Philippines, The: Marcos and After

Marcos and After

Ferdinand E. Marcos, who succeeded to the presidency after defeating Macapagal in the 1965 elections, inherited the territorial dispute over Sabah; in 1968 he approved a congressional bill annexing Sabah to the Philippines. Malaysia suspended diplomatic relations (Sabah had joined the Federation of Malaysia in 1963), and the matter was referred to the United Nations. The Philippines became one of the founding countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967. The continuing need for land reform fostered a new Huk uprising in central Luzon, accompanied by mounting assassinations and acts of terror, and in 1969, Marcos began a major military campaign to subdue them. Civil war also threatened on Mindanao, where groups of Moros opposed Christian settlement. In Nov., 1969, Marcos won an unprecedented reelection, easily defeating Sergio Osmeña, Jr., but the election was accompanied by violence and charges of fraud, and Marcos's second term began with increasing civil disorder.

In Jan., 1970, some 2,000 demonstrators tried to storm Malcañang Palace, the presidential residence; riots erupted against the U.S. embassy. When Pope Paul VI visited Manila in Nov., 1970, an attempt was made on his life. In 1971, at a Liberal party rally, hand grenades were thrown at the speakers' platform, and several people were killed. President Marcos declared martial law in Sept., 1972, charging that a Communist rebellion threatened, and opposition to Marcos's government did swell the ranks of Communist guerrilla groups, which continued to grow into the mid-1980s and continued on a smaller scale into the 21st cent. The 1935 constitution was replaced (1973) by a new one that provided the president with direct powers. A plebiscite (July, 1973) gave Marcos the right to remain in office beyond the expiration (Dec., 1973) of his term. Meanwhile the fighting on Mindanao had spread to the Sulu Archipelago. By 1973 some 3,000 people had been killed and hundreds of villages burned. Throughout the 1970s poverty and governmental corruption increased, and Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand's wife, became more influential.

Martial law remained in force until 1981, when Marcos was reelected, amid accusations of electoral fraud. On Aug. 21, 1983, opposition leader Benigno Aquino was assassinated at Manila airport, which incited a new, more powerful wave of anti-Marcos dissent. After the Feb., 1986, presidential election, both Marcos and his opponent, Corazon Aquino (the widow of Benigno), declared themselves the winner, and charges of massive fraud and violence were leveled against the Marcos faction. Marcos's domestic and international support eroded, and he fled the country on Feb. 25, 1986, eventually obtaining asylum in the United States.

Aquino's government faced mounting problems, including coup attempts, significant economic difficulties, and pressure to rid the Philippines of the U.S. military presence (the last U.S. bases were evacuated in 1992). In 1990, in response to the demands of the Moros, a partially autonomous Muslim region was created in the far south. In 1992, Aquino declined to run for reelection and was succeeded by her former army chief of staff Fidel Ramos. He immediately launched an economic revitalization plan premised on three policies: government deregulation, increased private investment, and political solutions to the continuing insurgencies within the country. His political program was somethat successful, opening dialogues with the Communist and Muslim guerillas. Although Muslim unrest and violence continued into the 21st cent, the government signed a peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996, which led to an expansion of the autonomous region in 2001.

Several natural disasters, including the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo on Luzon and a succession of severe typhoons, one of which killed more than 5,000 people (Nov., 1991), slowed the country's economic progress in the 1990s. The Philippines, however, escaped much of the economic turmoil seen in other East Asian nations in 1997 and 1998, in part by following a slower pace of development imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Joseph Marcelo Estrada, a former movie actor, was elected president in 1998, pledging to help the poor and develop the country's agricultural sector. In 1999 he announced plans to amend the constitution in order to remove protectionist provisions and attract more foreign investment.

Late in 2000, Estrada's presidency was buffetted by charges that he accepted millions of dollars in payoffs from illegal gambling operations. Although his support among the poor Filipino majority remained strong, many political, business, and church leaders called for him to resign. In Nov., 2000, Estrada was impeached by the house of representatives on charges of graft, but the senate, controlled by Estrada's allies, provoked a crisis (Jan., 2001) when it rejected examining the president's bank records. As demonstrations against Estrada mounted and members of his cabinet resigned, the supreme court stripped him of the presidency, and Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as Estrada's successor. Estrada was indicted on charges of corruption in April, and his supporters attempted to storm the presidential palace in May. In Sept., 2007, he was convicted of corruption and sentenced to life imprisonment, but Estrada, who had been under house arrest since 2001, was pardoned the following month by President Macapagal-Arroyo.

A second Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), agreed to a cease-fire in June, 2001, but fighting with fundamentalist Islamic guerrillas continued, and there was a MNLF uprising on Jolo in November. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. government provided (2002) training and assistance to Philippine troops fighting the guerrillas. In 2003 fighting with the MILF again escalated, despite pledges by both sides that they would negotiate and exercise restraint; however, a truce was declared in July. In the same month several hundred soldiers were involved in a mutiny in Manila that the government claimed was part of a coup attempt.

Macapagal-Arroyo was elected president in her own right in May, 2004, but the balloting was marred by violence and irregularities as well as a tedious vote-counting process that was completed six weeks after the election. A series of four devastating storms during November and December killed as many as 1,000 in the country's north and east, particularly on Luzon. In early 2005 heavy fighting broke out on Mindanao between government forces and a splinter group of MILF rebels, and there was also fighting with a MNLF splinter group in Jolo.

In June, 2005, the president was beset by a vote-rigging charge based on a tape of a conversation she had with an election official. She denied the allegation while acknowledging that she had been recorded and apologizing for what she called a lapse in judgment, but the controversy combined with other scandals (including allegations that her husband and other family members had engaged in influence peddling and received bribes) to create a national crisis. Promising government reform, she asked (July) her cabinet to resign, and several cabinet members subsequently called on Macapagal-Arroyo to resign (as did Corazon Aquino). At the same time the supreme court suspended sales tax increases that had been enacted in May as part of a tax reform package designed to reduce the government's debt. In August and September the president survived an opposition move to impeach her when her opponents failed to muster the votes needed to force a trial in the senate.

In Feb., 2006, the government engaged in talks, regarded as a prelude to formal peace negotiations, with the MILF, and dicussions between the two sides continued in subsequent months. Late in the month, President Macapagal-Arroyo declared a weeklong state of emergency when a coup plot against her was discovered. Intended to coincide with the 20th anniversary celebrations of the 1986 demonstrations that brought down Ferdinand Marcos, the coup was said to have involved several army generals and left-wing legislators. The state of emergency was challenged in court and upheld after the fact, but the supreme court declared aspects of the emergency's enforcement unconstitutional.

In October the supreme court declared a move to revise the constitution through a “people's initiative,” replacing the presidential system of government with a parliamentary one, unconstitutional, but the government only abandoned its attempt to revise the constitution in December after the Roman Catholic church attacked an attempt by the house of representatives to call a constituent assembly and by the opposition-dominated senate. In 2006 there was fierce fighting on Jolo between government forces and Islamic militants; it continued into 2007, and there were also clashes in Basilan and Mindanao.

In Jan., 2007, a government commission blamed many of the more than 800 deaths of activists during Macapagal-Arroyo's presidency on the military. The president promised action in response to the report, but the chief of the armed forces denounced the report as unfair and strained. Congressional elections in May, 2007, were marred by fraud allegations and by violence during the campaign; the voting left the opposition in control of the senate and Macapagal-Arroyo's allies in control of the house. In November there was a brief occupation of a Manila hotel by soldiers, many of whom had been involved in the 2003 mutiny. In Oct., 2007, the president's husband was implicated in a kickback scandal involving a Chinese company; the investigation continued into 2008, and prompted demonstrations by her opponents and calls for her to resign.

A peace agreement that would have expanded the area of Mindanao that was part of the Muslim autonomous region was reached in principle with the MILF in Nov., 2007. Attempts to finalize the agreement, however, collapsed in July, 2008, when Muslims accused the government of reopening settled issues; the agreement was also challenged in court by Filipinos opposed to it. In August significant fighting broke out between government forces and rebels that the MILF said were renegades; two months later the supreme court declared the agreement unconstitutional. Fighting in the region continued into 2009. A cease-fire was established in July, 2009, and peace talks resumed the following December.

Luzon was battered by several typhoons in Sept.–Oct, 2009; the Manila area and the mountainous north were most severely affected, and more than 900 persons died. In Nov., 2009, the country was stunned by the murder of the wife of an opposition candidate for the governorship of Maguindanao prov. and 57 people who joined her in a convoy as she went to register his candidacy; the governor, Andal Ampatuan, and his sons were charged with rebellion and murder in relation to the slaughter and events after it. The sons were convicted in 2019; the governor died before the trial ended.

The May, 2010, presidential election was won by Senator Benigno Aquino 3d, the son of the late President Corazon Aquino. The relatively inexperienced Aquino benefited from his mother's popularity and his own clean image, and handily defeated former President Estrada and other candidates. The voting was marred somewhat by irregularities, particularly in the S Philippines.

Talks in Feb., 2011, with Communist rebels led both sides to commit to a cease-fire and ongoing negotiations intended to reach a peace accord within 18 months. The rebels withdrew from the negotiations in November and the cease-fire ended; no significant talks the occurred until Dec., 2012, but negotiations ultimately stalled when the government refused to release captured guerrillas who were to serve as consultants to the talks. In Oct., 2011, there was significant fighting with Moro rebels in W Mindanao and on nearby Basilan. N Mindanao suffered from deadly flash flooding in Dec., 2011, after a typhoon struck; more than 1,200 were killed by the storm. A year later S and cental Mindanao were hit by a supertyphoon that led to similar flooding; more than 1,000 died. Since 2011 there have been increased tensions with China over disputed islands in the South China Sea. In early 2013 the Philippines notified China that it would seek arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and in 2016 the Hague Tribunal ruled that China's claims to the South China Sea were not justified and that China had violated Philippine rights. China rejected the ruling.

In Oct., 2012, the government and the MILF reached a framework peace agreement that called for creating a new autonomous region to replace the existing one in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. MNLF rebels alienated by the MILF agreement launched significant attacks in Zamboanga and Basilan in Sept., 2013. The MILF negotiations led to a peace agreement in Mar., 2014, under which the new autonomous region, Bangsamoro, would be established by 2016 and would have somewhat enlarged territory and increased autonomy. Deadly fighting in Jan., 2015, against other Moro rebels that also engaged some MILF fighters stalled legislative approval of the autonomous region, which finally occurred in July, 2018, and it came into existence following a referendum in the region in Jan. and Feb., 2019.

In May, 2013, congressional elections gave Aquino's supporters control of both houses. The islands of Bohol and Cebu, in the Visayan Islands, suffered significant damage from an earthquake in Oct., 2013. The following month parts of Leyte, Samar, and Cebu were devastated by a supertyphoon. The tropical storm, which also affected other islands, was the deadliest ever to hit the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people. Parts of Samar also suffered significant damage from a supertyphoon in Dec., 2014.

In the 2016 presidential election, Rodrigo Duterte, the outspoken, often crude, and combative left-of-center mayor of Davao with a reputation for fighting crime by encouraging extralegal killings by police and vigilantes, won with about two fifths of the votes. The country saw a wave of thousands of extralegal killings, ostensibly aimed at the drug trade, after Duterte was inaugurated in June. Relations with the United States became contentious as Duterte voiced hostility at times toward the country in response to U.S. criticism of the killings. The killings also sparked an investigation (2018) by the International Criminal Court, leading Duterte to withdraw the Philippines from the treaty that established it.

Beginning in 2016, Duterte sought to revive negotiations with Communist rebels, which led to temporary cease-fires in 2016 and 2017. In May, 2017, a failed government attempt to capture a leader of Islamist militants aligned with the Islamic State led to five months of fighting in Marawi, on Mindanao, between the military and hundreds of militants; most of the 200,000 residents of the largely Muslim city fled the fighting, hundreds died, and the center of the city was destroyed.

The chief justice of the supreme court, a critic of Duterte, was removed from office in mid-2018 by a vote of the justices, a maneuver that was criticized as unconstitutional. Critical voices in the media also were subjected to government prosecution and threats from Duterte supporters, and in 2020 the Philippine congress refused to renew the license of one of the country's largest broadcasting networks, which had been critical of Duterte. In the May, 2019, senatorial elections, allies of Duterte secured a majority of the seats. Two months later the country's vice president and more than 30 other opponents of Duterte, including Roman Catholic officials, who were notable for criticizing Duterte's drug and media crackdowns, were charged by police with sedition and other crimes. In July, 2020, Duterte signed a widely terrorism law that would allow the warrantless arrest and weeks-long detention without charges of people deemed terrorists. In Oct.–Nov., 2020, a series of typhoons and tropical storms battered the country, with Supertyphoon Goni in S Luzon in early November particularly destructive. Fifteen major weather events hit the region during 2021, including the massive Supertyphoon Rai in December that lead to the death of over 200 people and evacuation of nearly 100,000 people, along with widespread flooding.

In May, 2022, Bongbong Marcos, son of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, was elected president.

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