The script is painfully familiar: a vain and increasingly isolated leader, an ineffectual and autocratic regime, a people plagued by poverty and deprived of democracy, a Communist movement mounting a potent political and military challenge. This time the scene is the
The 10,000 to 20,000 peasant guerrillas of the Communist New People’s Army are not yet in a position to take over
A victory by the Communist guerillas would eliminate whatever hope there is in the
Because of the unique and long-standing ties between our two peoples, the
President Marcos’s power base has now shrunk to the point where his support is largely restricted to his own family, a handful of close associates, and a few favored military and political appointees. The virtually complete collapse of confidence in his regime can be traced to several factors. A principal cause has been the system of “crony capitalism” he has established to enrich his political allies. Perfecting the art of politically connected plunder to a degree undreamed of by President Mobutu of
Kaime Cardinal Sin, the head of the Catholic Church in the Philippnes, summed up the sentiments of many Filipinos when he recalled the statement of Manuel Quezon,
Economic policy-making in the House of Marcos resembles the mercantilist dynasties of late medieval
The most egregious manifestation of crony capitalism is found in the economic monopolies. By presidential decree Marcos imposed a 75-percent tariff on imported cigarette filters, benefiting a palace intimate who owned most of the local cigarette manufacturing factories. For coconuts and sugar, presidential favorites enjoy the sole right of distribution, and are free to determine the spread between the price at which crops are purchased from growers and the rate at which they are sold on the market. The livelihood of 15 million to 20 million people—one-third of the populace—depends on coconut production. Enormous sums of money that otherwise would have been available to coconut farmers have instead been siphoned off by associates of the president.
The rise of crony capitalism has been one of the fundamental factors in the decline of the
History demonstrates, however, that the poor do not rebel solely because of economic misery and willful mismanagement. Political repression is usually required for spontaneous social combustion. Here, too, the Marcos regime has created the conditions for its own demise.
Until the late 1960s the
Had Marcos been content to purge the system of its anarchic tendencies and restore democracy, he would be regarded today as a national hero. He did take positive steps such as the confiscation of privately owned arms and the dissolution of local politicians’ private militias. But he and his retainers chose also to use their extraordinary powers to perpetuate the rule of the Marcos dynasty. Thousands of government critics—including the charismatic Benigno Aquino—were arrested. Civilian courts were supplanted by military tribunals oblivious of due process of law. Freedom of assembly, speech, and the press ceased to exist.
Since 1972 political repression has spread through the countryside. To cope with the Moslem separatists and the nascent Communist New People’s Army, the armed forces of the
Attempting to end the rural insurgency, the armed forces and the constabulary have usually shot first and asked questions later. Suspected Communists are given no mercy, and the word “salvaging” (a Filipino phrase meaning summary execution) has become part of the village vocabulary. The government borrowed the idea of strategic hamlets (employed unsuccessfully by the
The Communist Party of the
Today the Communist Party has a membership of 30,000 and the guerrilla army has from 10,000 to 15,000 men under arms. The guerrillas are active in over two-thirds of the country’s provinces, and have established a presence in one-third of the barangays, the lowest administrative unit in the
This degree of Communist success is remarkable tor two reasons. First, it goes against the democratic grain of Filipino culture and political history. Second, there is no evidence of financial or weapons support from foreign governments, although the Soviet Union and
The guerrilla army’s appeal in rural areas is not based on ideology, but on the sense of grievance that the government’s brutality, corruption, and inefficiency have created. In addition, the guerrillas often provide the basic services to the poor that
In the Philippines, as in medieval monarchies, the health of the ruler becomes the engine of change. It was Marcos’s deteriorating medical condition that both moved Aquino to return to his homeland and presumably provoked elements of the Philippine government to engineer his assassination on the tarmac of the
The concessions were made grudgingly and constituted the minimum necessary to satisfy the demands made. Nevertheless, the measures adopted were not trivial. The constitution was amended to clarify succession procedures. An investigating board charged Fabian Ver, a Marcos loyalist and armed forces chief of staff, with complicity in the assassination and subsequent cover-up. And the
Perhaps most important, elections conducted last May were reasonably fair in two-thirds to three-quarters of the election districts, primarily because 150,000 citizens volunteered to prevent government abuse. Yet irregularities in the remaining districts had a profound effect on the results. Candidates of the democratic opposition captured one-third of the assembly seats; a citizen poll-watchers group concluded that had the tally been totally honest, they would have won a majority. The May 1984 elections demonstrated that the Filipino people want democracy, not that democracy has been restored.
For the democratic opposition, the Aquino assassination meant the loss of a leader and the creation of an imperishable political symbol. Roughly four million Filipinos participated in some way in Aquino's funeral, and the democratic opposition has worked to channel that profound emotional outpouring into effective political action. In this effort, Marcos’s democratic opponents have taken advantage of a significant relaxation of the restrictions on expression and assembly.
There are many countries where our strategic interests clash with our human rights concerns, and where overriding national security objectives make it difficult to effectively promote our democratic beliefs. In the
At the other extreme, the
Nor would it be useful to legislatively condition our aid on the achievement of essential reforms. Based on our experience with conditionality in
In the second presidential debate last October with Walter Mondale, President Reagan claimed that Communism was the only alternative to Ferdinand Marcos. The president's simplistic statement ignores the fact that the real alternative to Communism is not a continuation of the present regime, but a restoration of democracy. Indeed, posing the choice as the president did can only increase the prospects for an eventual Communist victory.
The United States can improve the prospects for democracy by strongly encouraging fundamental economic, political, and military reforms. This will help to destroy the roots of the guerrilla army's appeal and demonstrate to the Filipino people that
Specific political reforms should include the repeal of President Marcos's decree-making powers; the reconstitution of an independent elections commission and the resumption of free and fair elections; the revival of a genuinely free press, in which the opposition is assured access to the electronic media; guarantees of free expression and free association, and the restoration of an independent judiciary.
To date, the Marcos regime has been unwilling to make politically painful reforms. In the twilight of his career, Marcos seems to be unaware of his country s desperate straits. For one thing, he has said that he will reinstate Chief of Staff Fabian Ver if he is acquitted in the Aquino assassination trial. Such an action would be a signal that President Marcos intends to conduct business as usual, and would probably rule out the chances of any genuine military reform.
The most effective way to persuade President Marcos to initiate reforms and convince the Filipino people that the
President Reagan appears intent on sending a very different signal. One year later, despite the lack of significant reforms, the administration is proposing an extraordinary 150 percent increase in military assistance. Congress should sharply cut this request and sharply increase economic assistance. What's more, military aid should be limited to nonlethal purposes, and economic aid should be largely directed through the Catholic church and private voluntary organizations rather than through the Marcos regime.
There is no guarantee that an American policy structured in this fashion will succeed. But it represents perhaps the only way of influencing events in the
Stephen J. Solarz was a United States Congressman, representing