When Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos announced the snap presidential elections, he evoked a great deal of cynicism. This stems from people’s memory of the goons, guns and gold that have characterized previous Philippine elections, even those before martial law.
The imposition of martial law institutionalized those methods, putting them in the service of one man, one party and one camp of the ruling class. In Marcos’ “New Republic,” the people have repeatedly been mocked with sham elections. No wonder people say, “No one will be surprised if Marcos wins in this election.”
The various sectors of the opposition have always debated the usefulness of elections and whether to participate or boycott them. Past election exercises staged by the regime have shown that the electoral road cannot be considered a serious option in bringing about social changes in the Philippines. But that doesn’t mean elections cannot be useful tools in the political struggle.
The circumstances of this election are significantly different, even though that doesn’t mean the election will be exceptionally clean or fair. This snap election came at a time when the Marcos dictatorship is in the midst of an irreversible crisis.
In the two years since the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino, the Marcos regime has been unable to extricate itself from a full-scale political and economic crisis. Public outcry over the assassination and ongoing human rights violations continues; in fact, it has grown to include significant sectors of the business community, middle class and Marcos’s own camp. This opposition has not only called for an end to the Marcos regime, but has also criticized U.S. support for the dictatorship and the presence of U.S. bases at Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base. The breadth of the anti-Marcos movement gives it wide political initiative, causing much anxiety in Washington D. C.
In the military arena, the Armed Forces of the Philippines still suffers from low morale and declining competence. Even within the Marcos camp, the Philippine military shows increasing signs of political instability.
On the economic front, the long-expected recovery in the Philippines has been temporary, despite the release of loan funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Exports have declined 18 percent over the last years. Bankruptcies are increasing. Fifty percent of the labor force is unemployed or underemployed. Most leading business people feel a change in government is a necessary prerequisite to reviving the economy.
And at the same time, a broad consensus has developed in U.S. ruling circles and institutions that Marcos has become a burden and must be replaced, gracefully, if possible.
At a high level three-day conference in August, 1985 at the U.S. War College, Philippine experts from the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies agreed that the U.S. needed to find a way to get rid of Marcos. They felt that Marcos could not ensure the stability of the country and provide for the security of the U.S. bases. As one participant said, “Nobody in the Administration is beating the drum for Marcos anymore. And no one thinks it does any good to have him there.”
Senator Paul Laxalt’s October visit to Manila communicated to Marcos and the international public that the White House had placed the Philippines at the top of the agenda and that the U.S. wanted immediate reforms. To make sure Marcos got the message, the IMF withheld the third tranche of its loan, noting that he had refused to carry out promised economic reforms which threatened the interests of his close associates. The U.S. media unleashed a torrent of criticism on Marcos by exposing his tremendous wealth in the U.S. and around the world, encouraging a congressional hearing to investigate the misuse of U.S. economic aid.
Under such heavy pressure, Marcos acceded to snap elections in February for both the presidential and vice-presidential offices.
In short, the elections are happening at a juncture when Marcos is now faced with a very rare combination: a deeply dissatisfied sponsor, the U.S., looking forward to his exit; and a profoundly discontented people looking forward to his political, even physical, demise.
Unlike past elections when his cosmetic exercises had the full backing of his sponsors, Marcos no longer enjoys that support.
True to his style, Marcos announced that he had no intention of surrendering his throne and imposed restrictions to favor his candidacy. In one sense, the election will be no different from previous ones. Marcos will cheat, lie and murder to rig the results. Many wonder whether the election will take place at all. He might use violent tactics like the infamous Plaza Miranda bombing or claim the Communists are fomenting violence as an excuse to re-impose martial law. Such moves, which could lead to his victory, would also further isolate him.
Nevertheless, this election offers the possibility that, for the first time, Marcos could be ousted. The Aquino-Laurel platform expresses the broad democratic and nationalist sentiments of the people. Cory Aquino, in particular, symbolizes the broadest expression of people’s discontent.
Marcos’s ouster would be significant, weakening the reactionary structures he has built, putting his followers in disarray and freeing Philippine politics from the stifling grip of one-man rule.
The Aquino-Laurel campaign has presented an opportunity to forge the broadest unity among the people to isolate or defeat Marcos, and would be a big step toward the long-range goal of genuine democracy and freedom. As this happens in the Philippines, this will also happen in Filipino communities in the U.S.
Seattle is no exception. A coalition called “The Movement in Support of Cory Aquino and Philippine Democracy” was formed in early January to jointly appeal to all Filipinos and freedom-loving people to support the Aquino-Laurel campaign. The group is comprised of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM) in Seattle, Sandiwa in Tacoma, the Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship/Philippine Solidarity Network, Executive Board of Local 37 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union and the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes.