declared martial law to save the Republic from the communist threat, he must be adjudged an abysmal failure. In 1972, his own estimate of the strength of the New People’s Army was 1,028 armed regulars. In 1986, the year the people finally chased him out of the Palace, the total had risen to some 22,500. His dictatorship was communism’s biggest recruiter.



Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

3 responses to “Column: Marcos was the worst

  1. BizNews Asia September 12-19, 2011 issue. Volume 9 No. 20
    By Manuel ” Lolong ” M. Lazaro – Former Presidential Assistant for Legal Affairs and Government Corporate Counsel

    The great bard William Shakespeare wrote in an epigrammatic tone : ” The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. ”
    It is typical of Filipinos to have short memories of another’ s good deeds, but long memories of the other ‘s bad or perceived wrongs. This is the tragic irony in the case of the late President Marcos. The perceived illegal acts of FM have been incessantly tautologized.
    They were designed protuberantly to submerge or marginalize his landmark contributions to our legal system. But, as the painter Salvador Dali once said, ” The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant. ”

    FM’s secure place in history

    The beneficiaries of the February 1986 event – remarkable only for being unremarkable in constitutionalism – have fashioned and sustained a barrage of adverse publicity to efface President Marcos from the tapestry of history.
    They are pursuing what Maitland sharply observed: ” The essential matter of history is not what happened but what people wrote or said about it “.
    However, if we were to speak or write only about the bad of the dead, history would be even littered with more inaccuracies than it is now.
    Marcos’ achievements and contributions are a matter of record. To obliterate Marcos’ achievements / contributions from the pages of history is to distort the past and mislead the future.
    Succeeding administrations have employed laws and the media to destroy or consign Marcos to oblivion notwithstanding his solid achievements for the good of the nation and its people.
    Good deeds, especially those beneficial to the nation and people, cannot be effaced or expunged. Good triumphs in the end. FM’s place in history is secure.
    The Marcos laws abound around us. They are embedded in our legal system. They continue to govern and guide the nation and the government functionaries. The vision and foresight of FM in lawmaking for governance are richly illustrated by the varied and numerous vital legal issuances.

    Number of FM issuances

    From Sept. 21, 1972 up tp Feb. 26, 1986, or in a span of 14 years, President Ferdinand E. Marcos had crafted and formulated, with the assistance of experts, 7,883 presidential decrees and other5 legal issuances. These issuances covered almost every phase of human life or conduct – from birth to the grave, so to speak. They are categorized as follows:

    a) Presidential Decrees (1 to 2036 )
    b) Letters of Instructions (1 to 1525)
    c) Letters of Implementation (1 to 157)
    d) General Orders (1 to 61)
    e) Executive Orders (366 to 1093)
    f) Administrative Orders (349 to 504 )
    g) Proclamations (1081 to 2486)
    h) Memo Circulars (599 to 1297)
    These legal issuances were designed not only for the yester years, but also for today and tomorrow.
    Gifted with legal acumen, President Marcos adorned his legal issuances with wisdom and justice, embellished with compassion and concern for the people’s welfare. They are exclusive of the hundreds of laws that he authored and/ or sponsored as congressman and senator for almost two decades.

    FM: Leader of phenomenal vision
    President Marcos was a leader of phenomenal global vision. He dreamed of greatness and he relentlessly pursued its realization. He was a man ahead of his time.
    Perhaps it is for this reason he was often misunderstood and unappreciated. But in time, after the winds of hatred and vengeance shall have flown away, he will be remembered as the greatest Filipino lawyer.

    Minimal percentage of FM issuances repealed
    Significantly, out of the 7,883 presidential issuances, only 67 PDs or less than .01 % have either been repealed or modified.
    The minimal percentage of 67 PDs either repealed or modified by EO No. 187 of President Corazon Aquino were the decress increasing the penalties for certain offenses against public order and security,e.g. PDs 38, 1735, 1834,1974 and 1996.
    Interestingly, the rationale and purpose of the PDs repealed or modified were resurrected in enacting Art. 134-A of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by RA 6968 (law on coup d’ etat). Notably, 7,816 FM issuances are still effective and enforced up to the present. FM’s laws still apply and govern the nation today.
    In a manner of speaking, FM, the corpus. is dead. But FM, the lawgiver, lives, pulsating vebrantly. FM laws are eloquent proof of the wisdom, vision, and foresight he possessed in formulating tham as instruments of good and effective governance.

    Marcosian codes

    No president has codified more laws on the same subject as President Marcos did, that are still effective and are being enforced.
    Worth mentioning are the 15 codified laws issued by President Marcos that are still enforced:
    the Local Tax Code (PD 231); Labor Code of the Philippines (PD 442); Real Property Tax Code (PD464); Child and Youth Welfare Code (PD 603); Insurance Code (PD 612); Revised Forestry Code (PD 705); Code of Sanitation (PD 856); Coconut Industry Code ( PD 961); Water Code ( PD1067); Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines (PD1083); National Building Code (PD 1096); Philippine Environment Code (PD 1152); Fire Code ( PD 1185); Government Auditing Code (PD 1445); Tariff and Customs Code (PD 1464); and Code of Agrarian Reforms (PD 444).
    More importantly, there is the Judiciary Development Fund, the wellspring of the financial benefits of the members of the judiciary.
    There is also the PAGCOR, the mother of revenues, to fund odd activities, to right the wrong, wrong the right and double the wrong.

    Multitudinous concerns addressed

    To demonstrate the breath, width and depth of FM legal issuances, hereunder are some of the significant and multitudinous government concerns addressed by laws.
    a) to attract foreign investments, he established under PD 66, the Export Processing Authority and enacted the Investment Incentives Act under PD 485;
    b) to address the sourcing, supplying and distribution of oil requirements, he established the Department of Energy and its subsidiaries and affiliates;
    c) to develop and promote agricultural products, he created the National Irrigation Administration under PD 552;
    d) to address the problems of the coconut industry, as coconut is a major export product, he established the Philippine Coconut Authority under PD 232;
    e) as an alternative source of revenues, he planted the seeds for local and foreign tourists by establishing the Philippine Tourism Authority under PD 564;
    f) as an alternative source of revenues, he established PAGCOR to operate gambling;
    g) to upgrade the banking system and invite foreign banks to do business in the Philippines under certain incentives and guarantees, FM caused the establishments of the Offshore Banking System in the Philippines under PD 1034;
    h) to legalize the Filipino trait of gambling through horse racing or cockfighting, he caused the establishment of the Philippine Racing Commission under PD 420 and the Cockfigthing Law under PD 1140 to govern and regulate the same;
    i) to ensure that the deposits of small depositors will not be deprived of their deposits by bank runs or closure of banks, he caused the establishment of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation (PDIC) under PD 1094 insuring the liabilities of the banks;
    j) he created the Philippine Retirement Authority under E.O. 1037, series of 1985;
    K) he created the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board under PD 1986; and
    l) he established the Philippine Estates Authority under PD 1084;

    Government structure

    Notably, the structure of government or offices established by President Marcos has remained substantially the same, except the change of name, inclusive of superficial features in laws, to give a semblance of change from that of President Marcos regime.
    The only significant department that was abolished after the departure of President Marcos was the Department Ministry of Human Settlements under Mrs. Marcos.
    It was dismantled but the functions were distributed to sdifferent offices that President Marcos created.

    Socialized housing

    The laws on socialized housing were conceptualized by President Marcos through a series of legal issuances from the funding, the lending, mortgaging and to the collection of the loans.
    These are governed by the Home Mutual Development Fund, ( Pag-ibig Fund), the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) and the National Home Mortgage Finance, which remain intact up to the present.

    Specialty hospitals

    All the specialty hospitals of the Philippines, like the Lung Center, Philippine Heart Center, Kidney Center, Philippine Children Center, among others, were of his great concern and are offshoot of his response to public health concerns.
    Sadly, after almost 20 years of FM’s departure, no specialty hospital of consequence has been established.

    Energy crisis

    It is truism that a leader’s mettle is tested in the crucible of crisis. President Marcos foresaw the oil crisis of 1974.
    Sensing and fearing that the foreign oil supply companies could strangle the country of its oil supply requirements and manipulate oil prices, FM caused the acquisition of Filoil.
    He made it the biggest oil company of the country, now Petron. It was meant to neutralize any attempt of foreign oil companies to control the supply of oil and dictate the pricing thereof.
    Wittingly and dubiously, a president sold substantial shares of Petron to an Arab company managing it.
    The entry of a foreign country subverts the very rationale for establishing the biggest oil company under the management and control of the government as a protective shield from any untoward or adverse designs or activities of foreign oil companies.
    In further addressing the energy crisis, FM caused the establishment of the Bataan Nuclear Plant. It would have adequately supplied the power needed to reduce our dependence in imported oil.
    Unfortunately, the acquisition of the plant was tainted with unproven anomalies. The nuclear plant was mothballed simply because it was President Marcos’s project.
    The perceived overpricing in the construction of the plant could have been addressed independently of completing the project for the good of the nation. As another measure to address the expected oil crisis, FM initiated and multiplied the geothermal power plants as alternative source of energy.
    Had the Bataan Nuclear Plant and geothermal power plants been promoted, increased and further developed, dependence on oil importation to the country would have been lessened.

    Water crisis

    Marcos also foresaw the incoming water crisis. He foresaw that the source of water supply are inadequate to serve the increasing population. Thus he secured a World Bank grant to make technical studies of the construction of the Lipan Dam.
    It was envisioned to be the future source of water adequate to supply the requirements of increasing population until the year 2025.
    The project would have cost only at that time $10 Billion.
    His successor, however, sidelined the project simply because it was the brainchild of or the initiative of FM, notwithstanding that it is for the good of the nation and the people.
    When succeeding administrators realized their folly, one administration wanted to resuscitate the Marcos project only to find out that it will now cost more than $50 Billion, a price too costly to be affordable.
    Significantly, there are present moves / measures to continue with the project of FM sired by necessity.

    Arts and Culture
    President Marcos is the only president who recognized and acknowledged the importance of arts and culture.
    He was criticized for the construction of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Philippine International Convention Center, the Manila Hotel, the new GSIS Headquarters. among others.
    These edifices, however, have remained the venues for the propagation of arts and culture, the holding of conventions and international conferences, in line with the government’s policy thrusts on culture, tourism and public services.


    In the field of infrastructure, more roads and bridges were constructed during the administration of President Marcos than all the roads and bridges constructed from the time of the late President quezon up the time of his predecessor, the late President Macapagal.
    These are a few of the significant issuances and undertakings of President
    Marcos. some sinister or vindictive minds wish to vanish them but simply cannot.
    The issuances and accomplishments of President Marcos are part of our legal system. They continue to touch lives, properties and public functionaries.

    Heel or hero ?

    Is Marcos a heel or a hero ? It depends. He is a hero to those who are aware and appreciative of his performance and achievements.
    However, he is a heel to those who envy his ingenuity, vision and foresight, to those who seek revenge accented by hatred.

    Shaper and mover of events

    FM’s life in law remains a myth, unchallenged and unsurpassed. Like all great leaders and statesmen, he was a shaper and a mover of events. This unassailable fact will continue to intrigue and inspire generations.
    FM left an inexhaustible reservoir of innovative and beneficial legal instruments to uplift the nation and the quality of life.
    An objective and dispassionate scrutiny of these legal instruments should provide a guidepost in the framing of our laws and the art of governance to promote the common good.

    History vindictates

    The tragic drama is that biased people remember only the bad or wrong attribute to FM but forget the good he had done and achieved.
    At time’s healing hands, FM will be vindicated.
    FM is a great man – unjustly judged at the wrong time by the wrong minds.
    Time and history will vindicate his vision and foresight, especially in lawmakingas a vehicle of governance.
    Generations freed from the blemishes of hate, vengeance and prejudice will look more kindly and with gratitude on FM’s achievements and contributions to the nation. Dispassionate men will make an icon of FM. Ferdinand Edralin Marcos is the greatest Ilocano.

  2. Pingback: Column: Why Marcos IS the dividing line | John Nery | Newsstand

  3. Pingback: Marcos was the worst (a series) | John Nery | Newsstand

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