FERDINAND E. MARCOS is the sixth president of the Philippine Republic, and apart from Ramón Magsaysay, whose success with the electorate was charismatic rather than pragmatic, the first president who appears to have recognized that the basic weakness in the office has been its failure to provide effective political leadership. No president has succeeded in having himself re-elected for a second term in office, or even in winning adequate support for his programs and policies. Abuses that ought to be intolerable have been built into the society simply because no president has had the power, or the time — and sometimes the inclination — to do anything about them.
Marcos has devoted his first year as president to two main tasks: getting the machinery of central government to work so that he can begin essential programs to improve lagging agricultural production and counter mounting rural unrest; and entrenching himself in popular favor by the simple expedient of identifying his own role as president with the national interest. In political terms, what really matters at this stage is not so much what he has achieved in his programs as the extent to which he has succeeded in laying the groundwork for future action. Measured by this criterion, he has been spectacularly successful.
Marcos came into office with a technical majority of friendly Nacionalistas in the Senate and a seemingly hostile Liberal-dominated House of Representatives. He promised to push his program through Congress by a new, bipartisan approach, which in a curious way has worked. Though he needed to resort to arm-twisting to bring his own Nacionalistas into line in the Senate, the Liberals in the House voted for his legislation.
Marcos has achieved standing as a truly significant national leader. More than a quarter of a century ago his exploits as a daring and highly decorated guerrilla fighter against the Japanese helped to keep alive the spirit of Philippine nationalism. Now, as president, he has been able to satisfy a long unrequited national yearning for international acceptance and recognition.
His self-appointed mission to bring peace to Vietnam is far removed from all-important domestic concerns, but it is nevertheless something that almost all Filipinos approve. True, he put a battalion of engineers with security support into Vietnam, a move which he himself had once opposed, but having conceded this point in deference to the American alliance, he silenced his critics by coming back from his September visit to Washington not only with assurances that U.S. aid would be forthcoming to help in vital agricultural programs but with settlements, or the promise of settlements, on most issues of critical emotional significance to the electorate.
Dollars from the United States
One of these was the reaffirmation of the U.S. pledge to reduce the term of the military bases agreement, a hardy perennial for nationalist attack, from ninety-nine to twenty-five years. Another touched on even thornier aspects of the U.S.-Philippine relationship. Some 93,000 Filipinos scattered through all fifty-six provinces and living in at least 15,000 of the country’s 28,500 barrios get a monthly check from the U.S. Veterans Administration. At the rate of $3.5 million a month, the United States has now paid Filipino war veterans and their families more than a billion dollars, a vast sum but not, according to most Filipinos, enough.
Veterans’ claims still unsatisfied come within two broad categories: those arising from erroneous deductions or disallowances of benefits not in dispute; and disputed rights, arising from pay increases which the United States has hitherto declined to acknowledge. Although the communiqué issued at the end of Marcos’ visit to Washington did not provide in itself a final settlement of the Philippine claims, the decision to resume formal discussion of the claims, and the further agreement that the two countries would adopt procedures which would minimize any adverse impact on U.S. balance of payments, left no doubt that Marcos had had a signal victory, and one that would be of direct benefit to families in all parts of the country.
Nor was this an end to the Marcos package. In loans and grants to cover the dollar-financing of irrigation facilities, feeder roads, airport and harbor improvement, and agricultural extension work he got $125 million, most of it calculated to help the more critical aspects of his domestic agricultural program. He had agreement, also, on such longterm but highly contentious issues as the early opening of discussions on arrangements to succeed the Langley-Laurel trade agreement, which expires in 1974 and ends U.S. commercial privileges.
Reparations from Japan
Taking in Japan on the last leg of his journey, Marcos received Japanese commitments to accelerate the balance of reparations payments amounting to $300 million. For most Filipinos, hobnobbing with the Japanese is still fraught with political risk, but not for ex-guerrilla Marcos. Making the most of his unique capacity for maneuver, he buttered up the Japanese with speeches designed to sweep away lingering, and partly justified, fears that all was not yet forgotten or forgiven for the Second World War.
The results in accelerated reparations and investment promises pleased the Filipinos even more. Ticker tape showered on the presidential car as Marcos drove through Manila on his return, and an estimated million people lined the streets to cheer him.
To cap these successes came the Manila conference. For Marcos, it was another big step forward in national stature and presidential power. No sooner had the captains and the kings departed than Marcos set in motion his own “grand peace offensive.” Among his plans is an Asian conference, with countries of similar ideologies participating, to be followed by a bigger meeting of all Asian countries, including mainland China.
Tempting though it may be, protracted preoccupation with summitry is not going to bring down the price of rice. In private conversation, Marcos appears to be well aware, however, that his mounting popularity with the Filipino people will be useful only if it can be made to work as a lever for administrative action that would otherwise be beyond the presidential capability.
The home front
Yet politics being what they are in the Philippines, Marcos has only two years in which to implement his domestic policies before he is again caught up in the throes of the presidential election campaign, which now runs a full year, has the effect of all but bringing government to a halt, and is enormously expensive.
Although industrial expansion has been taking place at the healthy rate of about 8 percent a year, (he rate of expansion in the primary sector has been only about one percent, far too low to meet the needs of a population swollen by a 3.2 percent growth rate. More than half the country’s 33 million people are under the age of twenty, and the population gives every indication of doubling itself within the next twenty years. In the meantime, 400,000 new job-seekers are thrown on the labor market each year with little prospect that they will find employment in keeping with their educational levels. By the end of 1966, slightly more than a million Filipinos, or nearly 9 percent of the labor force, were totally unemployed, and an estimated 2 million others had much less work than enough.
Since education is given highest government priority — and 25 percent of the Budget appropriations — those who suffer worst are among the youngest and the best educated. The Philippines, as one local writer aptly put it, has become a land of growing privilege for the few and shrinking opportunities for the many. While there are not enough skilled artisans to meet the country’s needs, the professional ranks are overcrowded in all categories, including engineering.
The private sector of the economy not only is demonstrably more effective than the public sector but suffers heavily from the government’s administrative weaknesses. The demand for local textiles increased sharply last year when Marcos suppressed some forms of smuggling, but many other factories are working less than full time because smuggling generally is still rampant.
According to an official Central Bank estimate, smuggling costs the Philippines $350 million a year in foreign exchange and another $85 million in lost revenue. “Pure” smuggling constitutes only a small proportion of the total. Most is achieved by way of undeclared or underdeclared imports, which in turn involve the corruption of underpaid customs officials who are paid an entirely inadequate wage of 360 pesos (about $93) a month. Corruption does not either begin or end with the petty functionary, however. It embraces the administration, the legislature, the armed forces, and the judiciary.
So far, Marcos has promised and probed, but he has not really come to grips with the problem. “Just watch the arrests,” he said when he first came into office. People are still watching. Even Marcos does not seem to have understood where arrests, if carried to their proper conclusion, might lead, or, since corruption is everywhere, how he could make charges stick. With the sons of well-to-do families virtually immune from punishment even on the most serious charges, justice has fallen into disrepute. Moreover, the courts have such a backlog of cases, and in many instances, have so few judges available, that the lawless feel no need for restraint.
In the law of the jungle that prevailed during the Japanese occupation, survival often depended on a willingness to lie, cheat, steal, or even to kill. The young Filipino grew up with a knife or a gun. In the immediate post-war years this remained as a hangover from the years of violence. Today it has become a reflection of the unsatisfied revolution of rising expectations. Robbery, arson, and murder are all increasing and have become so much a part of the way of life that only cases involving well-known people are regarded as worth more than a paragraph buried on an inside page of the newspapers.
Also a way of life are the activities of the noisy, articulate, left-wing, urban groups of students, unionists, and others who are bitterly critical of both political parties, bitterly antiAmerican, seemingly ultranationalist, and heavily infiltrated by the Communists. Since employment in the countryside is often on a foodonly basis, the glitter of Manila continues to attract young men whose further frustration piovides ready fuel for the left wing’s revolutionary doctrine.
In riceand sugar-growing provinces beyond Manila, all the causes that led to the Hukbalahap uprising after the Second World War remain and have been exacerbated by neglect. In 1963 President Macapagal introduced long-overdue land-reform legislation, which was first watered down by Congress by raising the lower limits of the size of expropriatable estates from 59 to 184 acres and later immobilized by Congress’ failure to finance the expropriation.
One does not need to seek far to find the reasons why the agricultural Philippines, with tens of thousands of acres of virgin and arable land, has become one of the biggest riceimporting countries in the world, or why the rice-growing areas — in particular in Pampanga Province — are Seething with revolutionary discontent, which the revived Hukbalahap movement has begun to exploit with alarming success. Tenant farmers working twoor three-acre blocks in grinding poverty, in debt to landlords for eleven out of twelve months of every year, have turned in thousands to the Huks.
In parts of Pampanga the Huks have become a state within a state. They have organized and now control more than 120 barrios. Five small towns and the city of Angeles, where GI’s from the Clark Field air base spend their pesos in sleazy bars, are all under virtual Huk control. The transport and the vice of Angeles are Huk concessions. The Huks run their own courts, administer their own justice, collect their own taxes. Family heads in controlled and organized barrios are assigned a tax quota of one sack of rice, or its equivalent, every harvest. Landlords must contribute as many sacks of rice as they have tenants and must make cash contributions also.
How many Huks?
Although the movement is still in the rebuilding stage, it is growing rapidly. According to official Philippine security estimates, the regular, full-time armed members of the Huk forces numbered only 37 before the 1965 elections. These were backed by about 200 cadres working in the towns and villages and about 8000 tax collectors and other workers. Today the regular armed force has grown to between 130 and 145, backed by part-time combat support and service support units of nearly 1000 and a mass working organization of some 26,000.
The movement now has guns, money, and widespread sympathetic support. In the classic style, the Huks offer themselves as an alternative form of government. They promise social justice and protection against the twin scourges of oppressive landlords and cattle rustlers.
The only difference between the situation in Pampanga today and that which existed in the western provinces on the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam late in 1959 is that Marcos, though he has been accused of heavy-handedness, appears to have a more sensitive understanding of the reasons for peasant unrest than Ngo Dinh Diem used to have. At this stage the struggle calls for a genuine land-reform campaign, for government credit for seeds, fertilizers, insecticides, for improved irrigation canals, and for a great deal more dedication among government officials in the rural areas.
Some of these needs will be met by the U.S. aid promised during Marcos’ visit to Washington. In the final analysis, however, real progress in improving agricultural production to meet the food needs of the nation will depend on the effectiveness with which Marcos can make use of the political power which he has so carefully been cultivating. It is here that his bipartisan approach will meet its principal test, since some of the most powerful members of the administration represent the diehard landlord interests, which have stood resolutely in the way of rural reform.