Marcos Declines, Opposition Builds

By Neumann, A. Lin | The Nation, December 29, 1984 | Go to article overview

Marcos Declines, Opposition Builds


Neumann, A. Lin, The Nation


It seemed as much a comic whodunit as the throes of a nation in crisis. In mid-November President Ferdinand Marcos was missing, and rumors were flying: The President was in Houston for open-heart surgery; the President was at Stanford University Medical Center for a kidney transplant; the President was dead; the President was on board his yacht en route to Australia; a team of foreign doctors had taken over the presidential palace to tinker with the old man's innards.

Finally, a leak from the inner circle disclosed that an operation had been performed, in Manila, probably on his kidneys which had been damaged by systemic lupus erythematosus. It was thought the President might yet have to venture abroad for treatment.

The government refused to confirm the report. It maintained throughout that Marcos was suffering from the flu and had been placed in what was called "reverse isolation" to protect him from germs. The government aired a videotape showing him in good health, but the press identified it as old footage. First Lady Imelda Marcos told some reporters, "No one in his right mind or her right mind would try and keep this from the people. If the President is sick, I'll tell you. I promise."

Then, on December 8, Marcos bared his chest on television to scotch rumors that he had undergone heart surgery. But the fact remains the President is sick. Marcos's illness, coming at a time of pervasive economic crisis and evidence of a military conspiracy in the 1983 slaying of Benigno Aquino, has dramatized the fragility not just of the chief executive but of the intire government.

Indeed, most observers say that the government is hardly functioning. The communist insurgents of the New People's Army are gaining adherents rapidly in the countryside; in the cities, the left controls the trade unions and orchestrates protest demonstrations. Cabinet ministers quibble openly about succession; bankers have made it clear they have lost confidence in the regime's ability to enforce a package of harsh austerity measures mandated by the International Monetary Fund in September; and the moderate opposition has failed to come up with a candidate to succeed Marcos or a platform to govern by. The best guess anyone has on the outcome of the governmental crisis that will inevitably follow Marcos' demise is that a junkalike "working committee," as one Cabinet member called it, will oversee the succession in process. According to a law Marcos rushed through earlier in 1984, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Nicanor Yniguez, would serve as interim chief for a sixty-day period, during which time an election would be held and a new president installed. But most here believe that the working committee, composed of key Cabinet members and Imelda Marcos, would exercise the powers of state during the interregnum.

The Marcos regime is a deft practitioner of survival tactics. Nothing demonstrated that more clearly than its manipulation of the fact-finding board's report on the assassination of Aquino. When it became apparent to the President's coterie that the board, chaired by former Justice Corazon Agrava, was applying itself seriously to the task of uncovering the military conspiracy behind the killing, it took action. Indirect pressures were brought to bear on members of the board, and according to sources on the panel, only Agrava succumbed. She stonewalled on the most important issue: the role played by Gen. Fabian Ver, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff and one of the President's most trusted men.

On October 23, Agrava filed a separate opinion exonerating Ver and confining the conspiracy to a lower-ranking general and six soldiers. The President accepted the Agrava version in a public ceremony, giving it equal status with the majority opinion, which named Ver and which was released a day later. Only U.S. pressure and the fear of a public backlash kept Marcos from burying the majority report altogether. …

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