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The Snap Election and Marcos's Ouster

Indicative of the importance of United States support for his regime, Marcos announced his decision to hold a "snap" presidential election on an American television talk show, "This Week with David Brinkley," in November 1985. He promised skeptical Americans access for observer teams, setting February 7, 1986, a year before his six-year presidential term ran out, as the date for the election. He believed his early reelection would solidify United States support, silence his critics in the Philippines and the United States, and perhaps banish the ghost of Benigno Aquino. Marcos's smoothly running, well-financed political machine and the divided nature of the opposition promised success, but his decision proved to be a monumental blunder.

Cardinal Sin, an astute negotiator described by one diplomat as "one of the best politicians in the Philippines," arranged a political alliance of convenience between Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel, who had announced his own candidacy but agreed to run as Aquino's vice-presidential candidate. Aquino had immense popular support and Laurel brought his superior organizational skills to the campaign. Their agreement to run together was arranged just in time for the deadline for submission of candidacies in early December. The church hierarchy gave its moral support to the opposition ticket. Cardinal Sin, realizing that poor people would not refuse money offered for votes and that the ethic of utang na loob would oblige them to vote for the briber, admonished the voters that an immoral contract was not binding and that they should vote according to their consciences.

On the day of the election, NAMFREL guarded ballot boxes and tried to get a rapid tally of the results in order to prevent irregularities. A team of United States observers, which included a joint congressional delegation, issued a mild criticism of electoral abuses, but individual members expressed shock and indignation: Senator Richard Lugar claimed that between 10 and 40 percent of the voters had been disenfranchised by the removal of their names from registration rolls. The results tabulated by the government's Commission on Elections (COMELEC) showed Marcos leading, whereas NAMFREL figures showed a majority for the Aquino-Laurel ticket. On February 9, computer operators at COMELEC observed discrepancies between their figures and those officially announced and walked out in protest, at some risk to their lives. The church condemned the election as fraudulent, but on February 15, the Marcos-dominated National Assembly proclaimed him the official winner. Despite the election fraud, the Reagan administration's support for Marcos remained strong, as did its uncertainty concerning Corazon Aquino. Yet a consensus of policy makers in the White House, Department of State, Pentagon, and Congress was emerging and advised the withdrawal of support from Marcos.

On February 22, Enrile and General Fidel Ramos, commander of the Philippine Constabulary, issued a joint statement demanding Marcos's resignation. They established their rebel headquarters inside Camp Aguinaldo and the adjoining Camp Crame in Metro Manila, which was guarded by several hundred troops. Marcos ordered loyal units to suppress the uprising, but Cardinal Sin, broadcasting over the Catholic-run Radio Veritas (which became the voice of the revolution), appealed to the people to bring food and supplies for the rebels and to use nonviolence to block pro-Marcos troop movements.

Hundreds of thousands responded. In the tense days that followed, priests, nuns, ordinary citizens, and children linked arms with the rebels and faced down, without violence, the tanks and machine guns of government troops. Many of the government troops defected, including the crews of seven helicopter gunships, which seemed poised to attack the massive crowd on February 24 but landed in Camp Crame to announce their support for People's Power. Violent confrontations were prevented. The Philippine troops did not want to wage war on their own people.

Although Marcos held an inauguration ceremony at Malacaņang Palace on February 25, it was boycotted by foreign ambassadors (with the exception, in an apparently unwitting gaffe, of a new Soviet ambassador). It was, for the Marcoses, the last, pathetic hurrah. Advised by a United States senator, Paul Laxalt, who had close ties to Reagan, to "cut and cut cleanly," Marcos realized that he had lost United States support for any kind of arrangement that could keep him in power. By that evening, the Marcoses had quit the palace that had been their residence for two decades and were on their way to exile in the United States. Manila's population surged into Malacaņang to view the evidence of the Marcos's extravagant life-style (including Imelda's muchpublicized hundreds of pairs of expensive, unworn shoes). An almost bloodless revolution brought Corazon Aquino into office as the seventh president of the Republic of the Philippines (see The Rise of Corazon Aquino , ch. 4).

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David Joel Steinberg's The Philippines provides a good general introduction to the country and pays considerable attention to historical background. For good discussions of the Spanish period, see John L. Phelan's The Hispanicization of the Philippines and Robert Reed's Colonial Manila. Austin Coate's Rizal provides a well-written account of one of the most extraordinary lives of modern times. On the American annexation of the islands, Stuart C. Miller's Benevolent Assimilation is a valuable work. Peter W. Stanley's Reappraising an Empire is a good study of the American colonial period, and Theodore Friend's The Blue Eyed Enemy discusses the Japanese occupation in comparison with neighboring Indonesia. One of the best accounts of the insurgency is Benedict J. Kerkvliet's The Huk Rebellion.

Crisis in the Philippines, a collection of essays edited by John Bresnan, provides an excellent academic discussion of the Marcos years and the events that brought Corazon Aquino to the presidency. Waltzing with a Dictator, by Raymond Bonner, discusses Marcos's relations with the United States, martial law, and the collapse of the Marcos regime. People Power, edited by Monina Allarey Mercado, describes the tense and exuberant atmosphere surrounding the mass movement that toppled Marcos. (For additional information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of June 1991

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