The concept of corruption and its elimination has long been a problem for the Philippines since the country proclaimed its independence in 1898. Every administration had claims of corruption activities, enveloping the country in massive debt still paid today. While former and present administrations have denied corruption claims in their tenure, one administration had faced charged both locally and internationally due to evidences showcasing Philippine budget invested in clothing, jewellery, and eventually, the beginnings of a dictatorship. The Marcos’ 21 year regime in the Philippines cited the highest cases of corruption by a public official as he embezzled money from the public funds and amassed the entire economy as his own monopoly. Due to the corrupt activities of past administrations, especially in the tenure of President Marcos, corruption in the Philippines continues to thrive each year as more public officials utilize public funding for personal use. While there are anti-corruption acts and policies in place, eliminating the problem completely would be difficult if a new and organized anti-corruption policy is put into legislation.
Ferdinand Marcos was considered a strongman by the time he got elected into the Presidency in 1965 due to his incredible skill, talent, resilience and charisma. Marcos was born on September 11, 1917 to parents Josefa and Mariano Marcos. The Marcoses were provincial elites since the time of the Spaniards, allowing Marcos to live in luxury through his family’s wealth. While biographies of the Strongman noted that his parents were Josefa and Mariano Marcos, speculations have been raised that Marcos is the son of Ferdinand Chua, a known Chinese tycoon in the same province. Rumors also added that the Chuas supported Marcos throughout his studies and a trip to Manila. Since his move to Manila, Marcos exhibited brilliance as he entered the University of Philippines, a known university for the top achievers of the country. However, the Marcoses, including young Ferdinand who was in his last year in law school, were sent to prison as alleged killers of Julio Nalundasan. Nalundasan is known for his strict rivalry with the elder Marcos in his bid for Congress. Ferdinand petitioned for release to the Philippine Supreme Court so that he could finish his education. However, he returned back to prison in 1939 due to the case. This eventually led the young aspiring lawyer to take his bar exams inside jail, passing the exam as the topnotcher. Soon after, Marcos managed to defend his position in 1940 upon retrial for his guilt. Many admitted that then presiding Judge Jose Laurel found the potential of the young Marcos, signing him as his lawyer. Marcos continued to dominate the political scene as a lawyer and his bid for the Congress and Senate, calling for a powerful force to change the government from the Macapagal regime. This enabled him to get the support of the public, allowing him to become President
When Marcos became President in 1965, the power of the government was determined by the oligarchy and businessmen. The population of the country was mostly increasing per year, with the economy plummeting due to the cases of unemployment and underemployment. Corruption had also dominated both public and private sector. The Marcoses tried to embody the Kennedys for the Philippine public. Ferdinand’s wife, Imelda, organized “Blue Ladies”, a group that supports the first lady on her public ventures. President Marcos saw the benefits of his wife’s ventures and saw it a convenient way to publicize his government. However, Marcos slowly understood the patterns of corruption in the country, eventually using public funds to purchase expensive gifts for friends to bribing officials to do his bidding. Experts have noted that while money has been a part of Philippine Politics, Marcos’ use of money for corrupt practices have already reached new heights in comparison to past or present administrations. Imelda Marcos herself became an icon of how much Marcos’ spent for Imelda’s collection of expensive jewellery, shoes, and clothing. Experts and historians have all stressed that Marcos gave his wife millions for her compulsive shopping trips in their state visits. Imelda, up to this day, claims that the other collections the government took from her were gifts from Marcos before he even became president and items she got personally before marrying the President.
Despite people claiming he committed several corruption practices, President Marcos issued four Presidential Decrees right after he announced the beginning of Martial Law on September 21st 1972. The first Presidential Decree, P.D No. 6, identified 29 administrative offences that can be used to dismiss any official charged of corruptive practices by their heads of departments. At least 8,000 officials were affected by the first Presidential Decree. Another Presidential Decree was announced two months after P.D No.6, No.46 ordered all public officials to refrain from accepting gifts from private donors especially in public occasions such as Christmas and New Year. RA 3019 was also amended by two Presidential Decrees: P.D No. 677 and No. 749 changing the submission of SALN to each year instead of every other year. Immunity is also provided under the amended RA 3019 for witnesses who would testify against public officials or citizens charged of corruption. Marcos also instigated the creation of several anti-corruption agencies as he noted “corruption had permeated almost all aspects of bureaucratic life and institutions which saw the start of the systematic plunder of the country” . In July 1979, Marcos ordered the establishment of the Sandiganbayan, a distinctive Anti-Graft Court; and the Tanodbayan or now called as the Ombudsman. The two notable Courts were sustained by the issuance of Presidential Decree Numbers 1601 and 1630. The Sandiganbayan covers all violations to the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, RA No. 1379, and to any crime committed by officials and its employees. Meanwhile, the Ombudsman is supported by Presidential Decree No. 1630’s Section 10, stating that the Ombudsman has the power to file and persecute administrative cases against officials who committed graft and corruption . The country already had anti-corruption policies by the time Marcos began his tenure as president. However, it was R.A 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act of 1960 which got the most attention from Marcos when it came to showing his capacity to fight corruption . Aside from the Presidential Decrees, several changes were applied by Marcos as his campaign for anti-corruption ensued in his tenure. He fired 2000 government officials after a “performance audit” was sent to his office. Most of the positions vacated were the Heads of Public Works, Communication, Transportation and even the Civil Service Commission heads. Marcos also changed the commissions handling revenue and taxes .
Although the anti-corruption campaigns of Marcos had eliminated in some degree the corruption in the country, several experts cited corruption patterns done by the Marcos Administration throughout Martial Law. In 1974, Marcos took over the country’s sugar industry by monopolizing all exports through the Philippine Exchange Company. The PEC was controlled by one of Marcos’ cronies, classmate Robert Benedicto. Benedicto was given by Marcos economic leverage to regulate the prices of sugar for both import and export, generating profit for Benedicto and Marcos despite the plight of the sugar producers and farmers depending on their produce. In addition to this, Marcos utilized his power as president to impose 100% import control on the cigarette industry. In 1975, Marcos imposed several import taxes on cigarette filters. He also gave leverage to the Philippine Tobacco Filters Corporation, a known crony-led corporation through Herminio Disini. Disini then used his leverage over filter imports to sell the filters to Fortune Tobacco, owned by another Marcos supporter, Lucio Tan. The cigarette tier of the Marcos cronies eventually drove out all the competition in the Philippine cigarette industry . US Company Westinghouse had also noted that it has made transactions through Marcos’ cronies, especially Herminio Disini to power up the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. While Westinghouse noted that the transaction was done through bribery, it had been sighted that the money that would have been used for the projects coming from lenders never reached the country. The World Bank issued a report in 1984, noting that the $3.4 billion of the Philippines’ loans was never used to generate income for the country. Most of the money went to foreign bank accounts that are allegedly owned by the Marcoses. Studies have also indicated that the money loaned by the government was put into corrupt practices, and the lenders knew where it was used . It has also been cited that Marcos used his power in Martial Law to redraft the Constitution for his own corruption practices. He made sure that all his amendments and Presidential Decrees legalized corruption, allowing his family to live in lavish lifestyle without persecution from the law .
Upon the death of the Strongman and Dictator, the successor administrations starting from the Aquino Administration under Cory Aquino, ordered the hunt to return all the embezzled money the Marcoses took out in their tenure. Imelda Marcos and the rest of the Marcos cronies were changed various charges by different local and foreign courts for corruption and embezzlement. The Marcos Matriarch was also cited by American courts to have at least owned 31 corporations, which Imelda also took part as a member of the board. Imelda’s collection of expensive jewellery and clothing were used as evidences for all charges placed to the Marcoses. While the 1990 Graft and Corruption Charges to the Marcoses were dropped and found they are not guilty of charge, the government continued to trace down the estimated $2-6 billion Marcos wealth through the same anti-corruption agencies Marcos founded. Imelda herself had managed to win a spot in Congress in years 1995 and 2010, also serving as the governor of the “Marcos Country”, Ilocos Norte . The country, upon Marcos’ exile in the US, had to receive economic and development aid from various donors. Reports noted that in the 1980s, the country was under $1 billion worth of debt due to Marcos .
The 21 year old long tenure of Marcos both presented both boon and bane for the country, corruption taking a different form in each term of the Strongman/Dictator. On the one hand, Marcos was able to draft several anti-corruption laws and ordinances that as of today remains as key fighters to corruption of the country. He was also able to sustain these anti-corruption laws with supplementary policies and amendments which are still applied to the current anti-corruption practices of the country. On the other hand, Marcos’ 21 year tenure showcased a more severe form of corruption in any given administration both in the Philippines and around the globe. The family’s luxurious spending, as seen in Imelda Marcos’ clothing and shoes, the monopolization of the country’s production through Marcos cronies, and the legalization of Marcos’ corruption activities tarnished the almost promising tenure of someone who had so much promise by the start of his term. Today, the Philippines continue to pay the debt accumulated by Marcos through various lenders and the hunt to locate all of the Marcos’ wealth yet to be returned to the government and to the people.
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