When Ninoy Aquino Backed Martial Law

Beningo ‘Ninoy’ Aquino

(Part of an occasional series on US diplomats and their relationships with the Philippines)

Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino’s death on 21 August 1983 on the apron of what is now the airport named after him, lit the fuse to the overthrow of the notoriously corrupt dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos  in February 1986. It led to the presidency of Corazon Aquino, and the controversial incumbency of Rodrigo Duterte, son of Ferdinand Marco’s former executive secretary, whose mother was a bitter opponent of Marcos.

The striking of the match that lit the fuse may have come as early as 1972 when Marcos made a strategic error – he arrested Ninoy Aquino.

Ambassador Frank E. Maestrone, who died in 2007, served as US Consular Officer from 1971 and was interviewed by the late Hank Zivetz for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, in 1989. He had a front-row seat.

He gives us a sense of the complexities underlying the road to Martial Law – violence on the streets, a weak central government unable to bring provincial war-lords to heel.

Among the surprises, perhaps, is that Ninoy Aquino would have supported Martial Law as a temporary measure. However, Marcos’s first step was to arrest the opposition, eliminating the moderate opposition entirely, which strengthened the Communist insurgency and leading to a quintupling of recruitment into the NPA.

Maestrone’s interview is given here without comment. 

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Marcos’s Roman Candle Superweapons

If the Pacific ocean is a bowling alley and typhoons the balls, the Philippines is where the ten pins would be. Up to 9 typhoons hit the Philippines each year with devastating consequences. Infant mortality increases by about 13 percent after a typhoon. Since 2001 more than 12.5 million tonnes of rice have been lost1. Ursula alone caused an estimated 3 billion pesos of damage to infrastructure and agriculture in the Philippines.

Whenever destructive typhoons hit the Philippines social media like Facebook sees the emergence of references to ‘anti-typhoon rockets’, often in the same breath as ‘super-weapons’ as an achievement of the Ferdinand Marcos martial law administration. No other subsequent President has followed that vision.

There is a good reason why they would not do so: anti-typhoon rockets do not, and cannot work. The project was based on a fallacy.

In the case of the Marcos rockets, they were not even tested.

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