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'The sad legacy' of Ferdinand Marcos

By
FERNANDO DEL MUNDO

MANILA, Philippines -- The network of highways, from Aparri in the north to Zamboanga in the south, is an enduring monument no one can take from Ferdinand Marcos.

It is the legacy of Marcos, the builder.

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But Marcos' imprint could not just be measured by the concrete cover he laid on MacArthur Highway traversing Luzon and elsewhere in the archipelago he ruled for 20 years.

History will harshly judge Marcos as the dictator who shattered the 'showcase of democracy' in Asia and fled in a U.S. helicopter to an exile's life in Hawaii when an angry nation rose in revolt in February 1986 and installed Corazon Aquino as president.

'Judged by his best, he did a few things that were right,' said one critic. 'But these were overwhelmed by the negative aspects of his incumbency.'

Marcos cut a dashing figure when he first was elected president of the Philippine Republic in 1965. With his beauty-queen wife, Imelda, Marcos' administration originally was likened to the Camelot of the John F. Kennedy years in the White House.

He built roads, bridges, schoolhouses and irrigation systems. He made the nation self-sufficient in rice, the basic staple. He launched innovations in the nation's foreign policy that previously had been tied to America's apron strings.

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The Philippines was so anti-communist it banned a Yugoslav sports team in the early 1960s, scuttling a scheduled world basketball championship in Manila.

Under Marcos, ties with the socialist bloc were established.

But Filipinos tend to gloss over the good Marcos did and if they do, it is because the reality is that they were worse off after two decades of his rule than before he started.

He is alleged to have absconded with one-third of the $28 billion he borrowed during his rule.

Since his election in 1965, Marcos schemed to perpetuate himself in power, secretly amassing wealth, dismantling a procedure that since independence from the United States in 1946 had provided a system of self-renewal in unbroken quadrennial elections.

Re-elected to an unprecedented second term in 1969, Marcos declared martial law a year before the expiration of his four-year tenure, citing leftist and rightist threats to the republic.

He padlocked Congress, shut down Manila's noisy newspapers, clamped his political opponents in jail and began a massive roundup of some half-million loose firearms that had created for his country the image as the 'Dodge City' of the East.

Even Marcos' harshest critics were nostalgic about the days of discipline under martial law.

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The heady days were not to last long as accounts of abuses and atrocities surfaced. The Philippines under Marcos easily made the list of Amnesty International as one of the world's worst violators of human rights.

To this day, complaints of abuses committed against civilians by the military that Marcos politicized continue to be heard.

The military remained on constant red alert for threats from within its own ranks. At least five coups attempts were crushed.

Raids on the treasury by Marcos and his cronies, the preoccupation with the impact of projects and misuse of borrowed funds had sent the nation's economy into a tailspin.

Fed by poverty and repression, the communist New People's Army grew from a handful of intellectuals in 1968 to a force that worried Washington, which maintains strategic military bases in the Philippines.

Aquino has revived democratic institutions since she was swept into power in 1986. She has scored modest economic gains and has made inroads in the counter-insurgency campaign.

Marcos' legacy of corruption is one that will not be easy to overcome. Manila's influential Roman Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Sin, says, 'Ali Baba is gone, but the 40 thieves remain.'

Today's leaders say it will take a whole new generation of Filipinos to repair the decay in the nations moral fiber under Marcos.

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'That's the sad legacy,' said one legislator.

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