22 August 2001. Reviewed August 2002. Updated 24
reliable figures but the Philippines democracy
and economy ruined and possibly thousands
colonises the Philippine archipelago during the
16th Century, naming the islands after King
Philip II and establishing Manila (on the
northern island of Luzon) as the capital in
1571. The indigenous population is converted to
Roman Catholicism, although Muslim Filipinos in
the south and upland tribes in the north resist
any challenge to their traditional religious
United States takes control of the archipelago
following the 1898 Spanish-American War
independence activists wage a guerrilla war
against the new colonialists. The rebels are
brought under control and political reforms
introduced as the country prepares for
self-governing Commonwealth of the Philippines
is established in 1935. Full independence is
scheduled for introduction after a further 10
years, but the timetable is interrupted by the
Japanese occupation of the country during the
Second World War. Independence is finally
achieved on 4 July 1946, though as the date
would imply, the US retains significant
on 11 September 1917 in Sarrat in the llocos
Norte Province at the northwestern tip of Luzon.
Both his parents are teachers. After completing
his schooling, Marcos enrols to study law at the
University of the Philippines.
- In April Marcos is arrested in connection with
the 1933 murder of a political rival of his
father and has to complete his law degree while
in custody. He stands trial in September and is
and found guilty.
- Marcos appeals his conviction for murder,
representing himself before the Philippine
Supreme Court. The appeal is upheld and the
conviction overturned. Marcos then becomes a
trial lawyer in Manilla.
- During the Second World War, Marcos serves as
an officer in the Philippine armed forces. After
the war he claims to have led a guerrilla unit,
the Maharlikas, against the Japanese. It is
later revealed that he played little or no part
in anti-Japanese activities during the war.
- Marcos returns to Manila to resume his law
practice, becoming an assistant to the
Philippines president in 1947.
- Standing as a Liberal Party candidate, Marcos
is elected as a representative for his home
province to the Philippine Parliament, becoming
the youngest member ever to join the House. He
successfully stands for reelection in 1953. It
is reported that he uses his political influence
for personal enrichment and quickly becomes a
- Marcos marries Imelda Romualdez on 1 May.
- He is again reelected to the House of
Representatives. In 1959 he shifts from the
lower house to the Senate, topping the election
and becoming the opposition leader in
- Marcos drops plans to stand as the Liberal
Party candidate for the presidency on the
understanding that his nomination will be
supported in 1965. In the meantime he is made
head of the Liberal Party. In 1963 he is elected
- When the Liberals refuse to honour the 1961
agreement, Marcos switches his allegiance to the
Nationalista Party. In November he is nominated
as the party's candidate for the presidential
election of the following year.
- Marcos is elected president in November,
promising improved living conditions for average
Filipinos and land reform. While the first is
achieved through an ambitious program of public
works, the latter is never seriously tackled. He
helps found the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN), established in 1967.
- Marcos wins a second four-year term as
president. He is the first president to be
reelected in the short history of the Philippine
democracy. However, growth slows and quality of
life begins to deteriorate. Violence and crime
begin to become everyday occurrences. The
Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) starts
to make inroads in the provinces, with its
military wing, the New People's Army (NPA)
spreading across the archipelago.
southern island of Mindanao, Muslim
secessionists organise under the banner of the
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). In August
Marcos launches major military campaigns against
the NPA and MNLF.
- Social unrest continues to build. Student
demonstrators attempt to storm the Malacanang
Palace, the presidential mansion, on 30 January.
Manila and other large cities are rocked by
random bombings. Marcos blames leftists and
suspends habeas corpus in August 1971, a prelude
to martial law.
- At a constitutional convention opposition
delegates introduce a provision to prevent
Marcos from remaining as head of state or
government once his second term as president has
expired. Marcos succeeds in having the ban
overturned the following year.
- Using the excuse of an alleged assassination
attempt against Defence Minister Juan Ponce
Enrile, Marcos declares martial law on 21
September, promising to eliminate poverty and
injustice and create a "new society". It is
later revealed that the assassination attempt
had been staged by the military.
figures (including Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino),
journalists, student and labour activists and
criminals are arrested and detained at military
compounds run by the army and the police.
Newspapers are closed and the mass media tightly
controlled. Demonstrations, strikes and boycotts
are outlawed. Marcos assumes absolute
legislative power. The constitution, which
permits presidents only two terms in office, is
- A new constitution allowing Marcos to stay in
office indefinitely and to rule by decree is
introduced. The result is confirmed by a
fraudulent referendum enabling him to continue
as president until the end of martial law and to
arbitrarily appoint all government officials,
including members of the judiciary. Imelda
Marcos is made governor of Manila and minister
of human settlements and ecology.
initially brings stability and an economic
turnaround but with the costs of reduced social
freedoms and increasing corruption. Limited land
reforms are introduced but prove ineffective.
Manufacturing and business enterprises are
nationalised or handed to Marcos's cronies or
relatives. Profits are siphoned off for personal
enrichment and mismanagement is rife.
forces are politicised. Officers from Marcos's
home province are promoted to high rank. A
childhood friend of Marcos becomes
chief-of-staff of the armed forces and head of
the internal security network. Officers are
appointed to manage several corporations and the
military is ordered to take control of all
public utilities and the media. The size of the
army is also increased, with numbers swelling
from about 58,000 in 1971 to 142,000 in 1983.
has virtually unlimited powers to search, arrest
and detain civilians without reason and without
recourse to legal representation. Military
tribunals are set up throughout the country to
try and sentence detainees. The civilian courts
are striped of their power and autonomy, and the
Philippine police force is placed under military
control. It is estimated that more than 60,000
people are arrested between 1972 and 1977.
prisoners are routinely tortured by the
military. "Disappearances" and murders of
suspected political activists are common, with
over 500 cases being recorded for the period
1975-80. Meanwhile, inflation and unemployment
rise while already low living standards drop.
of the regime and the stagnating economy causes
may Filipinos to turn to the communists for
protection and support.
- The constitution is amended further to allow
Marcos to continue to rule by degree even after
the lifting of martial law.
- Benigno Aquino, leader of the Philippines
democratic opposition, is tried by a military
court, found guilty of subversion and sentenced
to death. The sentence, however, is never
- Aquino, who is ill, is released in May to
receive medical treatment in the US. He will
remain in the US, becoming a leader of the
opposition in exile.
- Marcos proclaims the end of martial law on 17
January. He wins an overwhelming majority in a
presidential election held in June, but the vote
is rigged and is boycotted by the main
- After three years in exile, Aquino decides to
return to the Philippines and help end the
Marcos regime. However, minutes after his
arrival at Manilla airport on 21 August he is
shot in the head and killed. The lone assassin
is shot on the spot.
the assassin is a communist, but a subsequent
government commission of inquiry finds that the
military had conspired in Aquino's death.
However, the finding is rejected and those
accused of the conspiracy are allowed to go
funeral procession draws hundreds of thousands
of mourners. It is the largest demonstration in
the history of the Philippines and marks the
beginning of the 'People's Power' movement led
by Aquino's widow, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.
domestic economy grinds to a halt and then
begins to contract. But while the salaries of
Filipinos are, in real terms, half as much as
they were in 1956, the share of the national
income held by the wealthiest 10th of the
country has increased from 27% to 37%.
standards decline further the business community
begins to speak out against the Marcos regime.
The NPA gains further ground in rural areas. In
the cities and towns Communist Party influence
continues to spread.
- In November Marcos announces that an election
for president will be held on 7 February of the
following year. Corazon Aquino announces that
she will stand as a candidate.
- The election is held on schedule but the
results are contested, with the opposition and
Roman Catholic Church claiming widespread fraud
and intimidation. Marcos is proclaimed the
official winner on 15 February, sparking a
rebellion by Defence Minister Enrile, armed
forces vice chief-of-staff Fidel Ramos, and the
commander of the Philippine police, who also
believe that the vote has been rigged.
Marcos to resign, the rebels receive the backing
of the church and the support of the people. The
armed forces either join the rebellion or,
faced-off by massive crowds gathered around the
rebel's camp, decline to intervene.
On 25 February
the Marcoses run, abandoning the presidential
palace and flying to Hawaii in the US. Their
20-year regime is at its end. As the Marcoses
flee, Corazon Aquino is sworn in as president,
riding in on the massive wave of 'People's
arrives in Hawaii he is said to be carrying
suitcases containing jewels, 24 gold bricks and
certificates for billions of dollars of gold
bullion. His Swiss bank accounts are estimated
to contain between US$3 billion and US$35
billion stolen from his country. The
Philippine's foreign debt is about US$28
government acts quickly to recover deposits in
the Marcoses' Swiss accounts. A formal request
for assistance is sent to the Swiss Federal
Police on 7 April. However, it takes 18 years
for the US$624 million that is discovered to be
returned to the Philippines Treasury.
To this day,
the existence and whereabouts of the rest of the
Marcos billions remains unconfirmed despite
detailed investigations by the US Senate.
- It is reported that Marcos is conspiring from
his base in Hawaii to launch an armed invasion
of the Philippines and again seize power.
- Marcos is indicted by a federal grand jury in
New York in the US for offences including mail
fraud, fraudulent misappropriation of property
and obstruction of justice.
- He dies of a heart attack on 28 September
while in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii, and before
- In March Imelda Marcos is brought to trial by
the federal grand jury in New York but in July
is acquitted on all counts. She faces further
trials in the Philippines for the
misappropriation of public funds but is able to
avoid conviction. Meanwhile, on 28 September a
special court in the Philippines convicts 16
Filipino military personnel of murdering Aquino
and his "assassin".
- Marcos's embalmed body is returned to the
Philippines and placed on permanent display in a
mausoleum in his home town. Imelda Marcos
refuses to allow his body to be buried, saying
that despite the Philippine Government's
objections it should be interred at the
'Cemetery of Heroes' (Libingan Ng Mga Bayani) in
- The District Court of Hawaii finds that Marcos
was responsible for executions, disappearances
and torture during his rule and awards nearly
US$2 billion in damages to thousands of
surviving victims. The victims later agree to a
US$150 million settlement, but a court in the
Philippines blocks payment in 1999.
- In July the Philippine Supreme Court rules
that the US$624 million portion of the Marcos
fortune discovered in Swiss bank accounts must
be handed over to the Philippine Government. The
money is to be used to buy land for distribution
to poor farmers. The Marcos family immediately
appeal against the judgement.
fight over the Marcos millions is further
complicated in September when the District Court
of Hawaii places a global freeze order on the
Marcos assets. The Philippine Government lodges
an appeal against the freeze in a court in
On 18 November
the Philippine Supreme Court upholds its July
ruling and criticises the Hawaiian court for
overstepping its jurisdiction.
- On 25 March the international anticorruption
organisation Transparency International (TI)
places Marcos at second on a list of the world's
most corrupt political leaders of the past two
decades, surpassed only by former Indonesian
TI, Marcos is alleged to have embezzled between
US$5 billion and US$10 billion from the
judge in Hawaii orders that US$40 million held
by a finance company set up by Marcos be used to
start paying the victims of his regime who were
awarded damages in 1994. The finance company
appeals the ruling.
- In a nationwide poll held in July Filipinos
rate Marcos as the best of the country's last
five presidents. The former dictator even
out-polls his successor, the 'People's Power'
leader, Corazon Aquino.
- In September the Transparency International
estimate of the amount embezzled by Marcos is
quoted in a report by the Stolen Assets Recovery
Initiative, a joint venture of the World Bank
and the United Nations Office of Drugs and
the report, "The channels whereby the money was
allegedly stolen were diverse, including the
takeover of private companies; creation of
monopolies for sugar, coconuts, shipping,
construction, and the media; fraudulent
government loans; bribes from companies; and
skimming off foreign loans and raiding the
latter sums may he fanciful, the legacy of the
Marcos dictatorship is all too real - an economy
struggling just to pay the interest on its
foreign debt and a seriously compromised
democracy seemingly unable to shake off
entrenched corruption. Witness the debacle of
the Estrada presidency. It took Marcos 20 years
to pillage and wreck the Philippines.
Unfortunately it may take far longer for the
damage to be undone.
Links are to external sites.
Philippines - A Country Study
(Library of Congress Country Studies Series)
The Missing Marcos Billions
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