The Rise and Fall of Ferdinand E. Marcos (First of a Series)

The Sound of Distant Drums 

FORTUITOUS circumstances conspired to make Ferdinand Edralin Marcos president of the Republic of the Philippines.

Let us trace his ascendancy in politics.

President Diosdado Macapagal was set to seek reelection in the presidential polls in 1965. The Nacionalista Party had a formidable array of timbers from whom to choose its candidate against the incumbent.

Among those being eyed and raring to challenge Macapagal were Vice President Emanuel Pelaez, who earlier defected from the administration, Senators Gil Puyat, Arturo Tolentino and Fernando Lopez and Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson.

Popularly named “Arsenic” for his acid tongue and barbed criticisms, Lacson was national campaign manager for Vice President Macapagal in the 1961 presidential elections against reelectionist Carlos Garcia, his party mate, whom he derided as incompetent and derisively described as “the penumbra of the silhouette” for being dark-skinned.

Shortly after the elections, Lacson distanced himself from Macapagal after securing the appointment of a friend, Jose Diokno, as secretary of justice.

Diokno was to become a principal player in a corruption scandal which rocked the Macapagal administration and shaped the future of top players in the political landscape, including then senate president Ferdinand Marcos, Macapagal’s partymate.

On December 9, 1961, an American, Meinhart Spielman blew the whistle on his fellow American, Harry Stonehill for corrupting high government officials, and evading taxes to advance his business interests. 

A former soldier who saw action in the Philippines, Stonehill decided to remain in the country, married a Filipina, and in less than 120 years, built a business empire through chicanery, bribery, and blandishments. 

Spielman, the whistleblower was president of one of the firms in his conglomerate.

When Diokno was tipped-off on Spielman’s expose, he ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to raid the business establishments of Stonehill.

One of the documents found was a Blue Book which listed the names of high government officials who received bribes from Stonehill. 

The scandal rocked the new administration. In a desperate effort to defuse the crisis, executive secretary Salvador Marino inserted the name of Vice President Pelaez in the Blue Book, claiming later that he did so “merely to borrow his honor.” That outraged Pelaez who immediately broke away from the administration and joined the Nacionalista Party.

What incensed the public and dismayed even his political allies was Macapagal’s decision to deport Stonehill even before Congress and the courts could conduct their investigations.

Congressman Jovito Salonga, chairman of the Good Government committee in the House which was set to conduct an investigation, fumed: “The President can deport Stonehill but he cannot deport the truth.”

Mayor Lacson was snickering in the sidelines over the disaster which hit the Macapagal administration. 

He was by then already training his sights on the Presidency. Asked by a reporter why he turned his back on the man whom he helped become president, Lacson tartly explained that he helped Macapagal to become president but not to be his guardian angel.

Lacson, already perceived as the strongest bet the opposition can pit against Macapagal, died of stroke on April 15, 1962, a month after the Stonehill scandal broke out.

Also watching with keen interest the unfolding backlash on the scandal was senate president Marcos who was promised by Macapagal to be his immediate successor after his term. 

When Macapagal reneged on his promise, Marcos bolted the Liberal Party and joined the opposition. In the Nacionalista Party convention to choose its standard bearer, Marcos edged out Pelaez in the run-off following an inconclusive first balloting where five others participated.

Deserted by the vice president, the senate president, and a number of political leaders, his administration badly damaged by the mishandling of the Harry Stonehill scandal and warding off corruption issues in some of his flagship projects, Macapagal lost to Marcos by only 643,532 votes; in the vice presidential derby, Gerardo Roxas lost to Fernando Lopez by a measly 27,324 votes.

What could have also turned the tide against Macapagal was the ban on the showing of the biographical movie of Marcos, Iginuhit ng Tadhana

This aroused the curiosity of many voters, particularly those who were not yet decided on whom to vote.

But no one could have chosen the worst time to become president than Ferdinand Marcos.

In his inaugural speech, Marcos himself admitted that the country was facing a “crisis of confidence.”

There was basis for the people’s disenchantment with the establishment.

The advent of a new administration no longer offered hope for a better future. The lofty provisions of the Constitution became mere shibboleths.

To them, elections were no longer friendly competitions among honorable men and women. They have become expensive and bitterly-contested. Only those who have the money to finance the costly campaign and buy votes get elected.

The country was facing a bleak and uncertain future when Marcos assumed the highest public position.

The economy was in bad shape. The treasury was empty. Foreign investors were shying away from the country. 

Some of the richest families were siphoning and investing their wealth abroad. Graft and corruption had become pervasive and widespread. Lawlessness and criminality were on the rise. The entire justice system had broken down.

The winter of discontent has set in when Marcos decided to run for reelection.

Hoping that the jinx that no sitting president has won reelection will work, the Liberal Party was confident it can depose its prodigal member, Marcos. 

LP president Cornelio Villareal and Senator Sergio Osmena declared they were ready to bid for the position. 

They agreed to hold a straw balloting to choose who will run against Marcos. Accusing Osmena of having rigged the straw balloting and bitter over his ouster as president of the Liberal Party, Villareal left the ranks of the opposition and supported Marcos. 

His defection was a big blow to Osmena’s candidacy and an unexpected boon to the reelection of Marcos.

With the opposition depleted and short of financial resources to match the logistics of the administration, Marcos handily beat Osmena by over a million votes.

There was subdued rejoicing and guarded expectations over the resounding victory of Marcos. 

The sound of distant drums was getting louder, nearer and ominous. (To be continued)

 

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