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Ferdinand Marcos

President of the Philippines

Ferdinand Marcos

Ferdinand Edralin Marcos was born in Sarrat, on the island of Luzon, on September 11, 1917. Both of his parents were teachers who came from politically important families.

Marcos was an honor law student in 1935 when he shot and killed Julio Nalundasan, a political opponent of his father. He was not arrested until three years later, however, and was then allowed to continue his law studies while awaiting trial. One year after his arrest he was found guilty of murder. While serving his prison sentence, Marcos painstakingly wrote an appeal for a new trial. The Philippine Supreme Court took up his appeal in 1940, and the chief judge almost immediately threw out the original case. Now a free man, Marcos returned to the Supreme Court the day after his release and received his law license from the same judge who had freed him.

According to his own biography, Marcos fought against Japanese occupation during World War II, and also served in the U.S. Army with distinction. The extent of his involvement in the resistance movement, as well as his service in the army, has long been in dispute, however, and now appears to have been greatly exaggerated.

In late 1948, a magazine editor published a series of articles on Marcos' war experiences, and his reputation amongst the people began to grow quickly. In 1949 he ran as a Liberal Party candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives. Campaigning on a promise to get millions of dollars worth of benefits for Philippine veterans, he won the election with 70 percent of the vote. He was subsequently re-elected twice, and was then elected to the Senate, in 1959.

In 1954, Marcos married Imelda Romualdez, a former beauty queen and daughter of a politically important family. As a couple, the Marcoses would become the most well-known, and the most notorious, of all Philippine politicians.

In 1961, Marcos successfully managed the presidential campaign of Diosdado Macapagal, who was supposed to step aside in Marcos' favor after one term in office. When Macapagal failed to fulfill his side of the bargain, Marcos joined the opposition Nationalist Party and became its presidential candidate in 1965. He won the election easily.

Presidential candidate Marcos gives the victory sign at a political rally.
Ferdinand Marcos 1965 victory

During his first term in office, Marcos initiated a massive series of public works projects, including highways, civic centers, government buildings, and more. He also lobbied hard for economic and military aid from the United States, which he received. Although he resisted pressure from U.S. President Lyndon Johnson to become significantly involved in the Second Indochina War, he did send a 2,000-member Philippine Civic Action Group to South Vietnam (1966-1969).

In 1969 Marcos became the first Philippine President in history to win election to a second full term. By now, however, the nation was all but paralyzed by slow economic growth, a dramatic increase in crime rates, and a general reduction in quality of life. All this despite the fact that the Marcoses were living in luxury. Major demonstrations began soon after Marcos's second inauguration, and communist insurgents began a violent campaign against the government. In response to the demonstrations and Communist threats, Marcos declared martial law in 1972. He also set aside the newly-ratified constitutional provision against the sitting President from being elected to another term in office. Martial law would remain in effect for the next nine years.

By 1981 popular discontent had risen to such a dangerous level that Marcos felt it necessary to suspend martial law in hopes of appeasing the populace. The economy failed to improve, however, and the discontent began growing within the middle class. As discontent grew, U.S. support for Marcos decreased.

In August 1983, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., a vocal political opponent who had spent three years in self-imposed exile, was gunned down soon after stepping off a plane at the Manila airport. Although a government investigation led to several soldiers and government officials being charged with Aquino's murder, no one was ever found guilty. Aquino's murder, which many Filippinos believed had been masterminded by Marcos himself, led to greater discontent, which in turn led to more and more violent demonstrations against Ferdinand and Imelda.

In 1986, after years of refusing to give up his presidential office, Marcos suddenly scheduled a presidential election. His principal opponent during the subsequent campaign was Corazon Aquino, the widow of his former rival. Both the campaign and the election were racked by massive fraud and intimidation, on both sides. Massive demonstrations broke out almost immediately after the National Assembly declared Marcos the winner, and he was eventually forced to concede the presidency to Aquino.

Having lost the presidency and now facing a very real threat from the people he had once ruled over, Ferdinand and Imelda tried to enlist the assistance of the United States. All the U.S. was willing to provide, however, was an Air Force transport jet, which the Marcoses used to take themselves, along with millions of dollars worth of Philippine assets, to Hawaii.

Ferdinand Marcos died in Honolulu, Hawaii, on September 28, 1989. Despite impassioned pleas from Imelda to allow her husband to be buried in the Philippines, he was ultimately buried in Hawaii.

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See Also

World War II
United States
President Lyndon Johnson
Corazon Aquino

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The Robinson Library >> Philippines >> History

This page was last updated on February 07, 2019.