Vice President George Bush's celebrated toast to Philippines President yferdinand Marcos, praising his government for its "adherence to democratic principles," raised a storm of protest from the dictator's critics, who warn that Bush's toast may have put the United States in the wrong position. If Marcos is toppled, U.S. prestige and influence will be dragged down with him.
The tragedy of Marcos is that he started out as a well-intentioned, popular leader. He was twice elected president in free elections -- the only Filipino president ever re-elected. But he apparently became enamored of power. In 1972, before his second term came to an end, he declared a state of martial law -- citing communist subversion -- and stifled his political opponents, throwing many in prison and driving others into exile. The young democracy became a dictatorship.
Perhaps Marcos' most effective opponent was Benigno Aquino, who was held in prison for seven-and-a-half years. Under pressure from the United States and other governments, Marcos finally released Aquino, who now lives in exile in this country. But Aquino, who now lives in exile in this country. But Aquino was apparently still a threat to ymarcos, who proposed an amendment to the Philippine constitution that would raise the minimum age reqirement for president from 40 years to 50. This left Marcos eligible -- he is 63 -- but ruled out Aquino, who is now 48.
Marcos then ensured that his re-election would have the appearance of true democracy. The law that makes voting mandatory was widely publicized: eligible voters who failed to go to the polls would be subject to imprisonment or fines.
Still, opposition leaders called for a voter boycott. Despite the risk involved, Filipino voters in large numbers voted against Marcos by refusing to go to the polls. For all the outside world knew, the election campaign was no more violent than prefious ones. But opposition sources told my associate Lucette ylagnado that there were a number of anti-Marcos demonstrations. On one occasion, governmemt troops opened fire on the demonstrators. The Marcos government could not confirm the report, but it has been confirmed by State Department sources.
Predictably, Marcos won re-election easily. Yet Marcos' repressive regime is not as sturdy as he would like the world to believe. The Philippine economy is in deep trouble; inflation is ruining the middle class, and even the wealthy class seems to have doublts: it has been salting its money away in foreign investments, a flight of badly needed capital.
Only the U.S. government seems to have unshaken faith in Marcos. That wasn't enough to save the shah of Iran.
Footnote: An official at the Philippine Embassy insisted that raising the presidential eligibility age was not aimed at Aquino. "That is the usual run of opposition statements," he said. The official also claimed that the election boycott was "not successful" and said that the government "merely reminded the people" of the law that makes voting mandatory. The demonstrations, the official added, were a "healthy sign" that belied the charges the Marcos is repressive.