Ferdinand Marcos (1917-1989): Dictator of the Philippines

Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos was a politician, lawyer, and later dictator of the Philippines. He was the 10th president of the Southeast Asian country and ruled for more than two decades, from 1965-1986. Known as one of the most ruthless authoritarian leaders of the 1900s, Marcos gained notoriety for his lavish spending, corruption, and brutality.

The Marcos Family

Marcos was born in Ilocos Norte, a small town in the Philippines. He grew up relatively comfortable. His father, Mariano, was a local politician, and his mother, Josefa, came from a land-owning family.

In 1925, Mariano won a seat in the Filipino House of Representatives and moved the entire family to Manila. After his father lost his seat seven years later, Marcos continued to live in the capital, where he studied law at the University of the Philippines. He also trained under the Filipino Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to become a marksman, a skill that would land him in a murder conspiracy a few years later.

Ferdinand Marcos – Family

The Assassination of Julio Nalundasan

The United States granted the Philippines further autonomy in 1935, allowing for the creation of a new legislature. Mariano, determined to win back his seat, contested against Julio Nalundasan but lost his seat. Two days later, Nalundasan was shot through his window at home, a shot only a skilled marksman could accomplish.

Marcos was prosecuted for Nalundasan’s assassination along with his father, Mariano and two other uncles. With the evidence strongly stacked against them, all four men were convicted, with Marcos and one of his uncles receiving the death penalty.

While in jail, he continued to study law. During his appeal, he decided to represent himself, which catapulted him to fame and launched his political career. He impressed the court and the public with his thorough knowledge of the law, and they were charmed by his charisma. In 1940, the court overruled his conviction on the belief that the Philippines needed brains like his once they were free from US rule.

Second World War: Military Service

The Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos

Ferdinand Marcos as a soldier in the 1940s

Marcos’ time serving under the US Armed Forces during the Second World War has been subject to contention. According to Marcos, he served as a leader of the Filipino resistance group when Japan invaded the country. However, US government documents revealed he played almost no part in the resistance between 1942-1945.

Political Career: Rise to Presidency

Shortly after the US granted the Philippines independence in 1946, Marcos served as assistant to the country’s first president, which exposed him to a large political network. He also continued to work as a lawyer. Three years later, he took up his father’s old post and served in the House of Representatives for 10 years under three consecutive terms.

He later joined the Liberal Party and became the party’s spokesperson on economic affairs. After his time in the Senate, he became the senate minority leader. With the Liberal Party, he rose to the party president, contested in the 1965 presidential elections, and won. He was re-elected in 1969, becoming the first-ever Filipino president to serve for a second term.

During his first two terms, there were major developments in the Philippines’ agriculture, education, and healthcare sectors. However, his government was faced with rising social unrest.

Ferdinand Marcos sworn into office for a second term before Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion on December 30, 1969.

Dictatorship and Atrocities Committed

In 1972, Marcos implemented martial law across the Philippines to help curb the number of civil demonstrations and guerilla activities. Many opposition leaders, politicians, and demonstrations were jailed during that time, most notably Benigno Aquino Jr.

Marcos jailed over 70,000 people without giving them a fair trial and tortured 30,000-40,000 Filipinos. Over 3,000 people were executed with their mutilated bodies decorated on the streets as a warning to citizens and demonstrators.

Corruption Allegations

Marcos married Imelda Romuáldez Marcos in 1954, before his presidency. She was a former beauty queen from a family with obscene wealth. They had two children, a daughter, Imee, and a son, Bongbong.

During the martial law period, Imelda rose to become an extremely powerful and influential figure and was often accused of handing lucrative government deals to her family and friends. The Marcos family was rumored to have stolen over $5 billion. They had over 50 private homes scattered across the country. His children studied abroad, and his daughter, Imee, was gifted an estate as her living quarters during her years at Princeton University. It was also reported that Bongbong had cleared inhabitants from a fishing village so he could have his island filled with exotic wildlife.

The martial law period lasted nearly 10 years, finally ending in 1981. However, Marcos continued to rule with a more authoritarian fist.

Failing Health, Assassination of Aquino Jr., and Death

In the early 1980s, Marcos’ health was on a steady decline, and there were rising opposition and support for Benigno Aquino Jr to become the next president of the Philippines. However, Aquino was assassinated shortly after stepping out of a plane in Manila. Marcos later commissioned an inquiry, which found some military officers responsible for the aspiring president’s death.

With immense pressure from home and abroad, Marcos ensured his presidential seat was safe, calling for a presidential election in 1986. Surprisingly, he was faced with an unexpected opponent, in the person of Corazon Aquino, Benigno’s widow. Marcos won the election but was accused of voting fraud. As he became more unpopular, Marcos held onto his presidency until tensions nearly boiled over. After a tense standoff, he fled the country with his family with the help of the US government and lived in exile in Hawaii until he died in 1989. The surviving members of the Marcos family returned to the Philippines in 1991.

Did you know?

Marcos received several national and international honors during his lifetime, including: 1972 Philippine Legion of Honor; the “Philippine Free Press” 1965 Man of the Year; the Grand Cross of the Order of the Equatorial Star; and the Order of the Star of the Romanian Socialist Republic

In 1989, Marcos and Imelda appeared in the Guinness World Records for the biggest government theft record.

In 2016, after years of opposition from various Filipino presidents, Marcos was finally buried in a state cemetery in the Philippines. He also authored over 10 books during his time as president, although it was believed to have been ghostwritten. Some of the books written were: “National Discipline: the Key to Our Future”, “Five years of the new society”, and “Progress and Martial Law.”

Ferdinand Marcos’ son: Bongbong Marcos

Marcos’ son, Bongbong, was elected president of the Philippines in June 2022. His daughter, Imee, also worked in politics and served as a former governor.

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