First of 3 webinars on the Marcos fascist dictatorship
Questions by Anghelo Godino
Answers by Jose Maria Sison
September 13, 2020
- Who was Ferdinand Marcos before he became the president of the Philippines in 1965?
JMS: Marcos was a senator before he became president. Earlier, he had been a congressman representing a district of Ilocos Norte. I come from the Ilocos region as he did. He came from a middle class family and used his brain for enriching himself. He was obsessed with acquiring political power in order to be in the upper class. Among war veterans, he was notorious for fabricating his so-called Maharlika regiment in a futile attempt to collect back pay from the US government in the name of thousands of fictitious anti-Japanese troops after the war.
As a congressman in the 1940s and 1950s, he made money facilitating the immigration of Chinese to the Philippines and the allocation of US dollars to Chinese businessmen. With his bureaucratic loot, he was able to build his mansions in Batac, Ilocos Norte and San Juan, Rizal. He met his wife Imelda by conniving with the late Speaker Romualdez in importing garlic from Taiwan in betrayal of the garlic farmers of Ilocos Norte.
- What were the objective socio-economic conditions of the Philippines before he rose to presidency? What effect did it have in his rise to power?
JMS: When he campaigned for the presidency in 1965, the Philippines was afflicted by the chronic crisis of the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system dominated by US monopoly capitalism and ruled by the big compradors, landlords and bureaucrat capitalists. He rose to the presidency by leaving his original party, the Liberal Party, to become the presidential candidate of the Nacionalista Party.
He pretended to be more patriotic and honest than the incumbent president Macapagal who had become notorious with his unfulfilled promises and aggravation of the problems of unemployment and mass poverty. When Marcos came to power, he further aggravated the chronic crisis and then used it as a pretext for fascist dictatorship. He described the Philippine situation as a social volcano about to explode and he offered his despotic rule supposedly to avert the explosion and make the Philippines great again.
- Were these socio-economic conditions changed when he rose to power? What were the conditions of the Filipino masses under his regime before he declared Martial Law?
JMS: Marcos aggravated the economic and social crisis of the ruling system by engaging in extreme forms of corruption. He engaged in large infrastructure projects that he overpriced and contracted to his crony corporations. In the process he used up the Japanese war damage payments and sank the Philippines into unprecedented foreign indebtedness, from the level of only USD 500 million to so many billions, up to more then USD 27 billion by 1986.
The unbridled corruption and rising military expenditures escalated the conditions of oppression and exploitation against the broad masses of the people. He also aggravated the political crisis of the ruling system by his penchant for using violence against the legal democratic forces. He often used the military and police forces to suppress protest mass actions, such as those against the US economic and military domination of the Philippines and against the use of Filipino troops to participate in the US war of aggression against the Vietnamese people.
- Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. What were his objectives?
JMS: The main objective of Marcos was to keep himself in power beyond the end of his constitutional term of office in 1973 and to keep on plundering the economy for the benefit of his family and his business cronies. He was of course inspired by the examples of fascist dictators like Mobutu of the Congo, Suharto of nearby Indonesia, Nguyen van Thieu of Vietnam and Pinochet of Chile.
He followed the example of Suharto and Pinochet in using the red scare or anti-communism in order to rationalize fascist dictatorship. In 1972 the New People’s Army was only in the hundreds. But in his martial law proclamation he claimed that there were already 10,000 NPA fighters. He was brazenly lying.
The objective of tyrants is always to use absolute power in order to attain absolute corruption. The irony is that the revolutionary movement became stronger at a faster rate from 1972 precisely because of the unbridled violence and corruption of the Marcos fascist regime. Thus, he would be known satirically as the best recruiter of the NPA.
- Was his declaration of Martial Law predicted? Was there an escalation of military power and violence against the people’s democratic rights prior to his formal declaration?
JMS: There was an escalation of military power and violence against the people’s democratic rights prior to his formal declaration of martial law. Marcos beefed up the reactionary armed forces and used the military and police to brutally disperse the protest mass actions in 1969 and escalated the attacks from the First Quarter Storm of 1970 to the eve of the declaration of martial law. Activists were being killed and injured in large numbers.
The declaration of martial law was very predictable because as early as 1969 Marcos was already harping on the line that the social volcano in the Philippines was about to erupt and that he must take extraordinary measures. From the beginning of his presidency in 1965, he paid close attention to his control of the military by becoming his own defense secretary and by putting in the highest positions in the reactionary armed forces officers most loyal to him and who came from his own province.
He readily agreed to the urgings of the clerico-fascists who called themselves social democrats to amend the Philippine Constitution. Manglapus and the like had the naive illusion that solving the critical problems of the Philippine was simply a matter of rewriting the constitution and adopting parliamentarism. But Marcos saw charter change as an opportunity to install himself as a fascist dictator through transitory provisions. Thus, he was able to use charter change to facilitate his continuance in power beyond his 1973 term limit.
- What exactly was Martial Law? What would it change from the already repressive ruling of the Marcos regime?
JMS: Under martial law, the basic democratic rights of individuals and organizations guaranteed by the Constitution could be violated under the authority of the president as commander in chief ordering the armed forces and the police to enforce what he liked in order to keep absolute power. There was no restraint from the judicial or legislative branches of the government. Marcos shut down Congress and Supreme Court ruled that the martial law declaration was nonjusticiable.
People could be abducted, without any judicial warrant. Anyone could be tortured or murdered. Human rights violations of the bloodiest kind were rampant. The properties of the propertied opponents of Marcos as well as the meagre possessions of the poor could be confiscated. Marcos made it a point to close down and practically confiscate the newspapers and broadcast stations of those who were not servile to him so that he could have a monopoly of information and propaganda.
- What role did the United States have in Marcos’ fascist dictatorship? Did it support Marcos?
JMS: Marcos was in frequent consultations with the US State Department, the Pentagon, CIA, the US embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce. All of them supported the declaration of martial law. The US supported the Marcos fascist dictatorship from the beginning in 1972 because he used the pretext of anti-communist suppression and the promise of giving to US corporations unlimited ownership of Philippine land, natural resources, public utilities and all types of businesses.
The US decided to junk Marcos only in 1983 when he had his political rival Ninoy Aquino assassinated. When he returned to the Philippines, Aquino had the blessings of US Secretary Schultz and the Republican and Democratic parties. Upon the assassination of Aquino, the US finally concluded that Marcos had become more of a liability than an asset to US interests.
The highest US State Department, Pentagon and CIA officials noticed that Marcos had failed to suppress the revolutionary movement but pushed the people to join and support the revolutionary movement because of extreme brutality and corruption. They also noticed that the broad masses of the people were joining the rapidly growing protest mass actions and even conservative forces in society like the Catholic Church and other Christian churches and the older sections of the big comprador and landlord classes were turning against the upstart Marcos and his cronies.
- What were the effects of the declaration of Martial Law to people’s democratic rights? How dangerous was it to live in this time?
JMS: As I have already pointed out, human rights violations were wantonly committed by the Marcos fascist regime. It was extremely dangerous to live in the Philippines at the time. You can get into serious trouble by being tagged as communist or opposition of any kind. At least 70,000 were arrested and detained and at least 35,000 were tortured. Nearly 10,000 victims of human rights violations won their case against Marcos in the US after the overthrow of Marcos. At least 3,257 activists, critics and political opponents were documented as disappeared, tortured and murdered.
Millions of people, especially poor peasants, indigenous people and Moro people, were forced out of their land and homes. According to the International Red Cross, three million people were displaced in Mindanao, especially among the Moro people. All over the country, properties and businesses were confiscated to enrich the Marcos family, his business cronies, his political and military agents. They looted the national treasury and sank the whole country with onerous foreign loans. Marcos stole USD 10 to 15 billion and stashed this away in many banks abroad.
The acts of treason, plunder and human rights violations committed by the Marcos fascist regime inflicted great harm to the Filipino people for a long period and long after the overthrow of Marcos. From being the Asian country next only to Japan in economic standing in the early 1960s, the Philippines became a basket case because of the Marcos plunder and misuse of resources on the military and on overpriced infrastructure projects.
- There are those who say that it was only dangerous for those who were fighting the government. Did Martial Law also affect the common people, not just the activists? Were they also being repressed? How?
JMS: Life was dangerous for everyone and anyone. Anyone who did not belong to the revolutionary movement or even to the peaceful democratic movement could be accused of belonging to the revolutionary movement simply because Marcos, his business cronies, his political subordinates and his military and police agents wanted to extort property or money.
Marcos and his political and military agents usurped not only all the powers of the executive branch but also those of the courts and the legislative branch in all cases where they invoked martial law powers. They used their absolute power to grab the land and other properties in order to enrich themselves. And there is no way for the victim to make an an effective complaint or petition.
- You yourself were a victim of Marcos’ fascist dictatorship. Can we ask you to share some of your experiences during this time?
JMS: Within the day of my arrest on November 10, 1977, I was put in solitary confinement in a maximum security compound where Ninoy Aquino was detained in Fort Bonifacio. I was deprived of legal counsel even when I demanded one. I was handcuffed and fettered all the time. I was subjected to interrogations by relays of military interrogators for three days.
And then I was subjected to physical and psychological torture, including fist blows, the so-called water cure for at least six hours, threats of electrocution and death. The worst form of psychological torture was a total of five years of solitary confinement in a small cell. I am republishing my long poem, “Fragments of a Nightmare”, in Facebook and my websites to commemorate my torture in conjunction with the birthday of Marcos on Sept. 11 and the declaration of martial law on Sept 21.
- After all you were put through, what made you continue to struggle for victory of the people’s revolutions? How did you overcome being silenced or being afraid?
JMS: In becoming a revolutionary, I have always been motivated by the revolutionary spirit of the people and by the principle of serving the people, especially the oppressed and exploited toiling masses, in the struggle for national and social liberation. Since the beginning, I have always done my best to contribute to the building of the revolutionary movement and at the same time I have always been ready to die at any time in the course of the struggle.
As you can read from my long poem about my torture, Fragments of a Nightmare, I was not afraid of torture when I was being tortured and threatened with death because it was clear that if the pain became intolerable my consciousness would shut off. As it turned out, I could withstand the torture and keep my wits.
It has always been clear to me that I owe to the people and to myself to persevere in the struggle in order to be with the people in achieving their national and social liberation. It would be a shame to give up one’s revolutionary principle and struggle because of fear of torture or death. I have always maintained high confidence that if I die at anytime in the course of the struggle so many other people are taking my place. To have successors in the struggle, I always try to do my best to do ideological, political and organizational work. ###