Ferdinand Marcos


Spain 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 beliefs.

When the United States takes control of the archipelago following the 1898 Spanish-American War independence activists wage a guerrilla campaign against the new colonialists. The rebels are brought under control and political reforms introduced as the country prepares for independence.

The 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 4th of July date would imply, the US retains significant influence.

Mini biography

Born 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.

1939 - 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 found guilty.

1940 - 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 Manila.

1941-45 - 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.

1946 - Marcos returns to Manila to resume his law practice, becoming an assistant to the Philippines president in 1947.

1949 - Marcos is elected to the Philippine Parliament as a Liberal Party candidate for his home province. He is the youngest member ever to sit in the House of Representatives. He successfully stands for reelection in 1953. It is reported that he uses his political influence for personal enrichment and quickly becomes a multimillionaire.

1954 - Marcos marries Imelda Romualdez on 1 May.

1957 - He is again reelected to the House of Representatives. In 1959 he shifts from the lower house to the Senate. In 1960 he becomes leader of the opposition in the Senate.

1961 - 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 Senate president.

1964 - 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 vote.

1965 - 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.

1969 - 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.

On the 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.

1970 - 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. Habeas corpus is the requirement that a person under detention be brought before a court.

1971 - 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.

1972 - 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.

Opposition 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 suspended.

1973 - 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.

Martial law 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.

The armed 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.

The military 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.

Politically 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 1975-1980. Meanwhile, inflation and unemployment rise while already low living standards drop.

The brutality of the regime and the stagnating economy causes may Filipinos to turn to the communists for protection and support.

1976 - The constitution is amended further to allow Marcos to continue to rule by degree even after the lifting of martial law.

1977 - Benigno Aquino, leader of the Philippines democratic opposition, is tried by a military court, found guilty of subversion and sentenced to death. The sentence is never applied.

1980 - Aquino, who is ill, is released in May to receive medical treatment in the US. He remains in the US, becoming a leader of the opposition in exile.

1981 - 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 opposition groups.

1983 - After three years in exile, Aquino decides to return to the Philippines and help end the Marcos regime. However, minutes after his arrival at Manila airport on 21 August he is shot in the head and killed. The lone assassin is shot on the spot.

Marcos claims the assassin is a communist, but a subsequent government commission of inquiry finds that the military had conspired in Aquino's death. The finding is rejected and those accused of the conspiracy are allowed to go free.

Aquino's 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.

Meanwhile, the domestic economy grinds to a halt and then begins to contract. The gap between haves and the have-nots widens. The salaries of average Filipinos are, in real terms, half as much as they were in 1956. The share of the national income held by the wealthiest 10% of the country has increased from 27% to 37%.

As living 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.

1985 - 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.

1986 - 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.

The rebels call on Marcos to resign. They receive the backing of the church and the support of the people. The armed forces either join the rebellion or, faced 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 Power.

When Marcos 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 billion.

The new 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.

1987 - It is reported that Marcos is conspiring from his base in Hawaii to launch an armed invasion of the Philippines and again seize power.

1988 - 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.

1989 - He dies of a heart attack on 28 September while in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii, and before his trial.


1990 - In March Imelda Marcos is brought to trial by the federal grand jury in New York. She is acquitted on all counts in July. 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".

1993 - 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 Manila.

1994 - 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.

2003 - 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.

The ongoing 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 California.

On 18 November the Philippine Supreme Court upholds its July ruling and criticises the Hawaiian court for overstepping its jurisdiction.

2004 - On 25 March the international anticorruption organisation Transparency International (TI) names Marcos as the world's second most corrupt political leader of the past two decades, surpassed only by former Indonesian President Suharto.

According to TI, Marcos is alleged to have embezzled between US$5 billion and US$10 billion from the Philippines.

Meanwhile, a 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.

2005 - 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.

2007 - 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 Crime.

According to 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 public treasury."

2011 - In January a US District Court judge approves the distribution of compensation to about 7,500 victims of the Marcos regime. Each claimant receives about US$1000. The money is sourced from a US$10 million settlement against the holders of land in Texas and Colorado bought with Marcos funds.

The same judge also finds Imelda Marcos and Ferdinand Marcos Jr in contempt for violating a court order requiring them to provide information about the assets of the Marcos estate. They are ordered to pay a fine of US$356.6 million, with the money to be distributed to the victims of the regime.

2016 - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a supporter of the Marcos family, announces that Marcos's remains can be buried at the Cemetery of Heroes in Manila. The decision is endorsed by the Philippine Supreme Court on 8 November. The burial tales place on Friday, 18 November, despite the possibility of an appeal against the Supreme Court ruling. It is a closed ceremony, attended by close family members and a small number of supporters and officials. Soldiers fire a 21-gun salute.

The decision to allow the burial to proceed sparks mass protests across the Philippines.


Marcos might not be one of the all-time killers but he is certainly one of the biggest thieves in the history of the planet. Estimates of his ill-gotten gains range from US$3 billion to US$35 billion. Some suggest that the true amount is over US$100 billion, perhaps even trillions of dollars.

While these 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.

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