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‘The evil that men do lives after them, …’

And Shakespeare continues, “ … The good is oft interred with their bones.”  So it is with Ferdinand Marcos. The sufferings of the jailed, hidden wealth, crony capitalism, etc., are daily recounted. Not so any positives of Marcos’ two decades as legislator and seven years as pre-Martial Law President.

Busy with work and growing family, I gave no one reason to pick me up when Martial Law began in September 1972. Indeed, I was glad that peace had returned to my little world at the UP College of Business Administration. With order restored, classes resumed. Nights were safer with curfew. People agreed, “Sa ikauunlád ng bayan, disiplina ang kailañgan.”

Illustration by Maridel Coching

Illustration by Maridel Coching

Life had been stressful. During the “First Quarter Storm” of 1970, “students, peasants, and workers” marched day after day to Congress and the US Embassy, protesting “US imperialism, domestic feudalism, and fascism” and “bureaucrat capitalism.” Missiles and tear gas cartridges flew, clubs swung, garbage cans overturned, electric lines downed.

At UP, demonstrators barricaded entry points. Someone was shot and President Carlos P. Romulo’s office was invaded and wrecked. I had daily confrontations with bullhorn-equipped activists and had to watch out for flaming Molotov cocktails.  Activists took over in January to February 1971 and all who reported to work, including me, became members of the “Diliman Commune.”

Government focus had been on post-war reconstruction and development, tough going with agrarian unrest in Central Luzon, communist insurgency, problems in Mindanao, dollar rationing and import controls, chaotic politics.

Elected President in 1965, Marcos’ initial successes were in infrastructure and agriculture, we began exporting rice. I don’t mean to list Marcos projects, but Metro Manila improvements alone included public transportation (LRT), hospitals (PGH, Heart Center), housing (home along the riles, BLISS), roads (Coastal Road, Commonwealth Avenue), tourism (balikbayan), culture (CCP).

Contractors were encouraged to look overseas and the OFW program began. Long-term plans were formulated for key sectors like energy (nuclear power). Philippine presence was reinforced at the Spratleys (Kalayaan municipality) and Scarborough Shoal (lighthouse, military, and scientific activities). Diplomatic relations with China and USSR began.

Exercising legislative powers, Marcos issued numerous Presidential Decrees on recommendation of the bureaucracy—on government reorganization, agrarian reform, local government, finance, taxation, and budgeting, etc. Many continue in force today. In 1978 he took a step back to democracy with the Batasáng Pambansâ.

During Marcos’ watch, the Philippines withstood the worst of the first oil shock (1973) when oil prices quadrupled and the second oil shock (1979) when oil prices more than doubled. Mexico, however, declared a debt standstill in 1982 and another global crisis occurred as international banks started cutting exposures to developing countries. Matters got worse in August 1983 when Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. was killed. Foreign credits dried up, we ran out of foreign exchange, and, two months later, followed Mexico in declaring an international debt standstill. Dissent intensified and the Marcos Regime ended in February 1986.

You could say the Marcos presidency has mixed reviews but like Marc Anthony, President Duterte wishes to “… bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

Notes: (a) The “New Society” slogan “Sa ikauunlád ng bayan, disiplina ang kailañgan” means “for the country to progress, discipline is needed”; (b) The First Oil Shock occurred after the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the Second Oil Shock happened after the Iranian Revolution; and (c) My fellow Medical School Dean used to relate how as a young PGH doctor during the Japanese Occupation, he and his colleagues would hide hospitalized guerrillas—including Marcos who contracted malaria—in a secret room behind a bookcase.

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