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The Philippines: A Demand for Heroes

5 minute read

A sullen tropical sun beat down on Manila’s Luneta Park, searing the faces of 200,000 Filipinos and a perspiring U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey. It glinted off the wave crests of Manila Bay and turned the green finger of Bataan into a quivering blur. U.S.-built jets of the Philippine Air Force bellowed past at palm-top level as President Ferdinand Marcos rose to deliver his inaugural address. The speech was as scorching as the heat of the day.

“The Filipino has lost his soul and his courage!” cried Marcos. “Our people have come to a point of despair. We have ceased to value order. Justice and security are as myths. Our government is gripped in the iron hand of venality, its treasury is barren, its resources are wasted, its civil service is slothful and indifferent, its armed forces demoralized and its councils sterile.” Thus last week did Ferdinand Marcos, 48, enter office as the sixth President of the Philippine Republic. Never before had the Philippines heard so scathing a national condemnation, and rarely so demanding a peroration: “Not one hero alone do I ask from you, but many—nay, all. By your choice you have committed yourselves to it.”

Crime & Campaigns. Marcos’ harsh words were indeed in order. His pessimism reflects not only the plight that faces the Philippines in the next four years, but his own chances of alleviating it as well. In his successful campaign against President Diosdado Macapagal last November, Marcos made Filipino crime—smuggling, murder and government corruption—the main theme. Macapagal himself was above suspicion of foul play, but Marcos did not have to make personal accusations, for low-level crime and corruption were part of every Filipino’s experience. Coupled to it was his own vibrant campaign style. Singing duets with his wife Imelda (Miss Philippines of 1954), stumping the barrios with hard-hitting speeches, screening a biographical movie titled For Every Tear a Victory, Marcos ran away with the race. The 8,000,000 Filipinos who went to the polls gave him a towering mandate to eradicate the islands’ ills.

That will be both a difficult and an exciting task, for the Philippine Republic is a tough, bustling, colorful and potentially great nation. It consists of some 7,000 islands—a few smoking volcanoes, many somnolent with heat and sleeping sickness. Its 32 million citizens range from headhunters in northern Luzon to transvestite Manila bini boys, but the bulk of them are hungry, hard-scrabbling peasants who live in the barrios of the towns and cities. Some scavenge metal from the firing ranges of U.S. bases; others cap bottles of San Miguel beer in the big stone brewery near Manila Harbor. Beneath the stately palms of Roxas Boulevard in downtown Manila, the sons of rich Filipino businessmen race their Fords past gaudy jeepneys (freelance taxis). Lovely women mingle on the streets of Manila and Olongapo, Cagayan and Baguio with horny-handed housewives and tawdry broads.

Smuggling alone deprives the government of nearly $125 million a year in revenues—a figure that represents a quarter of the national budget. The overall crime rate has risen by 50.8% during the last two years, and more than 1,000 crimes were committed by police officers. Lugers and burp guns are freely advertised in the Manila dailies, and political campaigns are not complete without a dozen or more assassinations.

Matter of Cash. At the root of the Filipino dilemma is the age-old Asian problem of too many people, too little food. Population is growing by a million a year, and some 360,000 youngsters enter the labor market annually, only to find jobs largely lacking. To feed this fecund people, Marcos must produce 4,600,000 tons of palay (unhusked rice) in the coming year; even at that he will have to import 600,000 tons—at a cost of $65 million.

Marcos inherits a treasury deep in debt, and as a result, no new public works will be begun for at least six months. Marcos’ 18 key Cabinet ministers appear sound though they are as yet largely untested. He himself will take the Defense portfolio, while War Hero and former U.N. Assembly President Carlos Romulo is to run the Education Ministry. Foreign Secretary Francisco Ramos, 65, holds little hope for the Macapagal pipe dream of Maphilindo (a federation of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia) but nonetheless sees a chance of improving relations with Indonesia without any danger of selling out to Red China in the process.

Though Marcos is basically pro-American, his inaugural address avoided the ticklish questions of U.S. tariffs and military bases. As to a Filipino commitment in Viet Nam, Marcos also remained silent. But a veiled reference to the clash of Communism and democracy in Southeast Asia showed the direction of his own commitment: “We cannot merely contemplate the risks of our century without coming to any decision. Wherever there is a fight for freedom, we cannot remain aloof.”

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