Philippine HiStory Today: 1986 Snap Elections
After weeks of enjoying the very cool weather, here comes February stomping in to bring the heat! I am not so sure I am personally happy with this development. But I am glad the weather has become a bit warmer for the sake of those who don’t like the cold.
Anyway, very abrupt changes can sweep the unprepared off their feet. It’s the same with the story I am sharing today. But the irony of this situation is that the person who called for change (therefore he should be prepared) ended up being the one who got the short end of the stick… to the satisfaction of the majority.
I am talking about 7 February 1986: the day when then president Ferdinand Marcos played what he thought was his trump card, only he ended up being booted out of the Philippines.
Grab a cup of coffee and sit back for another chapter of our long history…
The numbers told all: the Philippines wasn’t doing well ever since Martial Law was declared in 1972. The Philippines’ debt was at $2 billion in 1970. In 1982, 10 years after Martial Law was declared, debt was at $24b. Did you know that Martial Law helped boost the economy? Okay, just partly and not so effectively. What happened during that time was our country began to borrow heavily from banks, increasing our debt but improving infrastructure and tourism (it was said that when Marcos vacated the presidency, he left behind $28b worth of debt!).
But this move did little to benefit the poorest. Simply put: the rich became richer, and the poor became poorer. Employment data was also harrowing: unemployment rose by 0.7% while underemployment multiplied three times. Poverty also jumped by 17% points from 1941 (World War II) to 1985 (Martial Law), putting poverty rate at 58.9% by the end of the Marcos regime, mainly because of lower wages.
It was however the death of Marcos’ political enemy Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Junior which finally led the Philippine economy to the brink of a cliff. Many Filipinos began to lose their trust in the government. Because of the staggering amount of debts, an angry workforce and unfair wealth distribution, major finance groups lost confidence in the Philippine economy and government. Criticism of Marcos’ government was further fuelled by reports of human rights abuses that the government perpetrated.
But in the eyes of Marcos, there had to be a way out… and he already had a solution in mind:
Marcos surprised everyone when he called for a snap election on 3 November 1985 in an American television show. The election was almost like Marcos vs. the Filipino people, and the latter through a million signature drive chose their pambato in the person of a simple housewife named Cory.
7 February 1986 — The Philippines turned to the ballots to vote for who they would like to run the country: Marcos or Ninoy’s widow Corazon Aquino. Aquino had been chosen by the Filipino people as their way to salvation. But in Marcos’ eyes, who was Aquino? She had no background in law, politics and just had a name everyone recognised.
Besides, Marcos had already won the past elections by a near landslide. He believed the same supporters in his two previous elections would still be there. But more importantly, he had the power of the national coffers to back up his candidacy!
But Marcos was not aware that the unsatisfied public was also hungering and ready for a change of scene. First off, the deliberate cheating in the counting of ballots by superiors of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) angered many ordinary employees, forcing them to walk out of their duties.
Have you ever walked out or imagined yourself walking out of a meeting with your superior at work or saying no to him or her because you know it is already against your principles and more importantly you know that in the long run it would be adversely affecting many people? It could really be scary because you know the consequences of your decision and action could be tough. You could lose your job.
Think what it would have been like for the 30-plus walkouters during the election count. The person they were up against was the most powerful man in the Philippines: a man whose government has been accused of human rights abuses and disappearances. If you were one of them, would you have done the same? What a very big burden, yes! But they did it for the sake of honour and the truth. Would you risk that much for the sake of truth? I’ll let you think about that.
Other forces were also at work elsewhere that finally led to Marcos’ downfall. America knew there had been cheating during the snap elections that named Marcos winner: they knew the government printed fake money to buy votes. In their eyes, Marcos just destroyed his own reputation that day: he was, according to one American senator, a Humpty Dumpty that could never be put back again. The only thing they needed to do was to ask Marcos to face the light and step down.
The Road to People Power
Two days after the simple walkout by the thirty or so technicians, Filipinos really started to go en masse to the streets to boycott the regime. This was not yet the massive People Power gathering we know of in the latter days of February 1986, but it was getting there.
Let’s talk about People Power some other time… it is a story all on its own. But to put it briefly: the economy sank as world leaders started to refuse to recognise Marcos as the legitimate winner of the elections. If you were born before the Martial Law, you would recall that we could already survive a day with just a few pesos in our pockets. Martial Law changed all that… it bore a hole through our wallets!
Today we continue to live by the consequences of the huge debts and the fall of the peso in the stock exchange thanks to Martial Law. However, at least the man responsible for these consequences was finally out of the picture:
Corazon Aquino swears in as president of the Philippines
Do you now have an answer to my earlier question about risking your life for the truth? Many in history have done so and have been called heroes like Jose Rizal, the martyr-saints Calungsod and Ruiz, Ninoy… But plenty other people haven’t answered their personal calls yet. People like you and me. When that time comes, however, I hope we both make the right decision and be greater human beings for the sake of others.
That’s it for today’s hiStory-telling session! To tell you truthfully, I am not very much into talking about risking lives at my age now! But how about you, I have already been talking non-stop, I would like to know what you think about risking it all for things like truth, justice or love. Just leave a message below!