EDITORIAL: Over a Cup of Tea

Thoughts on Philippine political leaderships and a bit of history
(Part 1)

By Heidi M. Pascual

Editor's Note: I worked in the Philippine government for more than 20 years, starting from the regime of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, widely known as our government’s “dictator,” right after my college graduation in 1977 up to the beginning of ousted President Joseph Estrada’s regime. I spent most of my public service with the Philippine legislature, from 1978 up to 1998, until I migrated to the United States of America to reunite with my mother and siblings in the Midwest. It is important to note that during the regime of the late President Corazon Aquino, I became the Philippines’ U.S. Congressional Fellow in Washington, D.C., and the first Chief of Division, Publication (Plenary Affairs Bureau) of the House of Representatives under the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

This piece is just a bit of information (culled from various sources, but mostly from WIKIPEDIA) on every Philippine president from Ferdinand Marcos to Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, focusing on their major achievements as well as criticisms on important social issues of interest to the Filipinos.Note:


Ferdinand E. Marcos was the 10th President of the Philippines -- from 1965 to 1986. Although at the time, presidents were allowed by law to have only two four-year terms, Marcos declared Martial Law in 1971 that enabled him to rule the country for more than 20 years. He became popularly known as the Philippines’ “dictator” until he was deposed in February 1986 via the bloodless People Power Revolution in EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Ave.) in Metro Manila.

There’s no question that during Marcos’ presidency, the late president made many advancements in the Philippines’ infrastructure, as well as successful economic reforms. His first term was popular because many roads, bridges and other public works projects opened up many rural areas that helped spur their economic development. He pushed for and helped develop many industries that created jobs for many Filipinos and provided important trade goods. The Marcos regime also could be credited for the construction of several buildings and hospitals that still exist today, including the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center, National Kidney Center, and others. Media reports, however, stated that these projects were funded by foreign debt.

During the Vietnam War (specifically 1966-69), Marcos (despite his opposition to the idea when he was Senate President) allied with the United States and sent the Philippine Civil Action Group (PhilCAG) to Vietnam, composed of medical personnel, rural development workers, civic action experts, engineering troops, and security troops. The action met different reactions from the Filipino people.

Marcos’ subsequent terms were marked by reports of corruption, extravagance, and brutality. When he declared Martial Law in 1972, he imprisoned his political enemies, closed opposing media outlets, and silenced opposition voices. Though Marcos tried to cleanse the government in 1975 by removing undesirables and unqualified employees and officials, his administration was also charged with “palakasan” (whom you know) system and military/police power. This authoritarian regime ended via the People Power Revolution in 1986 that forced the Marcos family to go on exile in Hawaii and catapulted Corazon Aquino, the widow of Benigno Aquino, Jr. (Marcos’ political rival) to the presidency.

According to the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), “the Marcos family stole US$5 billion-10 billion … [and] enjoyed a decadent lifestyle…”

Editor’s Note:

I do not claim to have first-hand information on any of Marcos’ decisions, alleged abuses, and “crimes” during his regime. However, I can attest to the benefits the Filipinos enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, through the infrastructure built during the Marcos incumbency. I particularly salute the construction of the Philippine Heart Center, the National Kidney Institute, the Children’s Hospital (Lungsod ng Kabataan), the Lung Center of the Philippines, the Philippine Convention Center, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the San Juanico Bridge in the Visayas, and the roads and bridges in the rural areas that spurred the development of barangays all over the Philippines.

My first job after college graduation (in 1977) was as Public Information Officer in the Commission on Audit (an independent public watchdog), and I was just amazed at how the office’s head implemented Marcos’ directive to get rid of auditors who were “undesirables” (had many legal cases against them) and/or “unqualified” (appointed without the required qualifications). The former were fired when proven guilty, and the latter were given two years to complete accounting and pass the board exams. The government was overhauled, as all government offices underwent the same cleansing.

The years after that showed a different picture, however. The “palakasan” system was subsequently back and corruption became rampant once again. I lost my job briefly after the Batasang Pambansa was abolished by the People Power Revolution in February 1986. I was hired by the Aquino Administration to be an editor at the newly formed Philippine Constitutional Commission.


Corazon Aquino was the 11th president of the Philippines, and known worldwide as the leader of the People Power Revolution in 1986 that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos. She was the widow of the late Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., who was Marcos’ most prominent critic, and who was assassinated at the tarmac of Manila International Airport upon his return from his exile in the United States in 1983.

Cory Aquino had her hands full, beginning from her first day in office on February 25, 1986. Proclamation No. 1 reorganized the government and asked all Marcos-appointed officials to resign. She reorganized the Supreme Court and a month later announced a transitional government leading to a democratic system. Aquino also abolished the 1973 Constitution and soon appointed members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, led by retired activist and former Supreme Court Associate Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma. More than a year thereafter, the 1986 Constitution was completed and in 1987, ratified by the Filipino people via a nationwide plebiscite. The new Constitution limited the term of the president to 6 years without reelection and the reestablishment of a bicameral Congress.

Cory Aquino promulgated three landmark legal laws: the Family Code of 1987 (which reformed the civil law on family relations), the Administrative Code of 1987 (which reorganized the executive department), and the 1991 Local Government Code (which devolved national government powers to local government units [LGUs]). Aquino was also credited with improving the country’s international credit standing by honoring all debts incurred by previous Marcos administration. Her agenda included market liberalization, civic engagement, and fiscal discipline. Her agrarian reform program (which included sugar lands) known as Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, aimed to redistribute agricultural lands to tenant-farmers from landowners, to be paid by government through “just compensation,” but also allowed to retain at least 5 hectares of land. The Aquino family, however, was widely criticized because the family-owned Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac was redistributed through stock options under Executive Order 229 instead of land distribution.

The Aquino administration was widely criticized for her cabinet’s infighting and disgruntled secretaries that saw some of them resign, including Jose Diokno (Commission on Human Rights) and Vice Pres. Doy Laurel (Secretary of Foreign Affairs).

It was during Cory’s regime when the United States’ bases in Subic Bay and Clark Air Field were abolished, courtesy of the then Senate, as well as the military coup led by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, that slowed down the Philippines’ economic development for a while. The years following kept Cory very busy, mostly trying to dismantle policies and programs by the Marcos administration.

Cory Aquino did the best she could, with the help of able inner circle and associates. The difficulties to start anew were truly mountain-high, yet Cory Aquino, despite her lack of political expertise, stood out in Philippine history as the woman who led People Power and the first woman president of the republic.

Even after her term as president, Cory Aquino continued to support and join mass protests against government abuses, including efforts to amend the 1986 Constitution to enable incumbent presidents to stay in power.

Editor’s Note:

When the Batasang Pambansa (Philippine Assembly) was abolished after the People Power Revolution, I lost my job as chief of Indexing and Monitoring Division (Plenary Affairs Bureau). It only took a few months before the Aquino government hired a small group from the former Secretariat of the Batasang Pambansa to become the core of the technical staff of the Philippine Constitutional Commission. I was selected as an editor to prepare and publish the Record of the Constitutional Commission, as well as edit the final draft of the 1986 Constitution.

When the work of the Philippine Constitutional Commission was almost over, I was called in Malacanan Palace to become the executive assistant of Cory Aquino’s legal adviser/assistant, Flerida Ruth Romero (who would later become a Supreme Court justice). Romero was also our Secretary General at the Phil. Constitutional Commission. I personally assumed then that my performance at the Commission was impressive enough that Romero chose me to be her assistant.

It was during my employment in Malacanan Palace that I was selected to represent the Philippines as a U.S. Congressional Fellow in Washington, D.C. in 1987-1988 by the Asia Foundation, and this was one of the most memorable experiences in my career.

When I returned from the U.S., I requested transfer back to the Philippine legislature, because I believed that my professional expertise and training were needed in the new House of Representatives. I was hired right away as chief of Publications and Editorial Division, the team tasked to edit and publish the official Record of the House (everything that transpired during the daily sessions of the House). Since the work of this division was specifically mentioned in the new Constitution, I felt proud and honored to have led and managed the group of people in this division.

Next Issue: Fidel Ramos’ presidency, and beyond