The frail man in the floppy sunhat and beige windbreaker who disembarked from the C-141 transport plane at Honolulu’s Hickam Air Force Base looked more like a tourist than the former president of the Philippines. After U.S. Air Force officials helped him down the steps, 68-year-old Ferdinand Marcos stepped tentatively onto 50 feet of red carpet. Jean Ariyoshi, wife of Hawaii’s Governor George Ariyoshi, presented him with a lei— the traditional necklace of flowers with which Hawaiians welcome visitors. With that, the man who for 20 years ruled the Philippines with an iron hand began his life in exile.
In Manila, jubilant Filipinos filled the streets in celebration, and envoys of foreign governments formally recognized Marcos’s opponent, Corazon (Cory) Aquino, as the new president. Declared Aquino: “The long agony is over. A new life starts for our country.” Still, the end of the Marcos era on Feb. 25 took place faster than many Filipinos had expected. In the weeks after the disputed Feb. 7 presidential election—which most observers say Marcos won only by the use of massive fraud—the president clung to power while Aquino claimed that she had been cheated of victory. Even in the face of worldwide censure he
seemed determined to stay on.
But the stalemate was broken by the Feb. 22 defection of Lt.-Gen. Fidel Ramos, deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, and Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. As the rebellion grew, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos formed a human wall around Camp Crame in Manila where the rebels established their base, and turned back tanks manned by Marcos loyalists. Said one Aquino supporter: “This is a real demonstration of people power.”
Still, Marcos repeatedly appeared on television to insist that he was in control-appropriating air time on a privately owned TV station after rebels seized the government-controlled broadcast system. Marcos clung to power even after his former ally, the U.S. government, called on him to resign and when Aquino on Feb. 25 had herself sworn in as head of a provisional government by Associate Supreme Court Justice Claudio Teehankee. An hour later, Marcos held his own inauguration ceremony at Malacañang Palace—but the TV broadcast was cut off when opposition soldiers cut the lines. Few Filipinos heard him say, “My resignation is impossible.”
As his power slipped away, Marcos made a series of frantic phone calls to U.S. officials, including Republican
Senator Paul Laxalt, a friend of President Ronald Reagan’s, in an attempt to salvage something—even the title of honorary president. Laxalt, who said he advised Marcos to “cut and cut cleanly,” added later, “He was clutching at straws.” But shortly after 9 p.m. on Feb. 25, accompanied by about 90 people—including his family and the widely despised General Fabian Ver, former head of the armed forces—he left, first by U.S. Air Force helicopter to the Americans’ Clark Air Force Base near Manila, then on to Guam and finally Hawaii.
He left behind signs of a hasty departure: dishes of half-eaten caviar and toast, and closets full of clothes and shoes belonging to his wife, Imelda. In his bedroom, a hospital bed and oxygen tanks gave substance to rumors about Marcos’s ill health. The claims that Marcos is seriously ill with a rare liver disease first became widespread in the turmoil following the 1983 assassination of Aquino’s husband, opposition leader Benigno Aquino. And on one wall of the abandoned palace, a painting of a younger, muscular Marcos testified to the myth of his invincibility which many Filipinos had accepted for two decades.
After Marcos’s flight—prearranged with the U.S. government—crowds
looted the palace and destroyed portraits of the former president. But Aquino appealed for calm, and by week’s end Filipinos peacefully strolled through the grounds of the palace— where soldiers found several land mines, as well as 11 booby traps inside the white-domed building. Aquino also said that she will maintain an office in Malacañang—but not live there. She added, “I intend to lead by example, and I don’t think it fitting for the leader of an impoverished nation to live in extravagance.”
It was a sound political gesture in a country with an average per capita income of only $1,150 a year. Aquino followed it by appointing the first 17
members of her cabinet and releasing 33 of some 560 political prisoners jailed during the Marcos regime. But as early as last Wednesday the 53year-old widow seemed to sense that popular euphoria could quickly turn to frustration. She declared: “I would like the Filipino people to just be a little patient. It was just last night that Marcos left and so many urgent problems have to be taken care of.”
Among those problems are a stagnant economy and a $26-billion U.S. foreign debt. As well, the country is severely short of capital, largely as a result of nervous Filipinos transferring about $10 billion (U.S.) out of the country in recent years. But potential conflicts within Aquino’s cabinet may also prove to be explosive. Vice-president Salvador Laurel, for one, also named to the posts of prime minister and foreign minister, is a powerful opposition leader. Enrile, Aquino’s new defence minister, had held the same office in Marcos’s government since 1970, and with his control over the military now has vast power. Both men have in the past said openly that they have presidential aspirations. Indeed, one Washington diplomat said that he doubted whether Aquino would stay in power “for any long term.”
Meanwhile, the new president will have to achieve a reconciliation with hardcore Marcos supporters. For one thing, under the country’s constitution the Philippines National Assembly— two-thirds controlled by Marcos’s New Society Movement—has to proclaim her the president. At week’s end it was not clear whether Aquino would choose to deal with the assembly, which had already named Marcos as the winner on Feb. 15, or proclaim a revolutionary government. And charges that hit men loyal to Marcos were stalking members of Aquino’s
cabinet gained credibility last week when officials said that they had arrested nine people for allegedly planning to assassinate Enrile.
As well, Aquino is faced with the country’s outlawed Communist party and its 16,500-strong New People’s Army (NPA). Although she said during her campaign that she would legalize the party, last week she indicated only that she would be willing to offer an amnesty to any insurgents who lay down their arms. And an NPA spokesman said last week that the struggle would continue despite Aquino’s claim that her victory has severely undermined Communist support. Said the official, known as Ka Joyce: “The problems that existed under the U.S.Marcos dictatorship are still there.”
Indeed, spokesmen for both the new government and the Reagan administration have insisted that the two countries will continue to co-operate. Aquino pledged to honor the Philippines’ agreement allowing for U.S. military bases—the largest outside of the United States—until it expires in 1991. Then, she said, she will keep her “options open.” Possibly in an effort to influence that choice, Reagan vowed last week to work to “meet the needs of the Filipino people.” And U.S. congressional leaders said that aid to the Philippines may be increased from the current $240 million (U.S.) a year.
Reagan also praised Marcos’s “courageous decision” to step down, and White House spokesman Larry Speakes said, “We will be discussing with him his desires for his future.” Some of those desires may well be denied by the new Philippine government and a growing number of U.S. congressmen. Alleging that much of Marcos’s wealth—which may now be more than $3 billion in worldwide investments—was accumulated illegally, they are demanding the expropriation of some of his holdings.
In fact, Democratic Representative Stephen Solarz, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, said last week that he will introduce special legislation to enable the Philippine government to intitiate claims against Marcos’s U.S. holdings. Solarz told Maclean's: “We are talking about massive amounts of money here. These resources were swindled and stolen from the Filipino people.” Indeed, as the new government in Manila begins to dismantle the Marcos legacy, the fading years of the former Filipino strong man may well be marked by a loss of wealth—as well as power.
PEETER KOPVILLEM with LIN NEUMANN in Manila and IAN AUSTEN and WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.