By William Lee AdamsThursday, Oct. 20, 2011
In September 1972, following a failed assassination attempt on one of his chief aides, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines. Marcos, who had been elected President in 1964, exaggerated the threat of communist revolutionaries and used it to justify shutting down the press and arresting several of his political opponents. Initially Marcos did good for the country as an autocrat: inflation dropped and government revenue increased. But widespread cronyism and corruption — including the siphoning of billions of state funds into Marcos’ Swiss bank account — undermined his legitimacy. His glamorous wife Imelda — she of the shoe closet — seemed to embody the regime’s brazen excesses. And the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., Marcos’ chief political rival, galvanized opposition. Hoping to quell international criticism, he staged snap elections in 1986, but the move backfired as a result of the violence, intimidation and coercion he deployed. Abandoned by his closest rivals, Marcos fled the country several weeks later, paving the way for the rightful winner — Aquino’s widow Corazon — to take power. Marcos died in exile in Hawaii three years later, but his wife, his son and some of his old allies still wield influence in the Philippines’ unpredictable democracy.