• U.S.

An Interview with Ferdinand Marcos

6 minute read

In the elaborate main reception hall at Manila’s Malacanang Palace, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, 68, looked frail but basically healthy as he greeted 52 U.S. business leaders and Time Inc. journalists traveling through Asia on a Time-sponsored Newstour. Speaking calmly and firmly, Marcos called Western reports that he was near death “really exaggerated.” But he made selective use of facts and figures to dismiss the concerns of U.S. analysts, blandly promising an imminent upturn in the Philippine economy and a decline in the strength of Communist insurgents. Marcos took refuge in dubious legal arguments to defend the 1973 constitution, tailored to legitimize the powers he had seized under martial law, and denied that he had used his authority to enrich a small circle of friends. Only later, at a dinner that evening, did he admit that “we have committed some errors.” Excerpts from the two-hour session:

Q. Is the U.S. Government demanding more reforms of you today?

A. Well, I think that (they) are about the same as the requests made before, with some basic additions, which revolve around the insurgency problem. We are working on the implementation of some of these suggestions right now.

Q. What about the cronyism in Philippine business that we often read about?

A. If it were true that special favors were given to some of these people because they are my cronies, then they should still be here, and they should be wealthy. But who are these cronies? If there be any cronies in government, point them out and we will investigate.

Q. What did you tell Senator Laxalt?

A. Senator Laxalt brought a letter from President Reagan which contains his concern about the present situation in the Philippines, principally the insurgency problem. I outlined to him what we have done and what we intend to do, including the increase in the appropriations of the armed forces. We have now changed the policy of keeping to ourselves all the matters that have to do with operations against the Communists. Our troops are highly trained now. (The rebels) are bleeding very badly. We have been driving them from pillar to post.

Q. Is the Philippines a dictatorship?

A. My friends in the opposition have forgotten that the constitution of the Philippines was amended in 1973 with their participation. The constitution mandates the administration, including the Batasan, or legislature, to convert slowly into a semiparliamentary form of government. The President in such a situation can issue decrees and edicts. Now I discover (that) the people who recommended the parliamentary form of government are the ones complaining about this.

Incidentally, I might say that the leadership of the legislature of our majority party has often consulted with the opposition. We are now consulting with them on the passage of a new election code. It is not true that I dictate what should be done. There is a dialogue. Now you say that the situation is rigged up in my favor. Well, probably if they spend more time organizing in the provinces instead of quarreling here in Manila, then they can improve the situation.

Q. What will happen to the U.S. base agreements after the 1987 elections?

A. There is now more or less some kind of agreement that we define more accurately the obligations of each country. Is it obligatory on the part of the U.S. to give a compensation package that totals $900 million? Under Section V of the revised military facilities agreement, there is a committee headed by our Ambassador to the U.S. and your Ambassador to the Philippines who can look into all these matters and start negotiations on a quiet < diplomatic level.

Q. Can you explain the course of the Aquino assassination investigation?

A. This tragedy came about notwithstanding the efforts of our administration to stop the return of Mr. Aquino when there were confirmed warnings that there was going to be an attempt against his life. Unfortunately, Mr. Aquino did not listen to our pleas. We are at the point where we are waiting for the results. I am afraid that any comments on the trial might be considered improper on my part.

Q. Some economists say the standard of living has fallen to the 1972 level. Should your administration be held accountable?

A. While it is true that the value of the peso has been cut down, it certainly has not reached ’72 levels. The farmer’s income, for instance, has increased by three or four times, while the price of the goods that he is buying has doubled. The same is true with labor. We do not postpone the participation of the lower classes of our people in the profits of economic enterprise, and in other countries they do postpone it. In the long run, I think our policy is better, and we stand by it.

Q. The economic outlook seems gloomy. Why do you expect a recovery?

A. Well, the signs are there. The investments by Filipinos are slowly being returned to the home country. We have invited foreigners to come in and stay under certain conditions. And now we are getting offers from countries even in Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan. The investors want to talk to me. And they are not talking small money. The prognostication about the collapse of our economy was made two or three years ago; it has not come about. Perhaps it was just good luck. But we feel that it has been because of the resilience of the spirit of our people, their creativity and their newfound dignity and fulfillment in freedom.

Q. Are you developing a successor?

A. The answer is yes. The leaders of the party agreed that we should start identifying even those who belong to the opposition who can be depended upon to swear that they would not allow Communism to take over the republic. There is no limit to the number, of course, of the members of the ruling party who aspire to the presidency. Many of them are highly qualified. I think it is a wise decision for the leadership not to speak of this kind of succession unless and until we are through with the 1986 and 1987 elections.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com